Lexington, Ky. - Following a banner year in 2015, the United States Equestrian Federation's innovative Developing Driver Program is once again off to a successful start. Current participants and graduates continue to find their way to the winner's circle, and a record number of drivers were welcomed for the first official USEF clinic of 2016, held February 4-7 in Florida under the guidance of U.S. Team Coach Thorsten Zarembowicz.
The objective of the USEF Developing Driver Program (DDP) is to increase the number of drivers and their horses/ponies competing at high performance levels, and to develop drivers that may become future international competitors - a mission which continues to be a proven strategy as the 2016 competition season got underway at the Little Everglades CDE in Dade City, Fla.
Thanks to the support of organizer Ellen Ettenger, a special 1* division with the option to complete an Intermediate marathon was offered specifically with Developing Drivers in mind, drawing 11 entries with a Developing Driver Program participant winning every division
For single ponies, Jennifer Keeler led the field while Daphne White topped the single horse class, and Craig Grange won the pair horse division. At the open Intermediate level, current and past Developing Driver Program participants Muffy Seaton, Bettina Scherer, and Scott Adcox won the single pony, single horse, and pair horse divisions (respectively), and in the 2* horse division, which also served as a selection trial for this summer's FEI Single Horse World Championships, DDP graduate Nifty Hamilton drove to victory.
In the pursuit of continuing this successful trend, USEF held the first Developing Driver Clinic of 2016 at the stunning Grand Oaks Resort in Lady Lake, Fla., a venue which has also been designated as an official USEF Elite Equestrian Training Center. With a record number of 15 drivers invited to participate, the training schedule was expanded to four full days of intensive lessons, demonstrations, and lectures.
"We had so many applications to participate this time that we did everything we could to expand it to invite as many drivers as possible," explained clinic organizer and U.S. Team driver Katie Whaley. "We not only included some of our returning drivers, but also welcomed some amazing new talent. It's so exciting to see this kind of support and demand from the driving community. The number of people that I've watched from the beginning of this program to now, as well as just over the course of these four days, is so inspiring and it's an exciting way to start off the year."
Denise Hinder of Mount Vernon, Texas returned to the Developing Driver clinic after winning the Intermediate Single Pony division at the Hermitage Classic CDE in Kentucky last fall, as well completing her first 1* event at Little Everglades. "It's amazing to see the transformation in the horses and drivers that have been part of this program, and it's been super successful for me too," said Hinder. "It's exciting for the new drivers coming in because they feel the enthusiasm surrounding the program, and I think it pushes drivers to make the decision to try to be a part of it. The coaching from Thorsten and the support from the fellow drivers is just astounding, and for me has made all the difference."
Cathy Franks, who recently relocated to Ocala, Fla. from Ohio, was participating in her first Developing Driver clinic as she prepared for the Intermediate Single Horse division at Live Oak International. "I was thrilled when I was invited and it's been a fabulous experience," she said. "I've learned so much here, and it's about more than just improving your driving technique - it's given me the confidence that I can do this. Thorsten has been incredible to work with, and also seeing all the other lessons has been an eye-opening experience."
The Developing Driver clinic also boosted the confidence of 19-year-old driver Sabrina Cameron of Stephentown, N.Y., who was preparing for her first trip to Live Oak. Cameron previously drove as part of last summer's Developing Driver clinic in New Jersey with James Fairclough. "It's huge for me to be invited back and gives me the confidence that I'm going the right way in the sport," noted Cameron. "I've learned so much, and to be able to come to one place and get this kind of intensive coaching has been incredible. The coaches seem to know how to bring out the best in the drivers and the horses."
Applications are still being accepted for the next USEF Developing Driver Clinic, scheduled for April 8-10 in Southern Pines, N.C. Thanks to the generous support of donors including Misdee Wrigley Miller, a full roster of additional clinics are planned for the remainder of 2016, with dates and locations to be announced on the USEF website. For more information regarding the Developing Driver Program and upcoming clinics as well as how to become a financial supporter of future clinics, please contact Lizzy Staller, Director of Driving, at firstname.lastname@example.org.