AUSTRIA - After a sparkling start for Suzy Stafford and PVF Peace of Mind at last week's FEI World Driving Championships for Single Horses in Austria with an overall second place finish in the dressage phase, fans of Team USA were shocked to watch as the promising pair were eliminated in Saturday's marathon after failing to complete a compulsory gate. But no one was more disappointed than Stafford to conclude this World Championship experience on such an unfortunate note.
"After one of the best dressage performances Hunny and I had ever done together, I felt very prepared and confident for the marathon," Stafford explained. "The course was as grueling and complex as you would expect at a World Championship, and I walked the course over a dozen times with my navigator of eight years, Larry Hart. We started the course confident with my plan and with Hunny going great.
"But in the third hazard, I turned one post too early which caused us to not pass through the 'E' gate. Immediately after the turn, Larry warned me that he thought we had missed the gate, so I circled back, looked at where I had been, and swore that I had gone the correct way so I kept driving to F. But in fact I hadn't gone through where I thought," Stafford explained. "This was my mistake and mine alone. I own it and accept it, but of course it disappoints me for many reasons. I did not trust my team mate, and I let my horse down as she was game and strong right through the last obstacle despite the challenges of the course. Of course I also let my U.S. Team down as well as all of Hunny's supporters that had helped us make this incredible journey, and for that I am sorry.
"But I also know that one bad show does not make a bad driver, and that mistakes happen to everyone," Stafford concluded. "It is very humbling to have something like this happen (especially at a World Championship), but I have learned the most from the mistakes I have made. This one will go directly in the top of the pile, but such is the nature of horse sport that there will be highs and lows. We have to find a way to go on, and I have learned to grow and develop my strategy with each success as well as each failure."
Despite being eliminated on the marathon, Stafford would be allowed to participate in the final day's cones competition. "For personal reasons I still wanted to drive the cones course even though I was officially out of the show. I knew it would be a challenging course and I was looking forward to tackling it," she noted. But fate had other plans as late Saturday night Hunny was found to be in distress. "At night check we found her with a very high temperature and shivering, and our U.S. Team Veterinarian Dr. Rüdiger Brems was immediately on top of the situation," said Stafford. "In the best interest of Hunny's health and welfare we decided to be aggressive with treatment using certain medications which are prohibited under FEI drug rules, so we of course then discontinued our participation in the competition. It was the right thing to do for Hunny."
Sunday morning found Hunny in better spirits, and Stafford walked the cones course and was on hand to cheer on her U.S. team mates Sterling Graburn, Donna Crookston, and Leslie Berndl. "I'd like to congratulate Sterling, Donna, and Leslie for their successful performances, as well as all the team and individual World Champions. The quality of drivers and horses in the competition was astounding, and it was an honor to make this journey and proudly represent the USA. While at the end of the day it was not a good performance for me and therefore our team suffered, Hunny was wonderful in dressage and game during the marathon, so I could not have asked for more from her and I'm so thankful she has made a full recovery. I am lucky to have such a strong support crew that have my back no matter what the outcome, and ultimately I am thankful for this entire experience and the opportunity to be around such great people and magnificent horses."