As Leslie Berndl discovered her passion for combined driving, she found she had the right stuff to become an international competitive success. At Whispering Oaks Performance Horses in Newcastle, California, where she teaches, trains and operates a full-service barn, Leslie found joy in turning beginning drivers into seasoned reinsmen, and seasoned drivers into competitive winners.
This three-time member of the U.S. Combined Driving Team, and the 2012 and 2013 Florida Triple Crown winner, Leslie has the mental courage, the physical strength and the stability mixed with sensitivity and insight into humans and animals to successfully compete, train and teach.
Perhaps to become an accomplished international competitor, you must have made your parents crazy during your formative years. Leslie did!
Born in Reno, Nevada, every time this kid saw a group of horse, she would yell "stampede!" Her first time at Disneyland, she balled because she couldn’t spend the whole visit petting the Frontierland donkey.
Over the years, she rode and competed in just about every discipline. As an adult, dressage and hunter/jumper equitation over fences were her specialties.
HER CAREER WITH THE CHP
Meanwhile, her career kicked off with a degree in animal science from the University of Nevada, Reno, and led her to work as an animal health technician at several large California veterinary clinics.
In 1989 Leslie graduated from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Academy. After studying paramedicine at Chabot College in Hayward, she qualified for the CHP’s Air Operations Unit as a flight officer/paramedic. For 19 years she flew on CHP helicopters, carrying out lifeline missions, and search and rescues, airlifting ill patients and the injured from remote areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, medevacing car crash victims, and enforcing the law.
"COMBINED DRIVING IS ADDICTIVE"
With such a career, Leslie's attraction to the challenges of driving is no surprise.
After attending her first combined driving or horse driving trials (one of the ten international sport horse disciplines recognized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)) she was hooked and has shown horses and ponies at every level of international competition or Combined Driving Event (CDE).
The past seven years have been amazing!
In 2008, Leslie and her Hackney Horse, Ann McClure's Koopman’s Lightning Rod, represented the U.S. in Poland at the FEI World Championship for Single Horses. With Uminco, Fritz Grupe's Dutch Warmblood, known as Travis, she was USEF reserve national champion, reserve champion at the 2010 Live Oak International CDE in FEI Single Horse. In 2011 the pair finished second in the CAI-B Shady Oaks Advanced Horse Division.
In 2012 Travis was the USEF Singles Combined Driving Horse of the Year. That year was filled with successes:
- Winners of the Advanced Single Horse Division at the Live Oak International CDE in Ocala, Florida. Travis was also awarded the Hanzi Award as the Best Horse of the Competition. Additionally,, they took home the Florida Triple Crown of Driving Award in the FEI Division.
- Reserve champions at the Sunshine State Combined Driving Event
- Members of the US team at the World Championship for Single Horses in Portugal
Travis was again USEF Singles Combined Driving Horse in 2013 and the pair won the USEF National Single Horse Driving Championship, a title they won again in 2014.
In 2014, the two again represented the U.S., this time in Hungary at the FEI World Driving Championships for Singles.
With Leslie at the helm, Travis was one of six horses from all disciplines nominated for the 2014 USEF Horse of the Year.
Her goals for her horses: to understand their job through correct training, to be physically able to do the work, and to have fun in their work. Watching her horses at work (play), clearly her training works.
“Combined driving is the most fun you can have with a horse. And most horses love it no matter what level they train and compete.”
While she gets a rush from the marathon phase of combined driving, her special skill shines in the precision of the dressage phase:
· To develop a healthy, athletic body that can meet the physical challenges of combined driving:
“I don’t leave holes in my horses’ training. You can’t go further or do well in competition if you don’t have solid basics. It’s true in any sport, but in driving solid basics keep you safe.”
· To gain an advantage in competition:
“When you are 20 points ahead in the dressage phase, you likely can cruise through the marathon phase. If you’re so far behind in dressage, you simply can’t win!”
With each horse in training Leslie is senstive to its individual training style. “I only take in so many horses because I do all the training myself, with each horse getting my attention six days a week.”
Leslie has been known to intersperse driving training with a trick clinic or trail drive. And after a competition she is not beyond serving her own horse a big bowl of his favorite treat, Frosted Mini-Wheats.