Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2024

Groves Drives Closer To Her Goal At Garden State CDE

A win in New Jersey puts her in reach of the World Singles Championships.

With some help from Mother Nature and an electrifying atmosphere during the marathon at the Garden State CDE, Robin Groves and Thor’s Toy Truck galloped to what Groves hopes will be their ticket to the World Single Horse Championship.

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A win in New Jersey puts her in reach of the World Singles Championships.

With some help from Mother Nature and an electrifying atmosphere during the marathon at the Garden State CDE, Robin Groves and Thor’s Toy Truck galloped to what Groves hopes will be their ticket to the World Single Horse Championship.

Groves and “T.J.” were out on the marathon course at the May 29-June 1 event in Allentown, N.J., when a thunderstorm rolled in over the show, a selection trial for the U.S. advanced single horse and four-in-hands headed for this summer’s World Championships in Europe.

“We had done Section A and were in the hold box when the storm came,” Groves said. “Then the lightning began all around us.”

With thunder rolling in around them, the noise-sensitive T.J. “chose to gallop, so I let him,” Groves said. “T.J. didn’t like the weather and decided to scoot home. We were chased home by the lightning.”

They won the marathon with the fastest time. After placing third in dressage, Groves moved up to second after the marathon. A perfect cones round clinched the win in the advanced single horse division.

On June 3, U.S. Equestrian Federation officials named the short list for the World Championship team, which included Groves and T.J.

Lana Wright bred and owns T.J., a Thoroughbred-Connemara cross gelding. “T.J. is the image of his sire [Thor Greystone], in black though, so the initials stand for Thor Junior,” Groves said.

Groves and T.J. got some extra help from pairs driver Lisa Singer and fellow singles driver, Scott Monroe, a few days earlier when they coached Groves in cones.

Groves won the 2007 USEF single horse championship at the Fair Hill CDE (Md.) last fall. The World Singles Championships will be held in Jarantow, Poland, on Aug. 28-31.

T.J., 13, may not have seemed to be a likely candidate for driving when Groves got him from Wright a few years ago. He grew up as a stallion who dominated a band of horses in a field on a Standardbred farm where he was broken to harness. He was gelded when he was 7, but still resisted efforts to train him. So Wright shipped him to the Groves in Brownsville, Vt., for work. Robin’s husband Wilson trained him for a year before he’d let Robin take over the reins.

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Quite A Deal

The bill of sale for Whipperwill Keep On Dancing says $1, so Bill Koopman, of Northbridge, Mass., got  a pretty good deal on the winner of the intermediate single horse class.

“He was a reject known for his habit of bolting,” the semi-retired general building contractor said. “He’s a little horse but he pulls like a Mack truck.”

Koopman and the 15.1-hand chestnut have been in the competition mode since last February, improving with each show, including Garden State. “He was lightning-fast in the last two hazards. I was afraid he would be tuckered out for the last one [the water obstacle], but he flew through the water. We were faster there than any of the advanced horses,” noted Koopman.

Koopman has been driving “Danny” since March 2007, and they’ve had consistent results at the preliminary level before moving up to intermediate at the Live Oak CDE (Fla.) in March and finishing fifth.

Danny, 9, was bred at the McCulloch Farm outside of Old Lyme, Conn., and comes from the famed line of Whipperwill Morgans. Danny’s previous owner, Nell Hamlen, bought him as a weanling but when an accident in 2007 put the 70-year-old Reading, Vt., woman in the hospital, a friend of Hamlen’s tried to give the horse away.

Koopman’s wife “told me ‘you’d better get him now,’ so I did,” said Koopman. The change in the horse’s behavior came after Koopman’s daughter, Anna, suggested putting ear plugs in his ears to keep him from becoming upset. He calmed down with that simple solution.

When Wilson did turn him over to his wife, “he said ‘T.J. isn’t dangerous now, just treacherous,’ ” Robin said with a laugh.

On His Way Again

Six-time national four-in-hand champion Chester Weber didn’t let a little rain or mud deter him and his Dutch Warmbloods from turning in a stellar performance and a win in the advanced four-in-hand
division. Garden State was their final preparation before they left for the World Four-In-Hand Championship in Beesd, the Netherlands, Sept. 3-7.

“My objective was to come here to qualify my horses,” said Weber. “The team was good in cones, and I feel good about them.”

On marathon day the track ran through a portion of the 5,000-acre wildlife refuge where the park is located. A downpour delayed the start of the marathon for an hour and turned the footing in some parts of Section A into muddy and heavy going.

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“We just trotted everything on the marathon because the weather was pretty rough,” Weber said. “But we got our job done.”

They came into marathon day standing in first after their 37.76 dressage test, lost the lead temporarily in the marathon, but regained it on cones day.

Whatever happens this summer in Europe, Weber is looking beyond them to the 2009 USEF National Championships, which are slated to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park and will be a prelude to the 2010 World Equestrian Games which will run there.

Something I Liked

Sherri Dolan’s Smoke, a black Hackney-Shetland pony, was tired after tackling the initial part of the muddy marathon track. But the gutsy gelding bounced back so quickly that by the end of the walk segment “he was almost fully recovered,” Dolan said. Their marathon score moved them from second to first in the advanced single pony division.

“He gave me 100 percent in every single hazard and 200 percent in the last one,” said the Milford, N.J., woman. After competing at the show in the three prior years, she planned to drive the track normally but slow down after the third or fourth kilometer, giving him time to rest before the water hazard.

“I knew the water was going to be a little difficult since it was at the end of the course,” said Dolan, a German pharmaceutical company representative. “We won the marathon and had the best FEI time. And that was with a little pony who outdid big horses.

“He’s such a willing pony and is so smart,” she continued. “He understands hazards are to go fast in and then after he leaves them, he can relax. He knows what dressage is all about and says ‘O.K., I’ll try to behave myself and look pretty.’ ”

Coming into marathon day she and Smoke stood second to Suzy Stafford and Beverly Lecher’s GLB Coppergate, but Stafford missed Gate D in the sixth hazard and was eliminated for that error.

Dolan first competed at Garden State four years ago, when she borrowed a miniature horse from a friend for the season to learn the ropes of combined driving. When she decided to move up to a larger pony, she found Smoke through a friend’s suggestion. Dolan remembered seeing the then-2-year-old son of Town And Country’s Bobcat, and grandson of Georgetown’s Tomcat, a Classic American Shetland who is in the breed’s Hall of Fame.

“He was kind of ugly and very spooky. People told me to get rid of him, but there was something I liked about him so I brought him home. I just took it slowly and let him learn on his own time. He has matured now and is more relaxed; we have become partners,” she said.

Nancy Degutis

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