The 25th annual Laurels at Landhope International Combined Driving Event, one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the U.S., is hosting the 2011 U.S. National Four-In-Hand Championship. Four entries in the division include three Americans, Chester Weber, James Fairclough and Josh Rector, who are eligible for the championship and one Canadian, Eugen Hug. Weber, of Ocala, FL, got off to an early lead with a picture-perfect dressage test with a score of 39.04, putting him up by a margin of 8 points over Fairclough. Weber said of the test, “I thought it was good.”
In the 25-year history of the Laurels, inclement weather has had a negative impact only three times, 2008, 2009 and, in 2011, the remnants of tropical storm Lee, dumped inches of rain on the show grounds in the days leading up to the event. The turf, already saturated by record rainfalls throughout late summer, was soaked with no time to drain before the competition. Organizer, Jamie O’Rourke, rotated dressage rings throughout the day in an effort to minimize the deep going, but still the rings were soggy. “The conditions are obviously very muddy and we made the best of it that we could,” said Weber.
Following Weber in the standings, Jimmy Fairclough is driving a new team this year and Rector, fairly new to the advanced ranks in third place with 56.31 points and Hug, trails in fourth with 69.76. Tropical storm Lee impacted more than the competition phase of the event. The grass parking fields were hit hard by the torrential rain leading to the cancellation of the Artists of the Laurels at Landhope preview party and show and the 25th Anniversary Extravaganza party. The terrier races will go on as usual on Sunday, the Barbone Street Jazz Band is scheduled to play Saturday and Sunday and, on Sunday, a commemoration ceremony honoring victims of 9/11 will be held.
Kids Corner, with games, face painting and crafts, runs Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm. The Trade Fair features a variety of vendors offering jewelry, art, antiques, collectibles, equine/canine inspired giftware, equine and equestrian equipment, elegant country-style apparel, farm equipment, carriages, and carriage appointments
Combined driving requires a unique partnership between horse or pony and driver that relies on training and trust. An offshoot of ridden three-day eventing, it features the elegance of dressage, the excitement of cross-country and a cones course, an intricate test of skill and precision. The competition begins at 8 am each day. Dressage is held Friday, Marathon on Saturday, and Cones on Sunday.
Though The Laurels at Landhope show grounds cover 44 acres, the two competition arenas, extremely popular trade fair, exhibition area with two restaurants, and the Patron Tent all adjoin one another. The marathon hazards, the highlight of the event, are adjacent and easily visible to spectators.
The Laurels at Landhope cookbook, Combined Cooking, featuring recipes from the collections of Laurels committee members, will be on sale, along with quality Laurels at Landhope souvenir apparel. The logoed polo shirts, visor caps, cookbooks and more can also be purchased on the web site, www.laurelscde.org.
Admission to The Laurels at Landhope CDE is $10 per car, which includes admission for all occupants. Tickets for the patron tent, which includes daily preferred parking and lunch Saturday and Sunday, are $150. For more information, directions or results for other divisions, visit the web site, www.laurelscde.org or phone (610) 486-0710.