Friday, Jun. 7, 2024

Kastama Shows How It’s Done At Arizona CDE

A five-month drought in Coolidge, Ariz., ended with 2 1/2 inches of rain on marathon day at the Arizona CDE, March 10-12, but the show ran on.

For a few, the ill-timed relief was cause to sit this one out, but to wheelchair bound competitor Diane Kastama, it was a minor obstacle to face.

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A five-month drought in Coolidge, Ariz., ended with 2 1/2 inches of rain on marathon day at the Arizona CDE, March 10-12, but the show ran on.

For a few, the ill-timed relief was cause to sit this one out, but to wheelchair bound competitor Diane Kastama, it was a minor obstacle to face.

Kastama, winner of her division, drove of one of the best dressage tests at the show, earning a score of 38.0 in the intermediate tandem division. Driving Jasper in the lead and Rupert in the wheel, Kastama drove her pair of Welsh Cobs tandem instead of as a pair, as she had originally planned, because her new pair carriage was not ready in time. Tandem is the most difficult of the various combinations to drive, even more difficult than four-in-hand, according to some.

Kastama, from Arroyo Grande, Calif., took up tandem driving, enabling her to work both horses at one time, while waiting for her carriage to be customized and painted. When it was clear that the carriage would not be ready in time for the Oak Run Horse Driving Trial (Calif.) in February, Kastama asked permission to switch her entry to a tandem and “somehow muddled through.” Again, just days before the Arizona event, Kastama asked permission to change her entry.

“I had to drive [the dressage test] in an 80-meter arena [instead of 100 meters, required for a tandem], and my only practice was in the warm-up ring,” she said. “I drove two-handed instead of Achenbach, but I was able to keep them nice and round. I’ve driven advanced with my leader, and as I went down the center line at the extended trot at the end of the test, he said, ‘Oh boy–this is fun!’ and I said, ‘Whoa!’ hoping he would stop before climbing into the judge’s box!”

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A silver medalist in the 2002 World Championship for Drivers with Disabilities, Kastama acquired the 15.1- and 15.2-hand Welsh Cobs from England after the championships. Team USA competed with borrowed horses at that event, and Jasper was loaned to Kastama, while Rupert was driven by teammate Gene Hagsburg. Following the championship, Kastama offered to purchase Jasper, however the owner would only sell Jasper and Rupert as a pair.

Kastama is looking forward to driving them at the U.S. National Pairs Championship at Shady Oaks Ranch (Calif.) in October, and perhaps even at the World Championships for disabled drivers in The Netherlands in September.

Forty-five drivers competed at the training, preliminary, and intermediate levels offered at Bob and Mary Beth Goree’s farm in Coolidge, Ariz. The Gorees have hosted this competition for 19 of its 22 years on the family’s cotton farm. The terrain is pancake flat, but some of the track takes horses and carriages along irrigation canals, which provide no extra room for unanticipated “deviations” of course.

The three levels were well split, with 11 training level entries, 21 in preliminary and 13 intermediate. This was the first year that the organizers haven’t offered advanced-level competition, citing the extraordinary amount of red tape, paperwork, and financial commitment involved with hosting the higher level.

All competitors had the benefit of being judged by three judges in dressage, an opportunity that training level competitors don’t often have. Canadian Marsoe LaRose presided over the jury, joined by Hardy Zantke, and Mary Beth Goree. As a prelude to Saturday’s monsoon, Friday’s weather gods offered high winds and dust storms, one of which forced preliminary pair driver Jeff Pederson of Utah to stop in the midst of his test. Neither driver nor his Fjord ponies could see or be seen through the dust cloud! The judges agreed that Pederson made the correct decision and did not penalize him.

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The best dressage test of the competition was driven by Tera Gehrig of El Cajon, Calif., who held on to her lead to win the preliminary single horse class.

Two inches of rain mixed with two inches of dry dust equaled six inches of slippery goo, adding to the challenge of the marathon. It is a credit to all the drivers that the marathon was completed without casualty, at least none that a hot bath and warm drink could not remedy.

Sunday’s start of the final phase of the competition, cones, was delayed an hour to give the ground extra time to dry out. The zig-zag elements and the serpentine were eliminated from the course to protect the ground from becoming rutted, which could potentially catch a wheel and cause a turnover.

Junior driver Cassie Welcker of California drove the best cones round and won the intermediate single pony class, a great achievement for her first competition at that level. John Glimpse, only weeks recovered from a heart attack, drove client Deborah Roberts’ (sidelined with a broken bone) paint horse to a victory in the intermediate single horse class.

The annual Fred Etchard Award was presented to the competitor who represented the best spirit of the sport. It was given to Kastama, who not only completed the marathon well with her tandem but also rallied other drivers to go out and face the challenge.

“How can one stay home, while a wheelchair driver is hitching up her tandem in the cold and rain?” asked Zantke. “Diane is a true example to many in the West, as she is able to accomplish more than many people are able to do even without disabilities, and she always does it with a smile and in good spirit.”

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