By all appearances, the 2013 U.S. National Single Horse Combined Driving Champion Uminco (Travis) was owned by his driver Leslie Berndl. And this week it became official. Leslie Berndl beat out the competition for the championship ribbon and for Travis’s ownership papers.
Having learned about his pending sale during the middle phase of the three phase competition for the championship at Kentucky Horse Park, decisions were flying high. Could she buy him? Though she knew the horse like the back of her hand, should she get him back to home turf, California, for a pre-purchase exam?
Nearly three years ago at the National Singles Championship in Ocala, FL, Leslie had just five days to learn the ins and outs of the sensitive Travis when owner Fritz Grupe took ill and couldn’t compete. “By my bootstraps,” she describes how she and Travis ended up reserve champions.
“The first time I saw him, I loved him,” she says of the upright, handsome 16.2 bay who was named the 2012 USEF Combined Driving Horse of the Year with Berndl at the helm.
“He is very sensitive. After I drove him that week I knew he needed a lighter hand. I’d joke with Fritz, ‘this is a lady’s horse.’ He’s a great horse. He never had had a person of his own. He came from a big stable in Europe, and Fritz has grooms that care for the horses. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back, but he adores me. I come up to him and he licks me, puts his head in my chest — things he had never done before. He loves having his own person that respects him and treats him as he likes to be treated.”
This year the Californian competed with 12-year-old Gelderlander in Florida and brought home the Florida Triple Crown by winning the Sunshine State CDE, Little Everglades Ranch CDE and Live Oak International CDE.
“When I took him to Florida to compete this year, a groom asked ‘is this the same Travis? I used to hate him. He’d stand in the cross ties and look like he was going to blow up.’ And I said, ‘Travis?’ He’s such character now.”
Berndl and her partner, national champion driver and frequent navigator for Berndl Scott Monroe, returned from Kentucky with Travis to their Whispering Oaks Performance Horses in Newcastle, Ca., for the pre-purchase exam “which he passed like he was a newborn,” said Berndl.
Now owned by Berndl and Monroe, Travis will continue in the hands that have brought him so much success in the highly competitive world of Combined Driving.