Jun 18, 2020

USEA Events A-Z: Grand Oaks Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Pics of You Photo courtesy of the Grand Oaks Resort.

The Grand Oaks Resort in Weirsdale, Florida (Area III) hosts the Grand Oaks Horse Trials in January and November, offering Beginner Novice through Preliminary levels. The Grand Oaks Resort also hosts equestrian events for dressage, hunter/jumpers, and driving.

The Florida Carriage Museum opened to the public in 1995 and is home to one of the world’s largest private collections of horse-drawn carriages and equine artifacts. Later renamed the Grand Oaks Museum, the museum is housed on the nearly 500-acre property of the Grand Oaks Resort. In 2011, the property was purchased by Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex and author of “Built, not Born: A Self-Made Billionaire’s No-Nonsense Guide for Entrepreneurs,” and began its transformation into the multidiscipline equestrian venue and vacation destination it is today.

“Upon the purchase of the Florida Carriage Museum, the partners of the Grand Oaks sought to expand available disciplines to hunters and jumpers, dressage, and expand the then largely pleasure driving activities to include combined driving, an event not too dissimilar from eventing, except for the existence of the carriage,” shared General Manager and managing partner Tom Warriner. “In combined driving, the jumping phase is replaced by a timed precision driving event called ‘cones’ and the cross-country and dressage phases are very comparable.”

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Warriner and current Grand Oaks Horse Trials organizer Shelley Page crafted the first horse trials at the Florida Horse Park more than 15 years ago and so wanted to include eventing in their vision for the Grand Oaks Resort. So, Grand Oaks hosted their first eventing schooling competition in 2017 followed by their first USEA recognized event in January of 2018.

Since 2011, the Grand Oaks venue has expanded significantly with the addition of a large covered arena, 200 permanent stalls, multiple fiber arenas, and a full-service restaurant. “Add the 88 pillows found onsite with the hotel offering and a full-service RV park and the Grand Oaks became both a vacation and competition venue,” Warriner said. “It’s not unusual to find horse show dads and moms fly-fishing at the resort or enjoying the golf academy that includes a 45,000 square-foot green, aqua driving, and short game range.”

“The facilities are unlike most equine destinations in that once you arrive with your equine partners there is no need to leave,” Warriner continued. “Hotel-type accommodations housed in villa-type homes are found hidden around the almost 500 acres, some with attached barns, paddocks, and miles of hacking trails. The offering includes estate homes for nightly rentals as well that can house an entire entourage with up to four bedrooms, private pool, and complete privacy. In 2019, the Hamlet opened further, expanding resort operations by adding 25 bedrooms to the overnight resort offerings.

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

“All things equine are managed by Kacy Fashik-Tipton as horses continue to compete at the Grand Oaks in nearly 40 events each year,” Warriner said. “Kacy is a 20-year veteran of classic pleasure driving and now directs multiple driving events each year together with dozens of horse shows, dog shows, lessons, and caring for over 25 resort equines.” Grand Oaks also maintains status as a USEF elite training and competition venue was the last stop for the U.S. Para Dressage team before traveling to the Rio Olympics. “At any given time an observer can catch sight of past and future Olympians from multiple disciplines.”

“The elevations and hills are unique to central Florida with an almost 300-foot rise to the furthest reaches of the property,” Warriner described. “Riders accustomed to flatlands quickly learn the true conditioning of their equine athletes. This is especially true of the Clayton Fredericks-designed cross-country course. The true test turned out to be in one of the three water hazards as Clayton was the first to christen the cool Florida waters!”

Pics of You Photo courtesy of the Grand Oaks Resort.

Grand Oaks recently opened a designated cross-country schooling course designed by their USEA recognized event course designer, Clayton Fredericks. “A combination of warm up, cross-country efforts, and show jumps on fiber, the training track finds a complete course, natural jumps, and a water hazard in our trails and woods section,” said Warriner.

“The event is just special and made so by the competitors and the organizers,” Warriner concluded. “A lesson learned from one of my resort sponsors, Scott Adcox, owner of Nupafeed - he told me that the best competitors in any discipline were eventers. They would help anyone, remain friendly, and upbeat regardless of their performance and were very self-sufficient. We’ve found that to be true! I think eventers want time with their horses in a challenging environment that is both enjoyable to see and compete in and an uncomplicated process within which to participate.”

The USEA is profiling the history behind all USEA recognized events in the USEA Events A­-Z series.

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