Australian title defender Boyd Exell continued his success story at the FEI World four-in-hand Driving Championships in Riesenbeck (GER), claiming individual gold after very strong performances in all three phases of the competition. Runner-up Chester Weber (USA) won individual silver, the bronze medal went to four times World Champion IJsbrand Chardon from the Netherlands. The Dutch team won the gold medal for the third consecutive time, ahead of host nation Germany in silver and the bronze medal went to the USA.
Riesenbeck has a long history of organising FEI World Driving Championships. The ‘Reitverein Riesenbeck’ started organising driving events in 1975. Besides organising several German Championships, they organized the FEI World Pair Driving Championships in 1987, 1997 and 2001, as well as the FEI World four-in-hand Championships in 1992. The German spectators flocked to the Surenburg in large numbers and enthusiastically cheered the 50 competitors from 19 nations despite the very hot weather. The marathon day attracted a crowd of over 15,000 and the grandstands were full on the final obstacle driving day, emphasising the popularity of carriage driving.
Chester Weber won the dressage and was very pleased with his horses Boy W, Para, Uniek and Splash. Weber drove his extra marathon horse Boy in order to be able to give his utmost in the marathon: “We will give our best in the marathon and we will try to put the pressure on the Germans,” he commented after the dressage.
Boyd Exell finished second in the dressage, just 0.38 penalty points behind Weber. Exell drove the same team as at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2010 in Kentucky and found the accuracy and movements were better than two years ago. “I made zero mistakes and I was happy with a lot of things in my test. I was disappointed with my score, but the reward for me has been the overwhelming support from the other drivers,” he said.
Dutch team driver Theo Timmerman was very pleased with his test and was happy that it all came together in Riesenbeck: “This is what we have worked for all season. It all went according to plan. This is the first time ever that I scored less than 39 penalty points and I am very proud at it. I have been competing with these horses all season and I will use them as well in marathon, but in different positions.”
President of the Ground Jury Diana Brownlie (GBR) was pleased with how the dressage went. “I am very happy with the judging, there has been fair marking the whole way through. What struck me most is how beautifully all teams were presented. You could see that the grooms had put a lot of work into it.”
The marathon in Riesenbeck consisted of eight obstacles, designed by O-course designer Dr Hartmut Kaufmann (GER). The obstacles offered variety in layout and were spread right across the competition site, which allowed the spectators to follow the performances of the competitors closely.
Tomas Eriksson (SWE) won the marathon with his team of Swedish warmbloods to move up to the seventh in the standings. Title defender Boyd Exell set the time to beat early in the morning and kept the lead until Eriksson entered the marathon obstacles, leaving the Australian in second at the end of the day, ahead of top German driver Georg von Stein.
With his second place in the marathon, Exell took the lead in the standings by an incredible margin of more than 11 points over Chester Weber. Georg von Stein (GER) moved up to bronze, just 1.35 points behind Weber. Ijsbrand Chardon was in turn only 0.81 behind Weber, setting the stage for some very exciting obstacle driving on the final day.
Tomas Eriksson is known for his very strong marathon performances. Eriksson has won the marathon at several World Championships previously, such as Beesd 2008, Jerez 2002 and Wolfsburg 2000. He used the same wheeler horses as in Kentucky 2010. “I used my 20-year old Filur and the 18-year old Rachi Rødslev in the wheel. They are normally my indoor wheeler horses and I tried different horses in the wheel after Kentucky, but they were just not as good as these two. They were just fantastic. My horses were not quite ready in the first obstacle, but I woke them up while I had to wait for the second obstacle, which needed to be rebuilt. They went better and better at every obstacle and everything went exactly as I planned.”
Eriksson had a good look at his fellow competitors in the morning and got all the necessary information to ensure a top marathon. The ground in the second obstacle, the water splash, was not good so Eriksson knew where to slow down. The last obstacle became a struggle for many competitors, but not for Eriksson. His horses were still fighting despite the hot weather and he was able to take the short route and set the fastest time.
Boyd Exell was very pleased with his marathon performance as well. “We like it when a plan comes together. We said on dressage day that we would go for it and try to put the pressure on and we did. It went very well for me and once I realised at obstacle six that I had made no mistakes, I decided to slow down a little. I gave everything and my team is still improving. In Aachen, Monty and Winston were extremely good and in Riesenbeck, Spitfire and Rambo went up to another level.”
German driver Georg von Stein was well on his way to set a top score in the marathon, but lost his chance of victory in the last obstacle when he passed a gate and had to drive an extra circle: “I completely underestimated this obstacle and took too much risk,” commented Von Stein, who finished third in the marathon. “But other than that, I am very pleased with my results.”
Obstacle Driving Competition
Dr Kaufmann introduced a new figure in the obstacles driving course in Riesenbeck, the ‘wave’. This new figure gave a whole new dimension to the cones course and made it more difficult and challenging. In this wave, the four sets of cones are set at a 90-degree angle each other and require very precise driving.
Despite the advantage both Boyd Exell and the Dutch team had in the individual and team standings, the final obstacle driving test remained exciting until the very last moment. Knowing he was over 14 points ahead of Chester Weber, Exell drove a safe round to secure his second consecutive individual gold medal in these Championships. The Dutch team drivers only had time penalties to claim team goldl for the third time in a row.
The margins at the top were very tight which made it very exciting in the already very hot main arena in Riesenbeck, which was packed with enthusiastic spectators. Only Werner Ulrich (SUI) and Jozsef Dobrovitz (HUN) managed to drive double clears around the difficult course. Chardon was in fourth place and put the pressure on German team member Georg von Stein, who was holding onto bronze. Von Stein was unable to deal with the tremendous pressure in front of his home crowd and knocked two balls down which dropped him to eighth, allowing Chardon up to claim the bronze.
Second to last starter and dressage winner Chester Weber had an advantage of 3.49 penalty points over Chardon, but kept his head cool and drove very fast and safe. The knockdown at gate 19 did not endanger his individual silver medal and, with that in the bag, he also secured the bronze medal for the American team.
Boyd Exell (AUS): “I am very happy with my gold medal. Everything went according to plan this weekend, from the horses to the people and the carriages, it all worked out. The difference between winning in Riesenbeck and Kentucky is that this medal doesn’t cost as much money! It was very nice to win at the WEG and it is nice to win in Europe. The German public is very strong and knowledgeable; they let you know when you do something wrong and also when you are putting down a good performance. My sponsor and horse owner Tamas Vincze was thrilled and so were my parents, who came over from Australia to support me. My sister Lisa who lives in Australia has been getting up at two in the morning to follow my performances on the internet and I really enjoy all their support.”
Chester Weber (USA): “I am very pleased with my silver medal and I am almost surprised by the team bronze we won. Any medal that you win at a Championship is a good thing. It did not always go so well for me this season, but this week it went very well. I am very proud of my horses and my team. I will start preparing for the WEG 2014 in Normandy again next Tuesday!”
IJsbrand Chardon (NED): “I did not have a very good start to the season. After three events I decided to change my team and put my old leader horses back in, which I had been training as well. I changed horses again one week before Riesenbeck and although I had a small disadvantage I knew that I had taken the right horses. I am pleased with bronze because this was the most I could get at this World Championship.”
Final Individual results:
1) Boyd Exell (Aus) 122.01
2) Chester Weber (USA) 130.80
3) IJsbrand Chardon (NED) 131.29
4) Theo Timmerman (NED) 133.70
5) Christoph Sandmann (GER) 136.96
Final team results:
1) Netherlands 256.17
2) Germany 271.18
3) USA 289.11
4) Sweden 289.32
5) Hungary 300.39
Photo Caption: The individual podium at the FEI World four-in-hand Driving Championships in Riesenbeck (GER), from left to right: silver medallist Chester Weber (USA), gold medallist Boyd Exell (AUS) and bronze medallist IJsbrand Chardon (NED) ©Rinaldo de Craen/FEI.