Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

Roberts Returns To Action With A Win At Lexington Classic


She overcomes debilitating injuries to drive—and win—again.

Deborah Roberts spent the weekend of Oct. 5-7 much differently than she had in the previous year. 
   
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She overcomes debilitating injuries to drive—and win—again.

Deborah Roberts spent the weekend of Oct. 5-7 much differently than she had in the previous year. 
   
In 2006, Roberts suffered multiple injuries in a crushing accident.  This year, she drove to the win in the preliminary single horse division at the Lexington Combined Driving Classic, at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. It was Roberts’ first CDE competition since she’d been hurt so badly.

While living in Arizona in October 2006, Roberts became worried when her husband, Herb, hadn’t returned home and decided to drive an all-terrain vehicle out to find him. When the vehicle veered off of the trail in the dark, Roberts was thrown off.  She landed in an 8-foot-deep ravine, with the 500-pound vehicle on top of her. 

Her husband was fine, but a concussion, broken arm, and foot injuries were the least of Roberts’ problems.  Her left shoulder and hand were so damaged that her surgeon had to reattach numerous ligaments and tendons.  He cautiously told her that she should be able to drive again. Roberts could not bend her fingers enough to hold the reins. Her hand and arm lacked the strength needed for driving.

But Roberts battled back, forcing herself to do extensive rehabilitative exercises. When her “physical therapy guy said I shouldn’t be so intense with therapy because I would probably never drive again, I fired him for being so negative!” she said.

The year away from competitive driving was also hard on her horse, Lord Benjamin Brennan “Ben.” The 13-year-old Paint cross became, in Roberts’ words, “a pasture poodle. I think he missed the competition,” she said.

While it took months of therapy for Roberts to regain strength and flexibility in her hand and arm, Ben had no trouble getting back into harness and his top form.

For her first CDE since the accident, Roberts dropped down to preliminary. Her goal is to drive in preliminary at two more competitions, Pine Tree (N.C.) and Katydid  (S.C.), and then move back up to intermediate level.

Roberts’s strategy at Lexington was to get ahead early.  She and Ben won the dressage (57.22), after a 5-point penalty for going off course. By the time the marathon ended, their score of 44.78 placed them more than 30 points ahead of their nearest competitor.

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The Kentucky Horse Park Will Be Ready For The 2010 WEG

It had been several years since the Kentucky Horse Park had hosted a CDE, so the Lexington Classic was essentially a shakedown cruise for the staff and site in preparation for the CDE at the 2010 World Equestrian Games to be held at the KHP.

The dry run went well, by all accounts. “To be three years out of the WEG and be so well organized is amazing. John Nicholson [Director of the KHP] and his team have been
fantastic,” said four-in-hand driver Tucker Johnson.

Barb and Jack Simmons, from Bellevue, Neb., echoed Johnson’s opinions. Barb usually drives in the advanced single pony division, but she and Jack took time to volunteer this time around. 

Barb, who served as an obstacle judge during the marathon and score runner during dressage, spoke favorably of the event, site, and the many volunteers.

Jack, who volunteered as a timer at the end of the marathon and also directed traffic, called the KHP “a beautiful setting.”  He added that he had overhead Ian Douglas, FEI Steward from Great Britain, say that the vistas across the Horse Park “‘could be [that of] any of the great estates in England.’”

Philip Bateman, of Great Britain, served as the technical delegate. The Horse Park’s level polo field, designed for the spectators’ advantage, “is perfect for driving,” Bateman said. The Horse Park is “really a spectacular place.”

His overall impression of the competition was that “it did not at all feel like a first year event.  The volunteer team has worked well and the staff  here have been very helpful,” he added.

The event reacquainted Kentucky spectators with the exciting equestrian sport of competitive driving, and it also showed the drivers that the KHP will present the driving part of the WEG in an impressive way.

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The cones competition went well, save for a 3-point penalty. As they cleared the last cones gate, Roberts called out her signature command, “Quick like a bunny!”  Ben raced for the finish line, invoking laughter and much applause from the crowd.  Their cumulative score was 105.0, the lowest in both the preliminary horse and pony divisions.

While living in Arizona, Roberts trained with John Glimpse. Since moving to Southern Pines, N.C., this year, she has been training with Wiebe Draegstra.

Roberts bought Ben as an afterthought.  He was part of a package deal with another horse that she really wanted. The other horse didn’t turn out to be impressive, but Ben “has surpassed everyone’s expectations” as a driving horse, she said.

Another first, and a successful one, at the Lexington Classic, was Misdee Wrigley Miller’s winning debut in the preliminary pairs horse division.  Miller drove the pair of Dutch Harness Horses that Michel Freund found for her in Germany.

An experienced American Saddlebred rider and breeder, Miller was quick to give credit for her progress to others. “I have marvelous, marvelous horses and marvelous coaches,” she said.

Todd Draheim trains Miller, and she enjoyed the variety of the three phases.  “They all had such elements of difficulty. I expected dressage to be the easiest, but it was challenging. I’m completely shocked that I did so well in the hazards,” said Miller, who won the marathon phase. 

Miller’s triumph at Lexington was also a story of local-girl-makes-good, for her Hillcroft Farm is in Paris, Ky., 30 miles north of Lexington. The fourth generation of her family to work with horses, she serves on the Governor of Kentucky’s Advisory Council for the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

Miller summed up her participation in the CDE as “three intense days.”  She first bought horses for pleasure driving, but competitive driving lured her in. Of her new sport she said, “By far, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had with my horses.”

She’ll be back for future driving events, but her immediate focus is on the next major American Saddlebred competitions.

Margaret Buranen

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