Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

RG Cowboy’s Black Cadillac Cruises To A Win At Black Prong

Donna Crookston starts down the path to World Championship selection with a win in the driving trial.

The one thing you could be sure of at the Black Prong Driving Trial, March 15-16, was that you couldn’t be sure of anything.

Lisa Singer competed at intermediate level. Larry Poulin didn’t do the marathon. Boyd Excell drove Randy Cadwell’s pony on the marathon. Drivers who normally compete at one level drove in another level, or even more than one.
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Donna Crookston starts down the path to World Championship selection with a win in the driving trial.

The one thing you could be sure of at the Black Prong Driving Trial, March 15-16, was that you couldn’t be sure of anything.

Lisa Singer competed at intermediate level. Larry Poulin didn’t do the marathon. Boyd Excell drove Randy Cadwell’s pony on the marathon. Drivers who normally compete at one level drove in another level, or even more than one.

Because the competition at Black Prong, held at Maureen and Alan Aulson’s Black Prong Equestrian Center in Bronson, Fla., was a driving trial, many drivers chose to use it as an opportunity to introduce new horses and ponies, and do some tuning up before the Live Oak CAI two weeks later.

A driving trial is a simplified version of a full-blown combined driving event. It usually takes place over two days; dressage and cones are held on the first day, with the marathon driven on the second day. The marathon is usually only one section (E, the one with the hazards) instead of three.

Donna Crookston drove a luxury vehicle—RG Cowboy’s Black Cadillac—to the top of the advanced single horse division. Crookston, of Saltsburg, Pa., has been based at Black Prong since Jan. 1, taking advantage of the facilities and climate to get a head start on her goal of qualifying for the U.S. team competing in August at the World Singles Driving Championships in Jarantow, Poland.

Crookston and “Cowboy” stood second after dressage with 44.16, just a fraction of a penalty point behind Kate Shields, a driver well known for her strong dressage performance. “I was so delighted, considering Kate Shields is such a phenomenal driver,” said Crookston.

In cones, Crookston had one ball down, but no time penalties. Shields went double clean, so Crookston still stood second overall going into the marathon.

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Black Prong Tidbits

  • Although 2008 is a World Championship year for four-in-hand horses, none competed at the Black Prong trial. Two teams entered the intermediate level, Canadian Darryl Billing and Casey Zubek, who may have their sights set for the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky. After wondering whether the United States would be able to field enough drivers to fill the number of slots allowed to the home team, it seems as if drivers are beginning to appear, testing not only the water, but their horses, their ability, and, perhaps, their sponsors.


  • The intermediate pair horse class looked for all intents and purposes like an FEI class: Fritz Grupe, Lisa Singer and Alan Aulson were just a few of the seven who dropped down a level for various reasons. Grupe won over Singer and Aulson. For Singer, the reason was the introduction of a new horse to her pair. And this one came from her own back yard. In fact, Singer bred Tilba, a 5-year-old mare, and has been waiting for the right time to make her debut. “She is a witch at times but does her work well. She likes the boys!” said Singer. Tilba, having spent most of her life in a pasture, had to become acclimated to being in a stall in addition to all the new sights and sounds of a horse show.
  • Many new names appeared on the result sheet, particularly at the lower levels. It is so important for entry-level drivers to have the opportunity to compete locally and with the growth of events like Live Oak (Fla.) and Sunshine State (Fla.), those opportunities are few. Residents of California, Vermont, Ontario and states in between have found Black Prong a pleasant place to escape from the winter elements and get a head start on the competition season.

Sterling Graburn won the marathon, scoring 62.34, followed by Robin Groves, the reigning USEF National Singles Champion. Crookston drove to a 67.85 marathon score, which was good enough to overtake Shields, who ended up in third after a 73.77 on the marathon. Graburn finished up in second. Crookston was pleased to be in the company of such strong marathon drivers.

Cowboy, the horse between the shafts that has made Crookston a winner, is a 12-year-old Morgan. The black gelding was foaled in Nebraska and during his formative years did general ranch work and worked cattle. He was subsequently sold to Enos Yoder, a Mennonite horseman from Colorado who has found and sold horses to a number of drivers, including Lisa Singer.

Yoder taught Cowboy to drive, and after a year or so sold him to someone in Texas. A couple of years later, Yoder bought Cowboy back. Interested in finding a good horse, Crookston contacted Yoder, who sent her a video of Cowboy. Impressed by what she saw, Crookston made Yoder an offer, only to find that he had already consigned Cowboy to the Harrisburg, Pa., sale.

Crookston met Yoder there, rode Cowboy a little, put him to an ancient Kuhnle and drove around the parking lot. Ultimately, the gavel fell in Crookston’s favor, and now Cowboy and Crookston are a winning team. They spent a year doing training level events, a year at preliminary, and are currently in their second year at the advanced level.

While the competition among those vying for a ticket to the World Championships is fierce, the camaraderie is also strong. On the Monday following the driving trial, Lisa Singer and Allison Stroud arranged for some of the singles drivers to take a clinic with Dutch team driver Koos de Ronde.

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“He was a great help to me in the hazards,” Crookston said.

De Ronde has been working with pony team driver Stroud, work which has paid off for Stroud who earned a team bronze medal at last year’s World Combined Pony Driving Championships (Denmark).

Black Prong was only the third outing at the advanced level for Sherri Dolan and her Smoke, so she was thrilled to top the advanced single pony class. Dolan and Smoke, an 8-year-old Shetland-Hackney cross, have climbed up the ranks from training level to preliminary, intermediate and now advanced.

Dolan was pleased with Smoke’s performance in dressage and the marathon, but “cones were terrible,” she said. “I learned that I really need to practice cones.”

With cones immediately following dressage, and with a good feeling after her test (scoring 52.48) Dolan said perhaps she was a little too relaxed and underestimated the difficulty of the course.  Her score of 22.32 closed the gap between she and Megan Benge in second, but her wins in the dressage and marathon phases kept her on top.

Miranda Cadwell may very well have won that class, but she took a deliberate elimination by letting Boyd Excell drive her pony in the marathon. Dolan took this as an opportunity to compare her marathon score to Boyd’s and was pleasantly surprised to find just a few penalties separated the pro from the novice.

Smoke, standing all of 12.3 hands, is smaller than most of the other ponies Dolan competes against, putting them at somewhat of a disadvantage, although on the other hand, because of his size, he can turn extremely fast.

“He’s very determined, very forward, and likes to go fast. He’s equally good in all phases,” Dolan said.
Even with his small stature, Smoke recovers very quickly after the marathon.

Ann L. Pringle

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