Goshen, KY – A windy fall day at the Hermitage Classic CDE saw the seven drivers in the 2015 USEF Single Horse Driving National Championship perform their dressage tests. Suzy Stafford led the way with PVF Peace of Mind following the first day of competition with sights set on her first Single Horse National Champion title. For their efforts, the Ground Jury of Debbie Banfield (USA), Dr. Klaus Christ (GER), Marie de Ronde-Oudemans (NED), Marsoe LaRose (CAN), and Sarah Mullins (IRL), awarded the pair a score of 40.64, over nine points ahead of the rest of the field.
Stafford (Wilmington, Del.) had a lovely test with her own PVF Peace of Mind to put them on top of the National Championship leaderboard. She and the 2007 Morgan mare displayed great diagonal yields and extensions at the trot and canter. Their test was marred only by a break to the canter shortly before their second canter depart and a rough final halt. The pair put themselves in a comfortable lead heading into Saturday's marathon phase.
“I think just comparing it to two weeks ago [at the Kentucky Classic CDE], the first time I drove the new test, some of the things that I knew were a problem two weeks ago I fixed, and then the other things, obviously, that I hadn’t been working on that I thought were fine, we had a few mistakes,” Stafford explained. “In general, the horse was exceedingly obedient and had a ton of presence, and I think I drove fairly accurately.”
Defending champion Leslie Berndl (Newcastle, Calif.) had a few bobbles in her test with her own Uminco to sit in second place after the first phase. She had miscommunications with the 2001 KWPN gelding in the extensions at the trot and canter across the diagonal, but the pair redeemed themselves with expressive movements and great halts and deviations. Overall, Berndl and Uminco had a quality test to score 49.87.
Sterling Graburn (Paris, Ky.) laid down a good test with his and Laura Corsentino’s Mannkato to lie in third place. The 2001 Dutch Harness gelding struggled with a few movements throughout the test, but Graburn drove him well. The pair demonstrated relaxed walk, powerful extended canter, and nice deviation movements. Graburn and Mannkato received a score of 52.69 for their performance.
The marathon phase of the Hermitage Classic CDE begins Saturday at 9:30 a.m. ET.
“They are long and very technical, but it’s a championship and I expected that,” Stafford said of the obstacles as she looks forward to the marathon phase.