In his first ever World Equestrian Games, Bram Chardon was no stranger to the podium he shared with his father Ijsbrand and teammate Koos de Ronde. The Young Chardon has been on the top step for Gold at three consecutive Pony Driving World Championships, but he had to settle for Team Silver at the World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018, deferring the the United States in their first Team Gold who won it fair and square.
The USA went into Marathon day with a comfortable lead after Dressage. The Dutch are known for their blistering marathon, proven by yet another marathon win for Koos De Ronde, who did a repeat of his Aachen effort in July.
But it was a “black day for team Chardon” where both Father Ijsbrand and son Bram made uncharacteristic errors. The senior Chardon drove a wrong gate in the first obstacle, the Longines Water, when he had a misunderstanding towards C confused by the 2 separate A gates. Then the whole team lost track, by going to D and passing F. Not a great way to start a marathon incurring 20 penalty points. But he fought back driving the rest of the course clean.
Then in obstacle 4 Bram incurred another 20 penalty points for the Dutch Team, when he missed a sharp turn after A, changing his route to B. “In my new line both my grooms and I did not notice we passed D,” explained Chardon. “It was a very unusual mistake for our teams, we had no change in crew. We were definitely ready for this WEG, it just happened.”
It’s a family affair all the way with Team Chardon who were all there. Mom, Paulien, sisters Jeannette, Lianne, and Edith. Along with long time assistant Naomi van Adrichem, Bram’s girlfriend Emma Kruizinga, best friends Maurits Hallo and Chris van Rooij an intern for the past summer. It took all of them to help with 8 horses after a long and hot marathon focussing on their horses wellbeing in the unusual stress of the hot and humid climate that continued to persist the entire Carolinas.
Adding to the Chardon drama was 40 seconds that were mistakenly added to Bram’s time in obstacle 6. This was acknowledged by the FEI Secretary General Sabina Ibanez , in a press conference on Sunday morning before cones. “It was a human error,” she explained. The timing cable had been caught in the carriage wheels of Misdee Wrigley-Miller, who went right before Bram, and it was decided to cut the cable, and manually time that obstacle.
The World Equestrian Games Tryon Cones course, designed by Richard Nicholl, who also was head course designer for the marathon had many tight turns in the smaller Tryon Stadium in front of the Legends Club.
The stands were packed for the final class of the final day of a roller coaster World Equestrian Games.
At 800 meters long, with a speed of 240 m/m, the time allowed time was 3 min 20sec. There were three zig zags, two oxers which were “skinnies” narrower than the normal setting. In at least six instances, there were optional routes with an easier route being the longer way and the harder route being the shorther way. There were also several “switchbacks”, requiring a sharp turn through one cone to the other, which if not driven perfectly will slow the precious time needed to make the clock.
“In cones, of course I wanted to prove to myself that I was ready for this,” said Chardon, “and to start with double clear for the Dutch Team. After a few clear rounds this year, I knew my team is better in the tight courses. So from the beginning of the course walk I went the shortest possible way, not even looking at the longer options. In my position I had to. As an individual I had nothing to lose. And it worked!”
In fact it was the only double clear, no time and no balls, of the day. Even the ultimate World Champion, Australian Boyd Excell had a clear round with no balls down but a slight time penalty of 0.53. Leading American Chester Weber was also clear with no balls down but did have 2.77 seconds. This gave the young Chardon some redemption, winning the cones and securing a place on the podium for his team.
But it was not enough to make up for the lost points on the marathon both father and son take full responsibility for. The multiple Gold Medal World Champions would have to be satisfied with Silver, deferring to the USA winning fair and square by 3.4 points.
Watching Bram Chardon master the reins for four-in-hands in the cones in mostly a blur. After this World Equestrian Games he has been nicknamed "Spiderman Hands". Driving four equines requires taking loops, sometimes two at a time on one side to steer. Knowing when and how to do that and relate them to make the sharp turns while keeping forward motion is a skill that was apparaent in watching Bram's drive. Chardon explains this in a video on HorsesDaily. For Chardon, his years with his ponies most likely helped him to be quicker in rein handling as he drove his ponies very fast within the obstacles and cones. “A big advantage,“ smiled Bram, “was that from the age of 12, my father taught me how to take loops correctly. So taking loops quickly has become automatic. This definitely helps in marathon and cones, for sure in the tight cones course we had at the WEG.”
Then there was the small but mighty grey horse who stepped into the big bay Bram team for marathon and cones everybody has been asking about. “He is a 13 year old gelding Lipizzaner. Incitato Pandur, “ Bram said with affection. “Pandur is owned by the Dobrovitz family, who are great friends of ours. Several people wanted to buy Pandur, including Chester Weber, but Dobro would only sell to us as it’s one of his favorite horses.” Lipizzan horses are popular with the indoor circuit for which four-in-hand drivers often have totally different teams.
“He was in my Dad’s indoor team last year, including the win at Olympia, and outdoors he goes with me. Next indoor season we will try to give him some rest, as for sure I will use him again for the marathon.” Pandur was smaller than the rest, not to be mistaken for one of Bram’s ponies who are now still competing with Bram’s sister Edith.
In the sport of combined driving anything can happen, which is proven again and again whether a World Champion or a beginner just learning the sport. For every entry in this World Equestrian Games there are many stories.
Nineteen teams representing nine countries, meant at least 96 horses were brought to the facility for the second week of competition for Combined Driving. At least 3 carriages, 9 harnesses, the people, luggage, housing and equipment per team are needed for the three days of sport. This effort exposed American spectators, volunteers and other athletes in attendance to a thrill rarely seen in this country except for just a few events at the FEI level, making the USA win all the more meaningful.
Watch the video below of Bram's winning cones round at Aachen in July 2018. Be sure to watch "Spiderman" hands and how he takes the loops.