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July 10, 2009

Sinatra Tops The Bill At Metamora CDE

Carole Precious scores an advanced win in adverse conditions with her star performer.

Frank Sinatra’s classic lyrics, “Come rain or come shine, high as a mountain, deep as a river,” fit the occasion perfectly as Carole Precious and her 10-year-old Oldenburg named Sinatra won the advanced championship at the Metamora Combined Driving Event in Metamora, Mich., June 19-21.

Up to 5 inches of rain dropped on the countryside surrounding Windrush Farm, the site of the 25th Metamora CDE, on the Wednesday preceeding the competition. Organizers and volunteers slogged through boot-sucking mud to pull trucks and trailers into the stabling area and mop out wet stalls, and competitors kept a sunny attitude even as the deluge turned seven marathon obstacles into seven ponds.

Precious and Sinatra didn’t start the weekend on top, posting a disappointing 70.08 in dressage, but they rallied for a better encore in phase two.

“We’re working on dressage,” Precious said. “He was a horse that had been ridden and pushed very young, so he feels stress in a dressage situation. But we’re working on that.”

Precious, Puslinch, Ont., found Sinatra in Europe five years ago after looking hard for the right horse. She conducted a very selective search in order to find a horse that could not only enter the sport, but also stay, do well and maintain a healthy brain and body.

The marathon was a challenge for all competitors, and Precious and Sinatra were no exception. Drivers who had placed the greatest priority on conditioning were rewarded with the best scores. With 77.96 penalties, Precious won the phase by a wide margin over the other three in the division.

“I sure am glad I conditioned my horse in advance as much as I did,” she said. “I have a healthy respect for how much you need to do that. I think we have to remember what sport we’re doing, and it doesn’t mean that you just jump in the trailer and go to a horse show. It means you do your homework.”

Precious also commended the organizers and officials who worked tirelesslyto “make [the course] as sympathetic for everyone as possible and still sporting.”

Jury president Hardy Zantke reminded competitors at Thursday’s briefing that the drivers knew their animals and their capabilities best, and that final responsibility would fall on them in the tough conditions.

Organizers and officials tried their best to foresee how the track would hold up. The course was closed for inspection, except on foot, and measured between 9 and 12 kilometers, depending on the level. Section A was eventually shortened by a kilometer after the marathon had started, and the second obstacle was removed.

Even so, several horses were obviously tired, and their drivers graciously retired when asked by the officials. Those that came in with temperatures over 106 degrees were immediately attended to by the veterinarians and crew.

“It was all Mother Nature,” said head veterinarian Bob Becker. “Considering the deluge of water that came down and the ick it created, I think the horses came down well. As a group, I’m amazed there weren’t any accidents because of the loss of footing and the terrain.”

Becker spoke to a few competitors before they started out on Section E and said, “Look, things are not nice out there, so watch your horse, and if you feel if you want to pull back, pull back.”

At the competitors’ party on Saturday evening Becker complimented those who had retired, saying, “You saw something in your horse that you did not like and said, ‘Enough’s enough.’ ”

Driving The Dragon

Metamora was Lindsey Nevitt’s first advanced event, and she was thrilled with her horse, a 12-year-old, 3⁄4 Appaloosa-1⁄4 Arabian named Dragon.

“Of course it wasn’t as great as I do at home, but it never is, so to go and win the advanced dressage—I was really proud of him,” said Nevitt, Zionsville, Ind.

Nevitt, 19, showed hunters since she was 8, but was introduced to the combined driving about five years ago. She met up with Sterling Graburn and Wendy Ying when she purchased Dragon after finding him through the Internet.

“I still love jumping, but driving’s such a thrill,” Nevitt explained. “The marathon’s such a thrill; dressage is such a challenge. But in hunters, it’s so hard to stick out. In driving there are so few young people.”

Nevitt also said she considers driving more difficult than the hunter show circuit, noting all the extra equipment and conditioning required.

The marathon proved to be a challenge for Nevitt and Dragon as well. Having had a lot of time off during the winter, Nevitt said her horse wasn’t 100 percent fit.

“But he never quit,” she said. “[Section] A was long and tough, and in D [the walk] we were pushing him the whole time.”

Despite coming into the rest halt hot, Dragon’s temperature dropped rapidly, and they continued on to Section E and the six obstacles.

“After hazards 4 and 5 he was telling me he didn’t have too much energy, so I didn’t push him, but we just kept going along.”

This was the 25th running of the Metamora CDE, a significant achievement for any driving competition, but only the second time the organizers offered the advanced level. Only four entered the top division—two singles and two four-in-hands.

Of the two teams entered, Darryl Billing of Ontario topped Casey Zubek after Zubek, who won the dressage, had to retire on the marathon when his horses split a post in an obstacle and couldn’t extricate themselves within the 5-minute time limit. Billing managed not to eliminate, but posted 435 penalties on the marathon alone.

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