ONA, W.Va. (AP) - Cabell Midland High School sophomore Chase Gillispie is spending this semester in Florida horsing around with Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is a horse, of course, and Gillispie teams with her in the equestrian sport of combined driving in Ocala, Florida. Wonder Woman pulls a carriage driven by Gillispie, who directs her through three phases: cross country marathon, obstacle cone driving and dressage. Cross country marathon tests speed and endurance. Obstacle cone driving features a series of cones or other obstacles the horse and driver navigate. Dressage is a judged contest of movements and gait in an arena or ring.
“I’ve been competing for five years and it’s a lot of fun,” Gillispie said. “It’s an adrenaline rush to compete. it’s pretty much different from any other sport.”
Combined driving, established in part by England’s Prince Phillip, became a recognized sport by the Federation Equestre Internationale in 1970.
Gillispie isn’t treating the sport as horse play. He trains at Poulin South, the winter training facility of national champion and Grand Prix dressage rider Larry Poulin. Gillispie also trained there during spring break of 2014. He won the cones competition last month in the competition Sunshine State. After that, he moved up the preliminary division to intermediate, the second-highest, and turned in his best performance ever in the marathon competition.
“You can kind of compare it to basketball,” Gillispie said. “In basketball, if you win the sectional you move up to the region tournament. If you win that, you go to the state tournament. This kind of works like that.”
Gillispie is quick to credit Wonder Woman, whom he is quick to point out he didn’t name.
Wonder Woman is a 10-year-old fresian/thoroughbred cross who competed at the advanced level with previous owner Bill Peacock of Texas. Chase and his parents, Jim and Deb Gillispie, purchased Wonder Woman in July when their previous haflinger pony Sport no longer could compete.
The first competition in which Gillispie and Wonder Woman competed was at the Kentucky Classic in Lexington. That led to an invitation to the United States Equestrian Federation Developing Driver Clinic at Hillcroft Farm in Paris, Kentucky.
Hillcroft Farm is owned by international pairs and team driver Misdee Wrigley-Miller, a USEF champion.
During the clinic, Gillispie worked with Thorsten Zarembowicz, one of the coaches of the United States team. Gillispie was so impressive he was invited to continue in the Developing Driver program and worked last month with the U.S. coaches at a clinic at the Grand Oaks Resort in Weirdale, Florida.
“The great thing about it is that it’s a lifetime sport,” said Gillispie, whose hobbies include piano and tennis. “You can compete as long as you have the guts to do it.”
Gillispie continues his high school education through virtual classes.
“Those are good,” Gillispie said. “It took a lot to get used to them, but they’re fine. My friends don’t know what to think of all of this. They don’t really understand it.”
Gillispie returns home in March after a competition at Live Oak, the farm of Chester Weber, the top team driver in the U.S. and a silver medal winner at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, last year. It will be the largest competition to date for Gillispie and Wonder Woman.
“It’s the biggest,” Gillispie said of the competition. “I have to thank my parents. My mom handles all the coordination for this. I appreciate them both.”
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com
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