Chester Weber and Tucker Johnson Vie for Record Seventh USEF National Four-in-Hand Title

Six USEF National Driving Championships Draw Quality Competition to the Kentucky Horse Park

“This is a very big four-in-hand field for this event,” said Johnson. “It is a shift forward and will provide us with a larger pool to pick from. There are teams of the standard of Boyd, Chester and myself at every show in Europe, so small mistakes move you further to the right which is never a good thing on Sunday. The standard moves very fast and very high there.”

“It’s really exciting,” said Weber. “I joined the four-in-hand ranks in 1999 and Tucker and Jimmy (Fairclough) were happy to have a third one – I hope that this will stick and people will get addicted to the sport like we are.”

The Pair Horse Championship drew a small field but excellent marks from the Ground Jury. Larry Poulin (Petersham, MA), who will be retiring from competition after this event, was the only driver all day to go under 40. His score of 37.50 gives him a comfortable lead over Lisa Singer (48.78).

“My horses take a little time to settle,” said Poulin. “I am very pleased, the warm-up was perfect. They were very good, I had the full attention of the horses. They were very light and very through. I really focused on keeping them up and as powerful as I could.”

Poulin’s score was a personal best for this pair, something that really resonated in his final competition.
“It was great,” he said. “It really brought me back. Today was the best score they ever received so it gets a little emotional. I’m pleased for my horses.”

The Single Horse National Championship kicked off the morning and Fritz Grupe jumped out to a commanding lead. Driving the eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood Umnico, Grupe’s score of 50.50 made his trip from Stockton, CA well worth it on the first day.

“It’s my first time doing a single,” said Grupe, who represented the US at the 2005 World Championships in Austria. “Normally I drive a pair. But this horse is such a good single horse, he relaxes as a single.”

Grupe is four points clear of Robin Groves in second (54.14).

In the Single Pony National Championship, Shelly Temple took the lead as the last driver in the division on a score of 45.82. Driving her very experienced 11-year-old Morgan LR Ami B-Line, Temple lived up to her reputation of putting in polished dressage performances. Suzie Stafford lies second on a score of 48.00 and Grupe’s wife Phyllis is third on 52.35.

“The footing was perfect,” said Temple. “My pony felt good. I was very pleased, my pony was very responsive. I could have been a little more on the ball with the accuracy, but I was having so much fun I lost track of where I was in a couple of places.”

Temple and ‘Cooper’ have built a tremendous partnership over the last seven years, they represented the US at the 2007 World Championships. Sidelined with an injury last year, Cooper won in September at the Laurels at Landhope – his first competition back.

“I’ve had him since he was four,” said Temple. “I had him going Prelim thinking he was a horse and at his first FEI event they measured him and said sorry, you’re with the ponies. I had always driven horses but I’ve decided it is better to be the bigger guy of the group rather than the smallest.”

Lisa Stroud (West Grove, PA) took a commanding lead with her four white Connemara ponies in the Pony Team division with a score of 50.30 over Elizabeth Keathley (68.6). Stroud added a new leader at the World Championships this summer and her team continues to improve.

“I’m very pleased,” she said. “They stepped up and did a very consistent test. They have stepped up to be a good team in the dressage.”

Tracey Morgan (Beallsville, MD) and her pair of ponies are six points clear in their Champiopnship. Her score of 54.14 left her ahead of Jennifer Matheson and Katie Whaley who lie second and third respectively.

“It was perfection,” said Morgan of the venue and the atmosphere. “The ponies picked up on the atmosphere and the quality of the footing, the arena, the crowd and the ground jury – it’s the best in the world. It inspires you to try to do your best.”

As the Kentucky Horse Park undergoes metamorphosis, the venue truly has taken on a truly international flavor. The effort and improvement was certainly not lost on any of the competitors.

“I’ve never seen anything as good as this,” said Grupe. “It is a beautiful place.”

The Kentucky Cup and Lexington Combined Driving Classic continue tomorrow with National Dressage as the Preliminary and Intermediate horses take to the ring. All divisions contest the marathon on Saturday over Richard Nicholl’s entirely redesigned track.