The sport of Combined Driving is the great equalizer. Horses and ponies of all different shapes, sizes and colors competed in the very same arena. The 2008 Lexington CDE Classic saw Friesians and Fjords, Arabians and Appaloosas, Saddlebreds and Shetlands, Dartmoors and Dutch Harness Horses, Haflingers and Holsteiners, Paint crosses and Percheron crosses, Lipizzans, Thoroughbred crosses, Quarter Horses crosses, and many, many more. Nearly 70 entries started the event at the Preliminary, Intermediate and FEI levels. Only seven of those saw double-clears in the final cones phase.
Unlike ridden dressage the voice is a key aid in driving, and many used that to their advantage on Sunday October 5 on the Secretariat Polo Field at the Kentucky Horse Park. The event was a precursor of what is to come—next year, the USEF National Championships, and in 2010—the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The winner of the FEI Pair Pony division, Katie Whaley recently relocated to Kentucky and is as excited as anyone about the WEG coming to the U.S. for the first time. She will continue to operate her business Hats by Katie at her new home in Paris, Kentucky, as well as privide training and competitions in the future.
"Having the World Games here is huge,” she said. “I’m thrilled. It’s going to be a big deal. It’s great for the sport. It’s great for horsemen in general in the states.
From the Driving perspective because the U.S. has started to win quite a few medals it’s really gotten a lot more respect and now the Europeans are taking us more seriously but it’ll even make it better if we can keep this venue at this level.”
Katie drove the full brothers Tux and Spats who she’s been with for eight years. The pair are 13 and 14 years old and are Section B Welsh. They’ve been to two World Championships.
In 2003 in Austria they were the wheelers in her four-in-hand, and in 2005 they were a pair and were seventh in the world in the marathon. They finished first in their division on a score of 137.01 with just one knock-down in today’s cones phase.
Suzie Stafford of Delaware came out on top in her FEI Single Pony division winning on an overall score of 122.97. Her partner was her 10-year-old Morgan mare who she’s been driving since 2004. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime pony,” said Suzie. “She’s got the even-keel temperament, but she’s very competitive but doesn’t let it rattle her. She’s very trusting, yet extremely athletic, a good mover, all the extra stuff that’s hard to find in one animal. I drive a lot of animals, and she’s probably the most special one.” Suzie was a world champion in 2005 and a bronze medalist in 2007 and plans on being present for the WEG in 2010 as a helper, volunteer, spectator, or all of the above.
The top honors in the FEI Single Horse division today went to Donna Crookston of Pennsylvania with an overall score of 129.34. Donna was driving her 12-year-old Morgan gelding RG Cowboy’s Black Cadillac. “Cowboy is a very easygoing kind of guy,” Donna said. “He’s pretty easy to get fit. He’s very easy to work around and very quiet in the carriage.”
Donna also foxhunts and has been in the horse industry for more than 50 years. She evented through the Intermediate level but decided it was too much work once she turned 50. “The game is getting so technical,” she said. “With Driving I can get the same thrill I do from Eventing. I actually enjoy driven Dressage much better than I did ridden Dressage. It’s very interesting because you don’t have your leg.” She’s been riding Cowboy for the last three-and-a-half years, and he’s been going Advanced for the last two-and-a-half. Donna has been Driving for six years and made the World Championships this year. “I certainly wouldn’t have made it there without Cowboy.” Cowboy’s reward after this win…six-and-a-half weeks off to be a horse. “I like the people who drive,” she said. “They are very kind and very helpful. It’s very nice to be around. If you have any kind of a problem there’s always someone to help.”
In the FEI Pair Horse division Keady Cadwell of North Carolina took home the blue ribbon with a score of 122.85. She came into today’s phase less than one penalty point behind favorite Larry Poulin. Her partners were the Dutch Warmbloods five-year-old Splash and seven-year-old Uniek. “They’re starting to work very well together,” she said. Splash did his first show just last fall. “He just has a really good mind. They’re both really flashy, big movers, but they don’t get very hot. They stay very quiet in their mind. That makes them really easy to work with, and then I can push them.”
Keady went to the World Championships in 1993 with a pair and last year she represented the U.S. in Poland. Keady also came from the Eventing world, but her father Drove. “It just seemed like you got to do basically the same thing as Eventing but with more horses so you’re dealing with more minds. Plus you get to go really fast in the hazards.”
When they get home the team will be broken down and paired with some younger horses at the lower levels to give them more experience. As far as this weekend’s result, Keady got exactly what she wanted from the team, a very well-rounded win and a come from behind by the underdog team.
Elizabeth Keathley of Tennessee and her trusty team of Welsh ponies won the FEI Team Pony division with an overall score of 178.44. “Oden is the pony who’s been with me the longest,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we’ve also learned a lot together. Fritz, Hercules and Vidar round out the team with Vidar the newest, making this only his second show with just four months in harness. “I’m really pleased with him. It’s his first time doing the whole show.”
Marathon was the phase Elizabeth was most proud of, but she says her team did everything really well. “I feel like we’re on the right track,” she said. “It’s feeling good; I feel like we’re coming along.” Her goal for the weekend was a score of less than 190, and she and the pint-sized team that ranged in age from five to 15, accomplished that with flying colors. “My other goal was to get Vidar through his first full show, and he loved it.”
Driving has been her passion since 1991—before that it was hunter/jumpers. She switched to driving because she says she’s short. “I jumped the jumps more than the horses did,” she said with a smile. “I loved every minute of it. I am literally just too short.” Elizabeth says she will most definitely be present to watch Driving at the WEG. “I’ve already got my tickets.”
It was a close race for the FEI Team Horse title. Chester Weber’s farm manager Olof Larsson took over the honors this weekend driving Chester’s trusty team for his first FEI showing. He was first after Dressage and took second in the marathon but still sat in first place after the scores were combined. Gary Stover of North Carolina ended up inching him out at the last minute with a final score of 199. “We were a little disappointed in our Dressage score,” he said. “We came here with the intention of using a horse named Valisco in Dressage, and he wouldn’t settle to do that so we had to put a different horse in so our Dressage wasn’t what we’d hoped for.” Marathon went really well for us. Cones today were okay, we won by the cones, but we should’ve drove a little bit better than we did.” Gary’s winning team consisted of Dutch and Hungarian Warmbloods.
Gary is looking forward to having the World Equestrian Games in the U.S. for the first time. “I think for every horseman it’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “It’s like the Super bowl in our backyard. It’s going to be a great thing for all of us, and I think it’s going to be a really good thing for the sport of Driving in America, because I don’t think most Americans understand how exciting four-in-hand driving is. Once they see that with all the European teams here I think it’ll be a real bonus.”
Chester was happy with his farm manager of ten years and how he handled his team. “It’s been fun teaching him this week and getting him ready,” he said. “I think the role reversal helps people understand where things are going. It’s very interesting. The day before we came here he said ‘wow, there’s been many times that I’ve sat on the edge of the training ring and said I wonder why he doesn’t do that a little different or try to get that a little bit better’ and then he said ‘now I go in the Dressage ring and I’m happy to be able to steer the figures nevertheless get everything perfect’. I think we’ve all learned from this role reversal.”
We will undoubtedly see Chester at the WEG. “It’s going to be great,” he said. “I think the cross-country has some great points. They’ll be eight different hazards. It’s more spectator friendly to watch than the three-day cross-country, and it’s easier to understand.”
Starting out the day were the Preliminary level competitors with a time allowed in the cones phase of three minutes and 24 seconds. Janelle Marshall of South Carolina took home the prize in the Single Pony class with a score of 97.13. Her partner was five-year-old Connemara gelding Cap’t Jack Sparrow.
Winning the Single Horse class was Canadian Francois Fleury and his 18-year-old Canadian-bred ZouLou with a score of 109.84. What makes Francois’ win even more interesting is the fact that is legally deaf.
Caroline Whittle of North Carolina was the winner of the Pair Pony class with a score of 122. Lillie and Britton are her Haflinger mares, age six and seven, who helped her to the win. Caroline was one of the more vocal competitors in constant communication with her team, especially Lillie. Rounding out the Preliminary division with a win in the Pair Horse class was Rachel Niceley of Tennessee. Rachel’s pair was made up of her Friesian cross mares named Riverplains Bella and Riverplains Ritza.
The Intermediate level finished off a lovely day of Driving in Kentucky. First to go was the Team Horse class won by Gavin Robson of Ohio. His team of Dutch Harness Horses helped him to the win with a score of 156.95. In the Single Pony class it was Muffy Seaton of South Carolina with the win. Her final score was 120.87 earned with nine-year-old Jasper in the harness.
In the Pair Pony class it was Michelle Walters of Tennessee with her Dartmoor Ponies Farnley Albert and Gummy Bear earning the low score of 153.17—another tight race with less than half a penalty point between the win and second place. Michelle was another competitor who used her voice to guide Albert and Gummy Bear through the cones successfully.
Kimberly Stover took home top honors in the Single Horse class along with the honor of being the only winner to earn a double-clear on course today. Kimberly, of Delaware, earned a 109.90 with her seven-year-old Connemara/Thoroughbred named Laughlin. The second Canadian to take home top honors today was Dr. Rae Fischer who won the Pair Horse class with a score of 138.40. Dr. Fischer can credit the win to his pair of Lipizzan geldings, 13-year-old Tuzer and 10-year-old Fantom.
Perfect fall weather is something spectators and competitors hope to see more of in the next couple years as Driving will be making its presence known at the Kentucky Horse Park with more exciting competitions on the horizon.