PIBER-KÖFLACH, AUSTRIA - "I knew what she could do, and now the world has seen it too." Reigning U.S. National Champion Suzy Stafford and her all-American Morgan mare PVF Peace of Mind carried the Stars and Stripes straight to the top of the leaderboard on the first day of dressage competition at the 2016 FEI World Driving Championships for Single Horses, being held August 3-7 in Piber, Austria. The pair's elegant, mistake-free test earned a top score of 49.23 from the Ground Jury of Klaus Christ (GER), Dr. Barna Fejér (HUN), Bert Jambon (BEL), Anne Marie Turbé (FRA), and Boots Wright (USA) to kick off their world championship experience on the right note by claiming the overnight lead. On the second day of competition only German driver Marlen Falak was able to top the result with a 48.70. just 0.64% points ahead.
Van den Broek was eliminated and Oscar was disqualified due to injuries in the mouth. Van den Broek's results will therefore not count towards the individual and team classification. The decision was taken by the Ground Jury after consulting the Veterinary Commission and the Appeal Committee.
Sterling Graburn (Paris, Ky.) and his and Laura Corsentino’s Mannkato were the sole U.S. combination on Friday, and they had a solid performance. The 2001 Dutch Harness gelding had plenty of energy in the main arena, but Graburn drove him well, executing great extensions and one-handed deviations. The pair earned a score of 56.06 to sit in 14th place.
U.S. individual Berndl (Newcastle, Calif.) had a strong performance on Thursday with her own Uminco. She and the 2001 KWPN gelding had an accurate test, aside from one bobble, to put them in 17th place with a score of 56.86.
Donna Crookston (Saltsburg, Pa.) and her own Viktor were the pathfinders for the U.S. team on Thursday. Despite the 2008 Dutch Harness gelding being somewhat tense in the electric atmosphere, the pair had a respectable test to sit in 62nd place with a score of 69.61.
Even with so much on the line, Stafford and "Hunny" did not succumb to the pressure of facing the best drivers and horses in the world. "I was mentally prepared for today," Stafford explained. "I try not to think too emotionally before dressage so that I can stay focused on the job at hand. I felt confident with our warmup and I felt like we were ready to give our best once the bell rang."
The pair's professional attitude paid off with an impressive performance in the intimidating main stadium, which unnerved even some of the best combinations today. "Now that our test is over, I can enjoy this moment and I cannot tell you how elated I am with Hunny," said Stafford. "She was on the ball and totally in the moment with laser focus on the task at hand. Not only that she was confident but her driveability was super, which was highlighted by her excellent transitions and extensions. The partnership we have developed over the years has come full circle. I am one happy girl and I appreciate Hunny every day."
Next up will be the grueling marathon competition on Saturday, featuring eight complex hazards designed by renowned course designer Gabor Finthá (HUN). "No doubt about it, the marathon is going to be tough," Stafford noted. "The track has challenging terrain and the hazards alternate between super technical to a flat-out track race. Focus, stamina and speed will be the winning combination on Saturday - it will truly be survival of the fittest."
Germany leads the team competition with a score of 101.4, while France is in second with a score of 104.3. Marlen Fallak (GER) and Tessa FST lead the field of 74 combinations with a score of 48.70 and Franz Schiltz (LUX) and Frodo sit in third on a score of 50.35 behind Stafford and PVF Peace of Mind.
The World Championships are being livestreamed, Dressage can be watched again here on Horsesdaily.