The Heerlijkheid Mariënwaerdt Estate in Beesd (NED) hosted a very successful 10th FEI World Para Equestrian Driving Championships, from 3-6 August. The Dutch home team claimed the gold medal in the Nations competition, with Germany in sliver and Great Britain in bronze. Germany’s Heiner Lehrter won his third individual gold medal in Grade 1 and Francisca den Elzen (NED) won individual gold in Grade 2, on her World Championship debut.
For three days, 21 competitors from eight nations took part in the Championships in Beesd, venue of the 2008 FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships and host of one of the largest yearly national driving competitions. Competitors from Germany, Great Britain, USA, Italy, Latvia, Belgium and the Netherlands all made the trip to the beautiful estate.
Parallel to the FEI World Para Driving Championships, Beesd also hosted the National Pony Driving Championships. A total number of around 200 competitors competed at the wonderful venue in the Betuwe area.
After all horses and ponies passed the horse inspection early on Thursday morning, the para drivers prepared for their dressage test the same afternoon. Defending World Champion Jacques Poppen (NED) produced a very nice dressage test with his 11-year-old Arabo Friesian horse P.P., with whom he also won the title in 2014.
As everybody expected, Poppen won the dressage, ahead of his biggest opponent Heiner Lehrter (GER), who drove his pony Dashwood, loaned to him by his wife Sabine because his other pony was not able to compete. Great Britain’s Deborah Daniel drove her 11-year-old Valeside Galaxy (Sparky) into third position and the battle for the medals had begun.
In the marathon it was Lehrter who drove his small pony fast and fluently through the six obstacles, flagged by level 4 Course Designer Barry Hunter (GBR). Poppen finished second with Daniel staying at close distance in third place.
After dressage and cones, Poppen was still in the overall lead but with a less than one ball advantage to Lehrter and the 55-year old most experienced driver of all, and the only German driver to have competed in every World Para Driving Championships, drove his pony relaxed and concentrated through the cones, with only one ball down and finishing within the time allowed.
“I decided that I had nothing to lose so my motto was all or nothing,” said a very happy Lehrter.
Poppen entered the arena to defend his small advantage but drove more carefully than usual. Although he did not have any knockdowns, the time was already going to be short for him, then he turned in error towards a wrong gate. Luckily he corrected his error in time and made a circle, however this cost him five penalty points and time, losing his gold medal and dropping to silver. The golden Dutch team medal was not affected however.
Deborah Daniel won her first individual medal (bronze) and contributed to the British bronze team medal.
Heiner Lehrter was extremely pleased with his gold medal: “I was not sure for a long time that I was going to be able to start. My own top pony is injured and the pony I competed with at the German Championships does not have the power for this level. Luckily, my wife gave me her pony Dashwood and it went perfect. In the dressage he was prepared at exactly the right moment. He was able to show what he could do. He is a real fighter in the marathon and we had the fastest times in five obstacles. Only in the fifth obstacle we lost seconds when we had to change route.”
Defending World Champion Alexandra Röder (GER) started well and won the dressage and the marathon ahead of her closest opponent Francisca den Elzen (NED). Röder drove the very experienced 21-year-old Rheinlander gelding Donnerstolz, kindly lent to her by Dutch international single driver Frans Hellegers and Den Elzen competed with her 8-year-old Welsh pony Bart Blom with which she had been very successful at the Dutch driving events. Beesd was her first international start and first World Championship.
The difference between the 29-year old Röder and Den Elzen was less than one ball before the cones and Den Elzen drove her pony fast and supple, with one knockdown. When Röder entered the arena it seemed her nerves got the better of her and she had several knockdowns, dropping to silver. The result also moved the German team down to silver and allowed the Dutch to win the gold.
The bronze medal went to Dutch individual driver Aad van Marwijk, who climbed in the rankings after German driver Ernst Botte left the arena with too many penalty points.
Francisca den Elzen was very happy after her cones round: “The cones course was very difficult, but I did it! After my disappointing dressage score I did what I had to do. It has been a fantastic experience to compete here in Beesd, it was my first World Championship experience and I really enjoyed it.”
Dutch chef d’equipe and trainer Harry de Ruyter was very pleased with the performances of the para drivers: “It was a joy to work with this team, they were all very focused and they train very hard. Francisca has also fought very hard after her disappointing dressage score. In the cones she showed her mental power, I am very proud of her.”
Individual results Grade 1:
1.Heiner Lehrter (GER) 130,41
2.Jacques Poppen (NED) 135,63
3.Deborah Daniel (GBR) 149,59
Individual results Grade 2:
1.Francisca den Elzen (NED) 134,71
2.Alexandra Röder (GER) 152,97
3.Aad van Marwijk (NED) 164,06
1.The Netherlands 270,34
3.Great Britain 304,24