Monday, Jun. 3, 2024

Suzy Stafford Makes History With First Gold

When Suzy Stafford crossed the timers during the cones phase of the singles competition at the FEI World Combined Pony Driving Championships today she didn't realize she'd made her mark in U.S. driving history. She had to wait through a few anxious moments until her score was tallied.

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When Suzy Stafford crossed the timers during the cones phase of the singles competition at the FEI World Combined Pony Driving Championships today she didn’t realize she’d made her mark in U.S. driving history. She had to wait through a few anxious moments until her score was tallied.

And when the announcement came, the U.S. fans in the stands went wild, cheering the country’s first individual World Champion in the sport of combined driving. Fred Merriam, the individual bronze medalist at the 2002 World Single Horse Driving Championships, is the only other U.S. driver to earn an individual medal.

Stafford, 28, of Bear, Del., entered the cones phase with the lead and a ball in hand. And she needed it. Driving conservatively to start, she and Bouncer picked up the pace after knocking No. 18, and they squeaked through with just a second to spare.

“It was amazing,” said Stafford. “When I knocked that ball down I heard the crowd [collectively moan], and I knew I’d better pick up the pace. Then, when we finished, I didn’t know if I’d held on.”

As Stafford stood on the podium accepting her gold medal and accolades, she savored this brief moment in time because her time with Sybil and Wayne Humphries’ Welsh Cob Bouncer has been just as fleeting. She began driving the black gelding just 3 _ weeks prior to the championships after her own pony pulled a muscle and was out of commission. When Bouncer’s owners parted ways with Muffy Seaton after the Windsor CDE (England), he became a pony without a driver.

“I’m grateful to the Humphries for allowing me to drive Bouncer,” said Stafford. “He’s a wonderful pony.”

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The German team’s collection of wonderful ponies couldn’t be denied their second consecutive team gold medal. With two of their drivers defending their individual titles—Steffen Abicht and Dirk Gerkens-here was no stopping them. To add to their medals, 2003 individual singles gold medalist Tobias Bucker moved up to teams and claimed the silver medal.

The U.S. team, which had stood third after dressage, fell to third after the marathon yesterday. And, unfortunately, their fall continued today as too many balls dropped and the team finished fifth, topped by silver medalists the Netherlands, bronze medalists Great Britain and fourth-placed Austria.

Today cones course was considered brilliant but difficult. Course designer Wolfgang Asendorf made the drivers work for everything—even the final test, a slalom to the finish line, was a unique question that required driving at speed just when the drivers had the urge to gallop to the finish to make the tight time allowed.

Sara Schmitt came through for the team in the cones phase with the best score of the day. She and High Country Doc had just .57 time penalties to earn sixth in the third phase and move all the way up from 19th to 10th.

Individual drivers Wendy Ying and Jack Wetzel completed their cones rounds and finished 32nd and 20th, respectively.

Tracey Morgan and her Dartmoors truly galloped to make the time, and they did it. But the two balls down was a disappointment for Morgan who didn’t even hear the second ball drop. Nevertheless, their performance was among the best of the day in the pairs division and they earned fourth-placed honors.

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Katie Whaley also had two balls down, but a slower time added additional faults and they placed 13th overall.

With the U.S. still battling Great Britain for the team bronze medal after the singles and pairs had gone, the pressure was on the team drivers to determine the final outcome.

Lisa Stroud, first to go, couldn’t pull it together. Her team of grays just didn’t seem in sync, and Stroud struggled, especially through the final cones. Their score of 25.04 left them 19th and last of the teams that finished the competition.

Boots Wright, driving her new team of flash chestnuts, began well, but like Stroud, she struggled to keep the balls up on the cones. They ended the day in 15th.

Today’s final competition culminated a successful championship, with near-perfect weather for spectators throughout the week and a beautiful venue. In addition to the championships, Catton Hall hosted The Midlands Food & Drink Festival, which drew a substantial number of locals to eat, drink and cheer for the ponies.

No announcement was made as to the next venue for the World Combined Pony Championships, but those who attended this competition will no doubt look forward to 2007.

For full results click here.

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