Mill Spring, N.C.—Sept. 23
The Dutch driving team has long held command over the driving title at the FEI World Equestrian Games, but a series of mishaps on the marathon phase meant they had a lot of ground to make up if they wanted to retain the title.
And while strong cones rounds from all their drivers put the pressure on the Americans, if anyone could handle the job of being the anchor, it’s Chester Weber, who’s been the country’s top-ranked driver for years.
And boy did he deliver. With just 6 penalty points separating the United States from the Dutch, Weber could afford one mistake but no more. Despite the fact that the course was one of the more technical ones—especially since it took place on footing instead of grass, which makes the carriages slide more in the turns—Weber didn’t knock a single ball and added just 2.77 time penalties to his score.
And just like that, the U.S. were now the gold medalists in the Polaris Ranger World Team Driving Championship, with Weber also taking home the individual silver medal. The Netherlands took home team silver, and Belgium won bronze.
“There’s something that makes this team gold medal extra special,” said Weber. “A wonderful man passed away about a year ago, Ed Young, who was our chef d’equipe forever. He was the driving force between the Federation’s driving program and led the way for a number of years. Today when the reality was there that we’d won team gold, personally that’s what I thought about, for me and this team medal: This is for Ed Young.”
James Fairclough has been a longtime member of the U.S. team, but he experienced some trouble on the cones course when the noseband on his left wheeler broke.
“I had a hard time in there,” he said. “They were fighting me a little bit, and they got really strong. One my wheelers broke a noseband, and I couldn’t figure out why he was so heavy because I couldn’t really hold him, but it was a very technical course, and when they’re that strong it makes it difficult to be quick enough, and I felt myself always a little late.
“I was hoping it would be a little smoother than it was, but it got rough and jerky,” he continued. “But that’s the name of the game, and I’m not sure when the noseband broke, but I just knew they were strong.”
The final team member, Misdee Wrigley-Miller, had a difficult run of the course, knocking three balls and picking up 23.93 time penalties.
“It was wild in there; oh my gosh it was really, really tight,” she said. “My horses were so responsive, so wonderful and bent back on themselves because that’s what it took to get to come off those cones. They made the most of a really, really tough course, and my groom was like, ‘Go faster, go faster,’ and I’m like, ‘There’s no place.’ There’s one spot to make up some time in there, but it’s followed by such a sharp turn that you have to go and come back, and they did that for me. My horses were brilliant.”
One thing did go as expected: Boyd Exell earned the individual gold medal for the third consecutive time at a WEG. The Australian had command of the competition from the very beginning and never let up.
“It’s like a relief because I have a huge team of people who have been with me for 20 years,” Exell said. “One of the senior members is 80 years old and in the hospital, and this is a nice win for her. She’s supported me at every international and every world championships.”
Edouard Simonet of Belgium took the individual bronze.
For full results from the FEI World Equestrian Games, click here.
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For all WEG coverage, click here.
We’ll be onsite for the full two weeks of WEG to bring you all the news you need to know plus gorgeous photos and insight into the competition. Be sure to check out the Oct. 8 issue of the Chronicle for detailed analysis.