Sunday, May. 19, 2024

Courage To Lead Returns To The Top At The Laurels At Landhope

The plucky mare recovers from multiple injuries to win for Suzy Stafford.

“Rain, rain, go away,” could have been the mantra of competitors who pushed through the mud and downpours—remnants of Hurricane Hanna—that plagued the Sept. 5-7 The Laurels at Landhope CDE in West Grove, Pa.
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The plucky mare recovers from multiple injuries to win for Suzy Stafford.

“Rain, rain, go away,” could have been the mantra of competitors who pushed through the mud and downpours—remnants of Hurricane Hanna—that plagued the Sept. 5-7 The Laurels at Landhope CDE in West Grove, Pa.

Getting soaked and fighting the elements on marathon day were a small price to pay for those who were pursuing U.S. Equestrian Federation national honors that could help them qualify for the World Pony Championships next year. The show hosted the national championships in the pony single, pair and four-in-hand divisions for the second consecutive year. Due to the weather, officials extended some of the marathon times.

Suzy Stafford won the USEF single pony national title in 2004 with Beverly Lescher and David Forney’s Courage To Lead, but the Bear, Del., woman and the bay, 14.1-hand Morgan hadn’t been back to challenge the field until this year due to an injury the mare suffered four years ago. Just before they were due to ship to the 2005 World Championships, “Courage” tore a hip muscle. After recovering from that, she was then kicked in the pasture by another horse last year, chipping a splint bone.

Stafford won the 2005 World Single Pony individual gold without Courage, driving the borrowed pony Cefnoakpark Bouncer. But she’s thrilled to have her old partner back, and they earned the USEF national single pony championship.

“I feel good about this. She was awesome,” said Stafford, who was almost giddy with their victory.

Stafford and Courage led after the dressage but slipped to third after the marathon. But in the cones phase,
balls fell like the rain—including two each for Sara Schmitt and Miranda Cadwell, who stood first and second. Cadwell is the reigning single pony world champion.

Only one ball marred Stafford’s cones round, putting her ahead of Cadwell and Schmitt for the win. “She was really good—almost too good—with me [in the cones],” Stafford said. “She was very forward and listening to me, so I could just let her go. Then I touched the rein one extra time, which I guess I shouldn’t have.”

Marathon day brought the full force of the downpour in the midst of Stafford’s round. “It was horrid when I went. The carriage probably weighed twice as much as it does normally. She never gets tired, but [after the marathon] she was tired.

I knew I was 10 points ahead [of their nearest competitor, Cadwell, at that time]. So when she did not want to give more, I did not push for more. I just let her take it easy yesterday and whatever she offered, I took,” said Stafford, who hopes to qualify Courage for the World Single Championships next year in Germany.

Losing The Way

The biggest upset of the weekend came when 2007 national advanced pair horse titleist, Larry Poulin, failed to complete the marathon with Natasha Griggs’ warmbloods, Wiley and Rivage. The Petersham, Mass., man did return for the cones phase. Longtime friendly rival Lisa Singer took the victory.
Poulin’s error came when he drove the first through fourth hazards on the marathon, then went on to the sixth, missing the fifth completely. At that point he retired on course.

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“It was driver error,” said Poulin. “I just got confused in the rain and by the flagging [at the hazards].”
Hometown favorite, Singer of Chadds Ford, Pa., led after dressage but dropped back to second behind Keady Cadwell after the marathon.

Having Some Fun

A new element was added to The Laurels at Landhope CDE when show officials offered a Gambler’s Choice class.

“I don’t think this has ever been done at a combined driving event in this country,” said FEI course designer James O’Rourke. “The idea came from Lisa Stroud, who saw it at the Aachen CHIO [Germany] this year.”

The layout of the timed event came from Wolfgang Asendorf, who laid it out at Aachen, he continued, “and he let Lisa use his design. She put it all together two weeks before show.”

The class was limited to advanced drivers, and 14 participated, driving against the clock. Miranda Cadwell won the novel competition with her Kabam, with Kylie MacGillivray and her Ardmore Night Wind coming in second. They were followed by Sara Schmitt and Batman with Mary Mott-Kocsis and Stanhope Express rounding out the field.

Stroud joined in, but she could not use her home turf advantage to make the top four. Even though she frequently drove her team of four Connemaras around the family’s Landhope Farm, site of the show, she decided to make things a little more
difficult for herself for the Gambler’s Choice. She drove a team of six gray ponies, including the four she used later in the week to win the USEF pony team national championship.

“This is a class only for fun so I thought it would be fun [to drive a six-in-hand],” Stroud said. Stroud draws on a pool of eight ponies, including other Connemaras, a German Sport Pony, an Arab cross and a “Heinz 57.”

Singer went conservatively on the marathon in the driving rain, picking up time faults. “I knew I did not want to overdo it because of the weather. I was very happy with them,” she said.

A fraction of a penalty point, less than one ball down, separated the two women when Singer went on to the cones course. She put in a nearly flawless performance, dropping only one ball to end on 145.96 penalty points with Anne “Mimi” Thorington’s Morgans, Count On Me and LR Ami Bengali.

Cadwell, meanwhile, had time penalities and balls down to put her in second (151.32).

“There was nowhere to run, [on the cones course] and I like running,” said Singer. “But [the route] kept your brain thinking.”

Cadwell knew victory was within her grasp but took a chance by putting her 5-year-old, bay Dutch-bred gelding, Splash, in her pair. “I wanted him to get experience and this was a lot for him,” she said.

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Bring On The Competition

Lisa Stroud of West Grove, Pa., led the advanced pony four-in-hand division wire-to-wire with her Connemara ponies. “It’s easier for me to drive these ponies more forward than being careful. I am
better when I just say ‘Let’s go‚’ and they go in a straight line. It is easer to steer something that is going forward; otherwise, they turn into noodles when you take them back.”

After going to the World Pony Driving Championships in 2003 as an individual and then in 2005 and 2007 as a member of the U.S. squad, she is excited about next year’s championships. “The pony teams have grown so much during the last three championships, and I really think we are in a medal position this year,” she said.

Stroud, who got her start in driving by breaking her daughter’s outgrown Connemara pony, Spiderman, to harness, would like to see more American whips in the pony team ranks. “Otherwise, you are competing against yourself all the time,” she said.

Stroud used to relish competing against Boots Wright. “When she switched to pairs, it was a huge, huge loss to me because I really enjoy competing against her, but Elizabeth [Keathley, who finished second at The Laurels to Stroud] is coming on and I am excited.”

Getting Wet And Winning

Although Tracey Morgan of Beallsville, Md., and her trusty Dartmoor ponies were the lone entries in the advancedpony pairs, an executive decision by show officials allowed the three-time world championships veteran to compete for the national title.

The marathon was her toughest test. The undulating terrain of the Brandywine Valley at The Laurels is always hard on ponies, but this time the mud in the track made it even more difficult.

The course “was a tough one, even without the rain, but it was a great course. The new hazard [The Triangle] was wonderful. It was very technical but it drove really well,” Morgan said.

The only part her bay mares, Farnley Coquette, 10, and Singletree Tabitha Twitchit, 11, “did not like was the walk—the rain was in their face and ears—but other than that, they were game for it. We crossed creeks twice and then there is the water hazard. Now there is not one bit of us that is dry,” the former dressage rider said with a laugh.

Morgan has the 2009 World Championship in her sights and plans to drive in just enough qualifiers to get ready for the selection trials.

Nancy Degutis

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