The Connecticut driver improves his record to three-for-three at a Gladstone that has changed over the past 25 years.
The Gladstone Driving Event, once the most prestigious competition of its kind in the United States, marked its 25th anniversary Sept. 20-23 with a no-frills show and a printed program that harkened back to its glory days.
Featuring memorable documentary photos by Ronni Nienstedt and recollections from the people involved in what had been a prestigious, one-of-a-kind competition for this country, the program summoned nostalgia for Gladstone’s history. Under the guidance and sponsorship of former U.S. Equestrian Team Chairman Finn Caspersen, Gladstone would bring over top foreign drivers, such as Tjeerd Velstra and Laszlo Juhasz, immediately raising the standard of what had been a rather low-key sport in the United States.
Spectators would swarm the grounds of Hamilton Farm, the home of the USET in Gladstone, N.J., for the marathon and cones segments. Pine Meadow, a spacious area designed for such events, had its most splendid moments in 1993, when it was the scene of the highly successful World Pairs Championships attended by Prince Phillip of Great Britain, a champion and pioneer of combined driving.
A turning point for Gladstone was the cancellation of the planned World Singles Championships in 2000 at Pine Meadow, because of a West Nile virus outbreak and the resulting concern about a long quarantine for horses going back to Europe. Things were never the same again.
The death of Gladstone Equestrian Association Competition Committee Chair-man George Hoffman in 2001 was another blow. After Caspersen moved on from the horse world a few years later, Gladstone
found itself struggling to raise the funds and volunteers necessary for continuing the competition.
A small but dedicated group continues working hard to ensure that the show does go on. The marathon hazards and officials are still top-notch, but the fancy touches and spectators, for the most part, are gone. Gladstone has become a competitors’ show, though it attracted only 45 entries this year.
Richard Nicoll, Gladstone’s course designer who has been tapped as the director of the driving competition for the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games, noted part of the problem is that there are many more combined driving events—all vying for entries—than there used to be.
Only one four-in-hand driver, Jimmy Fairclough, appeared at Gladstone, where he went to qualify some horses for the 2008 World Championships. A new show at the Kentucky Horse Park, the Lexington Combined Driving Classic, was set for early October, while the Fair Hill International (Md.), a month after Gladstone, was scheduled to hold the rest of the national championships.
Bethesda After Dark Shines
Scott Monroe, an arborist from Connecti-cut who will be shooting for his third national FEI single horse title at Fair Hill, got some of the kinks out of his program at Gladstone.
He finished third and last in dressage after going off course with Bethesda After Dark, his black Morgan better known as Shadow.
“I turned the corner, and the screen in my head went blank,” said Monroe. “Once I make any mistake, I don’t allow myself to do it again.”
Monroe is still getting used to the new dressage test, noting that since it includes cantering, he needs to spend more time teaching Shadow that every trot extension is not a preamble to a canter.
His score of 66.23 penalties gave him a lot of ground to make up. The 2007 Gladstone winner, Robin Groves of Vermont, driving the Connemara-Thoroughbred, Thor’s Toy Truck, was second with 56.96, while Donna Crookston of Pennsylvania won the dressage, driving another black Morgan, RG Cowboy’s Black Cadillac. His score was 53.55 penalties.
The 11-year-old gelding has quite a history. Bred in Nebraska, he was sold to a Texan who ran a guest house, then went back to the Amish man who broke him, doing everything from pulling a plow to taking the family to town.
When Crookston bought him, she noted, “He didn’t know anything about dressage, but he knew how to drive down the road and stand like a rock.”
She foxhunted this versatile horse as well, and he quickly got the idea of combined driving.
Crookston, who has been riding nearly all of her life, began driving five years ago. She started focusing more on the sport after retiring from her job as a customer service representative for a utility company.
Monroe, known for his ability in the marathon, proved once again that his quick reflexes and partnership with his horse were a winning combination in that phase, even under less-than-optimum conditions.
“My hands are his feet. I place his feet with my hands,” said Monroe, explaining the connection he has with Shadow. This year, he has been working with groom/navigator Sue Mallery, who he described as an accomplished driver herself.
“She keeps my wheels down,” said Mon-roe, who won his first two outings of the year, at Garden State (N.J.) and the Laurels (Pa.).
Monroe surged ahead of Crookston in the marathon. Though a morning downpour had made the clay footing greasy, Shadow wasted no time in the hazards and won with an impressive score of 72.06 penalties, in front of Groves (79.49). Crookston, who went through the C element of the fifth hazard backwards, wound up with a daunting marathon total of 107.01.
Going into the cones, Monroe’s dressage deficit kept him behind Groves in the overall scores, but by less than a knockdown. After Monroe drove the first double clear in the FEI divisions (the only other would come from Katie Whaley in the pony multiple, where she was the lone entry), the pressure was on Groves, who had no margin for error. But, she contended, she had other things on her mind.
“The course was what I had to deal with—and a hot little horse that didn’t like barking dogs,” said Groves, who found herself warming up next to a dog agility competition.
Three knockdowns gave her a total of 146.13 to Monroe’s victorious score of 138.29, making him three-for-three in 2007, while Crookston was third with 167.16.
In the FEI single pony division, Jennifer Matheson was encouraged by the performance of Danyloo, a German riding pony stallion. He won the dressage with a score of 45.6, finished second in the marathon to Sara Schmitt and Batman, but bounced back with the best cones score in the five-pony division to win the title with a total of 129.98 penalties to Schmitt’s 132.48. Schmitt, the leader going into the cones, sustained two knockdowns and time penalties.
“He was a little wild,” said Schmitt, a New Jersey dressage trainer and World Pony Driving Championships veteran who is a new partner this year for the feisty Welsh-Morgan cross.
Matheson, of South Carolina, had bad luck in the spring, with several mishaps scuttling her chances of
making the team for the World Championships. She wound up as alternate and went to Europe to watch. That further honed her appetite for success with Danyloo, who was driven to the individual gold at the 2003 World Championships by Tobias Bucker of Germany.
“This gives me a lot of confidence,” said Matheson of her Gladstone achievement, while looking toward the championship at Fair Hill. “We’ve finally been able to put everything back together.”
Driving a pony who won a world championships can be a two-edged sword. The animal obviously has ability, but the driver has to live up to past performance.
“There were a lot of expectations,” con-ceded Matheson, a real estate agent who also manages a breeding farm for her mother-in-law. “He’s not easy, but I thoroughly enjoy him.”
Gladstone organizers planned to discuss ways to bolster the event. Suggestions have included running a pleasure driving show and providing more in the way of training and clinics for lower-level drivers.