In 2003, Drew Callahan finished second in the U.S. Equestrian Federation National Combined Driving Singles Championship, and this year he and his 11-year-old, Morgan gelding, Export, returned to take the top title.
“Last year, I felt like there were some things we could have done better,” said Callahan, of Palmer, Texas. “I gave him time off, and then there were some things I wanted to change about how he performed, with the goal of going back to win this year, and it worked out.”
Callahan started the competition, held at the Colorado Horse Park, Aug. 27-29 in Parker, Colo., by placing second in the dressage.
“It was a decent test,” said Callahan, who drove in a heavy, cold rain. “When we were done, there wasn’t a part of us that was dry. But the arena held up; it didn’t get slippery.”
The weather cleared up for the marathon, designed by James O’Rourke, and Callahan found it to be a good challenge.
“There were technical and tight hazards, but there were still areas to open your horse up and gallop,” he said. “It was a good blend of speed and power with the need to be accurate and technical.”
Callahan, 30, inherited the lead after the marathon, and he successfully negotiated the cones to take the win (140.49) over Eileen Davis (208.04) of Prescott, Ariz.
The cones course caused considerable trouble. “It was held in a sand arena, and it’s always tough there–the carriages fish slide a little,” Callahan said. Callahan bought Export (Midvail Sheffield–Fletcher’s Import) as a 2-year-old. “He wasn’t spooky at all [as a young horse]; he was curious and into everything,” he said of the 15.3-hand gelding. “He always liked driving.”
In 2002, Callahan and Export competed in the selection trials for the World Singles Championships, finishing fourth at the Georgia International, fifth at the USET Festival of Champions (N.J.) and fourth at the Fair Hill International (Md.). But in 2003, Callahan focused on the national title–and organizing his non-equestrian life, including getting married and moving to Texas from Phoenix, Ariz.
“It was an eventful year in our personal lives,” he said. His wife, Jennifer, competes in dressage, and they run a training and sales business.
If Callahan still has Export, he will compete him in the selection trials for the 2006 World Championships, but he said he’ll likely sell him before then. “I feel like I’ve done everything I can do with him,” he said. “He’s still healthy and sound, and someone else could learn a lot from him. It’s a tough thing–if he goes, he goes, but if not, I wouldn’t be disappointed.”
In the meantime, Callahan is relishing the realization of his goal. “It’s been a long time coming and a lot of hard work the last three years,” he said. “I had to go to the East Coast to realize I could compete at that level and to make the necessary changes. But we are seeing the fruits of our labors; it’s not something that comes together overnight.”
Callahan competed against five other drivers for the title, and he wished there had been even more competitors.
“I know how far it is,” he said. “It’s difficult to have a true national championship because there is no one spot that everyone can get to. Someone has to drive a long way–that’s just the way it is.”