An exemplary dressage test kick-started a winning week-end for Sue Mott of Angus, Ont., in the advanced single horse division at the Bromont International CAI-B, May 21-23 in Bromont, Que. The event was the last chance for Canadian and U.S. drivers to impress team selectors for the World Singles Championship, to be held in Astorp, Sweden from July 21-25.
Mott and her 11-year-old gelding Du Coteau Lalou Caesar held a 2.4-point lead after dressage over Fred Merriam, 54, of New Fane, Vt. Mott, 54, laid down a solid marathon performance on Saturday over what she described as a difficult course with hazards “set up for speed.” She then secured the win on Sunday with a clean cones round.
Mott, who has had the 16.2-hand Canadian-bred since he was 3, said his strongest phase tends to be dressage.
“I was very, very pleased with my horse. He was right there for [the whole event],” she said.
A pleasure driver since the age of 13, Mott moved on to combined driving 14 years ago. Over the past two years, she’s scored six top-four finishes, including a pair of thirds this year at Southern Pines (N.C.) and Garden State (N.J.). Mott balances her driving ambitions with her career as a registered nurse, and she also coaches for a disabled riding program run out of her 10-horse farm.
Competitive driving is a family affair for Mott, since her husband Ken is her navigator, and her daughter Kaitlin pitches in as her groom. If chosen for the World Championship team, she hopes all will make the trip to Sweden.
Ups And Downs For Merriam
Although hot on Mott’s heels after the dressage, Merriam was unable to keep the pressure on because of a turnover and subsequent retirement at the water obstacle on the marathon.
“It just reached out there and grabbed me. It was my turn,” said Merriam. Although a bit sore, Merriam and Gaitwood Lightwing, a 9-year-old, Morgan gelding, avoided injury.
Despite having to withdraw, Merriam was pleased with the connection he had with his horse throughout the competition. “It is hard for me to get him to chill out when he is not in the hazards. And this time around he said, ‘OK, my job is done. I can relax, and I’ll just plod along to the other one and then pick up speed.’ He was being great,” he said.
The spill is uncharacteristic for Merriam, 54, the U.S. bronze medal winner at the 2002 World Championships, Conty, France. At Bromont, he was also presented with the FEI North American Challenge Trophy for the best overall 2003 performance in the single horse division. The marathon course, designed by international course designer Joe Gilliland from Florida, took four of the advanced single drivers by surprise, causing rollovers. One driver was eliminated because of a missed gate in the first obstacle. But no injuries were reported.
Mott is eagerly awaiting the Canadian team announcement. But she added that the future of the Canadian team is uncertain because funding to make the trip to Sweden could be sparse.
“Funding is always an issue in Canada,” said Mott. “It is not yet determined whether we will be able to go.”
Equine Canada, the organization that regulates equestrian sports in Canada, does not provide funding for non-Olympic disciplines, so drivers do their own team fundraising. Because Mott said Canada will be fielding a relatively young team, she sees making the trip to the World Championship as important for building the sport in Canada.
“The experience will be beneficial if we can finance a team,” she said. If chosen, Mott hopes to help better Canada’s eighth-placed finish at the 2002 World Championships.
Monroe Lands On Feet
The trying marathon phase caused a bump in the road for another top U.S. competitor. Third after dressage with 42.0 points, Scott Monroe, 51, of Sharon, Conn., driving Bethesda After Dark, won five of the first six obstacles. But then disaster struck at obstacle 7 when his carriage rolled over.
“I cut a post too closely and rode up on the post, and we went over. But the horse didn’t go down, and we were tossed out and landed on our feet,” Monroe said.
He managed to right his vehicle, climb aboard and cross the exit gate within 15 seconds of the winner’s time at that obstacle. But the 60 penalty points for the rollover dropped him to ninth place. One ball down in cones left him ninth overall. While Monroe said the marathon course was difficult, he thought it was excellent preparation for the World Championships.
“If you are trying to hone your skills and get ready for the Europeans you need to add speed and accuracy. Each time you go out, you need to make it a little quicker,” he said.
Monroe, who works full-time running a tree care and maintenance firm he started in 1978, described his 15.2-hand, 11-year-old, jet-black Morgan gelding as “strong-spirited.” But having had “Shadow,” by Wyoming Flyhawk, since he was 3, they have an excellent partnership. Monroe, who was the U.S. team alternate for the 2002 World Championships, has been selected for this year’s team. He and Shadow won the selection trial at the fall Gladstone (N.J.) CDE and were also second and third at the Fair Hill (Md.) International and The Laurels (Pa.) at Landhope, respectively.
Monroe is excited about the U.S. team’s chances. “I think we have three very strong, talented horses,” he said. “There is no reason to go to make an appearance. We are only going to go to bring back a team gold.”
The final event at Bromont consisted of a two-phase obstacles-cones competition. Drivers had to negotiate the first 15 of 20 obstacles in an allowed time. If they went double clear, competitors could continue on to the final obstacles, which were driven as a timed competition. The format thrilled the crowd with singles, pairs and four-in-hands all galloping to the finish. Diane Trefry of Maryland won the competition, followed closely by Mott.
The U.S. team for the World Championships will consist of Merriam, Monroe, and Scott Padgett, 27, of Southern Pines, N.C. The alternate is Kate Shields, 55, of Middleburg, Va.