As the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games loom ahead, drivers get ready.
Individual World Four-In-Hand Championship silver medalist Chester Weber left his competition in the dust—literally—at the U.S. Trust Live Oak International Combined Driving Event, March 19-22 in Ocala, Fla.
With no relief from the drought that continues to plague the southern states, spectators had to strain to see through the clouds of dust that 16 four-in-hand entries churned up on the marathon. Although no national championships were contested, FEI ponies and horse pairs and their scores were scrutinized to see who might be suitable for a spot on a 2009 World Championship team, and the horse team drivers were focused on the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, to be held in Lexington, Ky.
Weber, driving on home turf at his family’s Live Oak Plantation, put a new horse in his team. Reno, a 5-year-old Gelderlander that Weber acquired 11⁄2 years ago, was first introduced to competition in his team at the Sunshine State (Fla.) event three weeks earlier.
“He really impressed me, so I used him here, and I think I’ll use him the rest of the season,” commented Weber. Reno participated in dressage, marathon and cones in the left lead position. “I think that’s a little more fair to a 5-year-old. He’s really quite brave and good, and he has the right sort of material from nature. [The other] three really knew what they were doing, and I could focus on one young one and see what he was going to do wrong.”
All five members of the international jury placed Weber first in dressage, 13 points ahead of Gavin Robson, a native Australian, driving Larry Denny’s team of Dutch Harness Horses. Anna Nordin, driving Seth and Patsy Wooten’s Dutch Warmblood team, placed third. A citizen of Sweden residing in North Carolina, Nordin is hoping to earn a spot driving for her native country at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
After an absence from competition for several years, Bill Long of Southern Pines, N.C., was back on the scene driving Jack Wetzel’s team of Gelderlanders. Long was pleased with his team’s performance in dressage even though the score didn’t reflect the improvement that was evident since their first outing at Sunshine State.
Unfortunately Long had to retire on the marathon when he lost his groom in a hazard and was unable to continue.
Suzy Stafford claimed a decisive win over the nine other contestants in the FEI advanced single pony class. Stafford, having already won a gold medal driving Sybil Humphrey’s Cefnoakpark Bouncer at the 2005 World Combined Pony Driving Championships, hopes to have the chance again driving Beverly Lesher’s Morgan mare Courage To Lead.
Stafford has been driving “Katy” since 2003 and at the FEI level since 2004. “This is a phenomenal pony with an extensive amount of athleticism and power. Sometimes she lets her abilities get away from her. After six years I’ve managed to harness this energy for good. We have a good working relationship of understanding and trust. I stay out of her way and she does her job,” said Stafford.
Sara Schmitt driving Batman won the marathon, fastest of the single ponies in five of the seven hazards. Stafford was more conservative: “The carriage was very unstable on the loose sand so that slowed us down a bit,” she said.
Stafford and Lesher are hoping that this will be the year they can show Courage To Lead to the world. “She is one of a kind, a spectacular pony!” Stafford said. On Sunday, Courage To Lead was presented with the coveted Hanzi Award donated by Chester Weber to the best horse or pony in the competition.
Me And My Shadow
In the FEI advanced pair horse class, Larry Poulin followed up his dressage win with a strong marathon, winning five hazards and scoring second fastest in the other two. Close behind was Keady Cadwell of Southern Pines, N.C., with her own warmblood pair.
With two balls in hand going into cones, Poulin was one of only two drivers in the FEI division to keep all the balls on the cones, and with only 5.49 time penalties, he secured his win. Hitting three cones and incurring time penalties, Cadwell dropped to third, allowing Lisa Singer to move up to second place.
Poulin credited focus and lots of homework for his success. “It’s a really difficult marathon. The jury is tough [in dressage], and in the cones [course designer] Iseli is always throwing in a curve,” said Poulin.
Poulin had hoped to drive two grays, but he has no regrets about adding the bay Wiley to his team. Poulin said Wiley is the straightest, most reliable horse he’s ever had. “He’s very attentive, and the two [Wiley and Rivage] match the best,” he said. The bay Wiley looks like a shadow of the gray Rivage when the two are in synch, which is most of the time.
When it came to the marathon, Poulin was unsure about his choice of horses. The walk section is one of the most difficult in the country—very sandy and uphill. According to Poulin, “If you can’t make the walk, you can’t win.” So Cody, the third member of his string and the best walker, was put in to ensure a penalty-free walk.
Larry’s uncle, Grand Prix dressage rider Michael, witnessed his first combined driving event at Live Oak and was on hand to help Larry warm up before both the marathon and cones.
The cones course, designed by Austria’s Christian Iseli, was a tight one, with two zig-zags and two 20-meter circles. Only FEI single driver Samantha Orem was able to make both time and course with no penalties.