Combined training is undoubtedly the most physically and mentally demanding of all equine endeavors. It is, in the guise of three-day eventing, an Olympic sport (along with dressage and show jumping).
At a combined training event, the horse must demonstrate his mastery of dressage, his ability to negotiate a course of fences set on natural terrain and his ability to come back from the cross-country course and jump a round of stadium fences.
Last Sunday, 35 horse and rider teams took on all these challenges at Michele and David Buford's Weave-A-Dream Farm north of Westminster.
"We offered open novice, novice and pre-novice classes," Michele said. "There were so many pre-novice entries we had to split them into three divisions."
The Bufords, the judges (Chris Wadman judged the dressage portion and Jim McNemar judged stadium) and the many volunteers worked hard to make sure that everything ran smoothly for the competitors.
"It was lots of fun again this year," said Michele. "Everyone seemed happy and everything went off on time. There were lots of spectators, especially for the cross country and stadium phases, and we really like to see that."
The Buford's were not the only ones happy with the event. Homer was the real beneficiary.
"This event was successful enough that now we can pay all of his vet bills," Michele said with a laugh as she hugged the 4-month-old colt. "We are just so glad that he made it."
Homer is a home-bred by Aloma's Blast out of the Buford's Quarter Horse-Thoroughbred cross mare Just Jo. He was born with joint ill, a malady that almost cost him his life and has left him with impaired vision in one eye from the massive infection he suffered.
"It's so great to see him run and play," Michele says. "I'm looking forward to getting his mom back into work. I think she [Just Jo] is looking forward to it, too. I plan to fox hunt her this year with Pretty Boy [Hunt Club]."
Just Jo has competed in combined training events, but this year the new mother had to leave the competition to her stablemates. Two of those, Raindrop and Amber Lady, were ridden in this competition by 14-year-old Cindy Holloway who boards her own horse, Lady Echo.
"I did something really stupid and my horse got hurt when I tied her to a post," said the North Carroll High student, "so I couldn't compete her. But Ginny Fine and Shelley Bakalyar let me ride their horses [Amber Lady and Raindrop, respectively].
"I had a great time. Amber Lady pinned sixth overall with a fifth in dressage and Raindrop earned a completion ribbon in cross-country."
Holloway only started riding these two horses two weeks ago, so she didn't have all the kinks worked out yet, but she enjoyed herself and learned a lot.
"Amber Lady was very quiet and good in the dressage," Cindy explains. "She jumped very well cross-country, but she got a little bit tired. She got her wind back for stadium, though, and jumped clean."
Raindrop's owner is vacationing in Vermont, so Holloway was on her own with the Quarter Horse mare.
"She spooked at all the flowers Michele used to decorate the dressage ring," Holloway laughs. "Then she saw the judge and really flipped out. She had jumping refusals, but I expected that because she doesn't have much experience jumping."
Holloway said she loved the cross-country course with its coops, railroad ties, downhill logs, tires, stone walls, and barrels and the special fences such as the Western Rail fence.
Here are the results from Sunday's event:
Open novice: 1. Laura Beetle, Brenner; 2. Anne Young, Hurricane Jake. Novice: 1. Josette Mitchell, Your Royal Majesty; 2. Denise Nelson, Take Me Along; 3. Lauren Petersen, I Believe. Pre-novice, Division A: 1. Jody English, Sam I Am; 2. Jennifer Furman, Dawn Jenny Wade; 3. Heather Andrews, Copper Penny. Pre-novice, Division B: 1. Beth Bryant, Mount Airy Delusion; 2. Nicole Wood, Another Round; 3. Westley Karceski, Whoa Nellie. Pre-novice, Division C: 1. Courtney O'Neill, Sonny; 2. Karen Stell, Crosby; 3. Lynne Herion, Shannon.