Live Oak International Cancelled for 2021

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Posted October 28, 2020 | By Bill Thompson, Ocala Gazette

Live Oak International, Marion County’s largest equine spectator sport, has been canceled for 2021.

Chester Weber, owner of Live Oak Stud, where the annual event is held, and a perennial four-in-hand combined driving champion, said COVID-19 forced the decision to halt the event for at least next year.

“How are we going to hold a large spectator event in the middle of a pandemic? That’s hard,” Weber said on Wednesday.

In a letter dated Wednesday to the competition’s sponsors and partners, Weber and his sister, Juliet Reid, who jointly preside over the four-day event, noted they were tabling the 2021 tournament so as “to safeguard the continuity of Live Oak International in the long term.”

“This was a very emotional and difficult choice to make but we do not want to take any risks whatsoever when it comes to the health of those involved in this wonderful event,” they wrote.

“It is impossible to predict how the pandemic will develop over the next few months or what measures will be needed to safely host an event. We believe making this decision early is the fairest for our sponsors, exhibitors, partners, volunteers, suppliers and community.”

Loretta Shaffer, director of the Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said, “The 2021 edition of the Live Oak International Tournament will be sorely missed by our wonderful equine industry, our tourism partners and our entire community.”

“We look forward to brighter days ahead and are excited for Live Oak International’s return in the coming years, along with the positive economic impact the event creates. The Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau continues working every day to support events in the area that prioritize the health and safety of both visitors and residents.”

“I am very sorry to hear Live Oak International has decided to postpone their 2021 event. While I understand, I am nonetheless disappointed,” said Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership.

“Based on my past discussions with (the) Tourism (Development Council) and LOI, it will have a negative impact on the local hospitality sector. However, I do think a significant portion of their fans are day visits so perhaps not as great as might first appear. A number of local businesses have traditionally used LOI as the premier opportunity to host and entertain clients and customers. We don’t currently have another event which offers the same atmosphere and prestige, so I do think that will impact several in the business community.”

Live Oak International celebrated its 30th anniversary in March.

Weber and Reid host more than 15,000 fans a year at their 5,000-acre farm just outside Ocala. The competition features combined driving and show jumping, and, as one of the largest events of its kind in America, has drawn Olympic-caliber participants from both Europe and the United States. The competition is one of seven in the country that serves as a qualifier for the combined driving World Cup.

This past spring, on his home turf, Weber won the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Advanced Four-in-Hand Combined Driving National Championship, which positioned him to capture a record 17th national title in his sport.

In their letter, Weber and Reid noted, “Hosting an event without spectators is not our vision.”

“Live Oak International is memorable for its large supportive crowds, vibrant atmosphere, team-spirited volunteers and hands down incredible experience. Without these moments, the tournament would not be truly Live Oak International,” they said.

“We look back gratefully on the exceptional event that was Live Oak International 2020. The timing of our tournament was only days before COVID-19 closed nearly every sporting event in the world. It was a memorable weekend and something we will all cherish as we await the time until we can come back together again,” Weber and Reid closed.

In their logo, they added, “See you in 2022. Stay safe.”

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