Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024

Weber Wins Silver At World Four-In-Hand Championships

Chester Weber earns the U.S. squad’s first individual four-in-hand medal, behind the gold-medal Dutch drivers.

The Mariënwaerdt estate in Beesd, province of Gelderland in the Netherlands, hosted the FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships, Sept. 3-7.

After five days of sport, in which the top 59 drivers from 20 nations competed, Ysbrand Chardon and the Dutch team won both individual and team gold. Chester Weber of the United States started the event with a win in the dressage, which set him up to eventually claim individual silver.
PUBLISHED

ADVERTISEMENT

Chester Weber earns the U.S. squad’s first individual four-in-hand medal, behind the gold-medal Dutch drivers.

The Mariënwaerdt estate in Beesd, province of Gelderland in the Netherlands, hosted the FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships, Sept. 3-7.

After five days of sport, in which the top 59 drivers from 20 nations competed, Ysbrand Chardon and the Dutch team won both individual and team gold. Chester Weber of the United States started the event with a win in the dressage, which set him up to eventually claim individual silver.

“I have never seen such high level dressage tests at one event in my life,” commented the president of the ground jury, Dr. Franz-Josef Vetter of Germany. “It already started on Thursday morning; the first tests were a joy to watch, and it was simply a pleasure to sit in the judge’s box all day and enjoy dressage.”

Weber, who has represented the United States in seven World Pair and Four-in-Hand Championships, produced a test with explosive extensions, smooth collections and correct transitions from his team of Dutch geldings. The judges awarded his performance with a record score of 32.13, which proved unbeatable.

Weber couldn’t stop smiling as he left the arena. “My horses went really well today, and especially my leaders did a very good job,” he said. “I used three horses of the team I competed with at the WEG in Aachen 2006 [Germany], where I won the dressage. The atmosphere in Beesd is fantastic; it is like the World Equestrian Games or even better!”

Weber has won the dressage at every event he’s entered for the past two years, thanks in large part to training help from German driving legend Michael Freund.

With the help of a sixth-placed performance (45.57) from Tucker Johnson, who also works with Freund, the U.S. team took the lead after dressage, ahead of the Netherlands (Chardon, Koos de Ronde, Mark Weusthof) and Switzerland (with 1998 World Champion Werner Ulrich, Daniel Würgler and Felix Affrini).

James Fairclough, the third U.S. team member, scored 68.22 to stand 56th after never quite finding rhythm and harmony in his team. One of his horses had come up sick just before the championships, and Fairclough had to replace him with a friend’s horse two weeks before the event. He did, however, win the presentation competition.

A Beautiful Course

International course designer Arjan Brink from the Netherlands, who was also responsible for the course at the 2002 WEG, designed a challenging track together with his Dutch assistant Johan Jacobs.
 
They created eight wonderful obstacles, each with a specific theme, including a pigeon house, old Dutch houses at the harbor, the hay stacks, two spectacular water splashes and even an obstacle with a tented roof.

Sweden’s double World Champion Tomas Eriksson mastered the obstacles amazingly, driving his team of Swedish Warmbloods fluidly through the gates and setting the fastest times in three obstacles. He won the marathon (90.44) ahead of Hungary’s József Dobrovitz (91.62) and Chardon (94.97).

Weber started the marathon with concentration and motivation and was determined not to lose too many points to the marathon specialists. Despite getting hung up in the second obstacle, where he estimated he spent 10 seconds getting untangled, and encountering some trouble in obstacle 6, he finished on a score of 101.52, still within striking distance of the leaders.

ADVERTISEMENT

After being disappointed in his marathon at the 2006 championships, he turned to marathon specialist Koos de Ronde to help him become more competitive in that phase. His goal was to be within 6 or 7 points of the leaders.

A Festive Venue

The Netherlands has hosted the FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships four times before—in 1976, 1982 and 1988 at Het Loo in Apeldoorn and in 1994 as part of the World Equestrian Games in The Hague.
 
This year’s hosts, the people of the beautiful Mariënwaerdt estate, led by owners Baron and Baroness Frans and Nathalie Van Verschuer, have organized a large Country Living Fair for 14 years. Several years ago the local driving club asked to use the grounds of the estate for their yearly combined driving event. After more than two years of intensive preparations, Mariënwaerdt opened her gates for a combined 92,500 visitors during five days of the championships and fair.

“It’s fantastic for the sport to have so many spectators,” said Jimmy Fairclough. “It’s tremendous.”

“Koos taught me a lot about training the horses more like jumping horses; they have to wait for you to ask them to go fast,” he said. “It makes the driveability easier.

“It was a really challenging track,” he added. “Usually there are three or four tough questions, but there were really eight tough [obstacles].”

Chardon took over the lead in the individual standings, putting Weber, who ranked 13th in the marathon competition, into second place overall with only 2.46 penalty points between them. Dobrovitz and his mix of Lipizzaner and Dutch horses moved up to third position, while Boyd Exell of Australia kept his fourth place in the standings thanks to a top-10 finish in the marathon with his team of Dutch horses.

The Dutch took the lead in the team standings after the marathon. De Ronde, the Dutch national four-in-hand champion, sadly tipped over in the water obstacle, but he, his horses and his grooms were not hurt. He finished the marathon in an uncharacteristic 52nd position.

Weusthof, however, drove a very good marathon for the Dutch, despite a thumb injury, and proved that team coach Tjeerd Velstra, World Champion in 1982 and 1986, made the right choice in placing him on the team.

Thanks to the performances of Dobrovitz and Zoltan Lázár, Hungary moved up to second place, while Switzerland remained in third position, just ahead of the U.S. team in fourth.

For the U.S. team, Johnson finished 23rd on the marathon and ranked 17th overall after two phases. Fairclough was eliminated on the marathon at obstacle 5 after his right wheeler fell. The horses were fine, but the veterinary inspection that took place once the horse was up again caused Fairclough to exceed the time allowed in the obstacle.

“It’s one of those unfortunate things that happen,” said Fairclough. “George Bowman had his leader go down there and just pop back up again. We had aggressive studs in, but with a clay base, that doesn’t really help. There was good sod, but by the end of the day when I went, it was extremely slippery. In 30 years of doing this I don’t think I’ve had so much bad luck at one time, but that’s horses.”

Chardon Keeps His Cool

Sunday’s final obstacle driving competition turned out to be a true challenge, with many tight turns and a tight time frame. Only three competitors produced clear rounds, so the excitement grew as the last competitors entered the sold-out arena.

ADVERTISEMENT

Bronze medalist in 2006, Christoph Sandmann drove the first double-clear round and contributed to the team silver for Germany.

Exell equalled this performance and put the pressure on Dobrovitz, who was only .85 penalties ahead of Exell. Dobrovitz dropped one ball and passed the finish line just a fraction of a second too late, which moved Exell up to bronze.

To be able to keep the pressure on Chardon, Weber, the second-to-last starter, had to drive clear. He could not exceed 6.82 penalties if he wanted to keep the silver medal. Weber, of Ocala, Fla., kept the tension high until the last second of his round by dropping two balls and finishing with a score of 6.06 penalty points, good enough to guarantee he’d go home with the individual silver medal.

Weber had waited two years for this medal; he’d also won the dressage at the 2006 championships and could have finished as high as fifth individually but went off course in the cones and was eliminated. “I just told him to look ahead, to two years from now,” said Freund after that event, and that wait seems to have paid off.

Weber’s silver was the first individual medal earned by a U.S. driver in the four-in-hand championships.

“Now my goal is 2010 and double gold,” he said. “This definitely makes up for 2006. My motto is that winners train and losers complain. After Aachen [in 2006], I put my head down and got to work toward my goal. You have to make your luck.”

Chardon, who’s earned 20 national championships and 11 Aachen victories, drove into the arena in cold blood for the third clear round of the day and was crowned as World Champion for the fourth time in his career, an absolute record.

The crowd and Chardon went crazy as he passed the finish line.

“This is how a true champion wins,” said Chardon after he made a lap of honor in the stadium, this time on his own legs as the spectators gave him the standing ovation he deserved.

“Unbelievable,” said Chardon, whose hands could not keep up with the many congratulations he was offered. “I am already preparing for the WEG in Kentucky 2010. I bought the horses already; I like to think ahead. You can never stand still for too long, although I am taking the time to enjoy this victory.”

The Dutch won the team gold, while the Germans received the silver medal with Sandmann, Ludwig Weinmayr and young marathon talent Michael Brauchle. Hungarian drivers Dobrovitz, Lázár and László Juhász won the bronze.

The U.S. team finished fifth of 11 teams, and Johnson improved his overnight standing one place, to finish 16th, after adding 6.28 penalties to his score in the cones.

“It did not go the way I would have liked it to go, but to have competed here was a great experience,” he said. 

Cindy Trimmer and Beth Rasin

Categories:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse