A loose Jack Russell chasing down her ponies on the world championship cross country course, then another close call later in that almost got her eliminated. But the 20-year-old Tara Wilkinson from Great Britain, showed that in the sport of Combined Driving, “It ain’t over, till it’s over”. At the FEI World Driving Pony Championships, in Minden, Germany, it all came down the final driver the final day in the hotly contested Pony Pair division.
The “Hund” That Got in the Way
A longtime working student for Boyd Exell, who was close by as coach for the British drivers, Tara was placed seventh place in dressage, 7 points out of first. In a Driving World Championships, to be in the top ten in all phases, can produce a medal, because anything can happen. And a lot happened on the twisty turny marathon course designed by Jeroen Middendorf (NED).
A loose Jack Russell terrier chased them throughout hazard 3, an extremely technical obstacle requiring total concentration and control, with high speed going in and out. Wilkinson and her ponies hit a pole coming out of the water to avoid running him over then proceeded in spite the distraction. But it cost them in time to finish 18th out of 33 in that obstacle.
Keep Going, Keep Going
Then at obstacle 7, the Saloon another unexpected event nearly knocked her out of the standings and almost the event. The hilly hazard had cause several problems and balls down especially in the pair division where speed and control needed to be in perfect balance. After skillfully negotiating the tight turn from C uphill to D, the left pony eyed the finish flags and headed for the exit.
Officials headed by German Four-In-Hand driver Christoph Sandman scattered in all directions. Taking out the electronic timers, and dragging a hay bale she headed back up the hill after Boyd Exell watching her every move shouted "Keep going, keep going”. Her father and Navigator did what Dad’s do best and got her back on track.
As they headed toward the eighth and final obstacle, he was seen patting his distraught daughter, saying “Calm down, calm down.”
And she got a grip to negotiate the final technical turns from A-F, in a smooth and smoking 47.44 seconds, one of the best times of the day.
It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over
In spite of the mishaps, the pair finished 6th in the marathon, which with their combined score from Dressage moved them into second place over all.
The final phase another Jeroen Middendorf twisty turny cones course was changing the placings up to the final round of pairs. One ball, and 2 seconds in time was a good enough to keep Tara around in the holding field to see if she would move into medal contention.
The last driver Jan-Felix Pfeiffer (Ger) who was 4. 77 points ahead, but one ball and 12 seconds slow put Tara a mere 0.26 points to take the Gold.
As Pfeiffer galloped to the finish line that determined his fate the British crowd erupted and Wilkinson looking on burst into tears of joy. Tara and Emma Burge’s ponies had won the Gold at the Pony World Championships, over 33 drivers representing 7 different nations.
It's A Family Affair
With her father John, as navigator in the marathon, and mother Leslee on the carriage in Dressage and Cones it was a family affair. Emma Burge and a successful program in Great Britain that helps develop young talent created the opportunity for the young driver leasing her seasoned Welsh ponies Belle de Jour, Capitola Mr. Houdini, and Menai Lone Ranger.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
“It really is a team sport and I really do have the best team of people,” Tara told drivingponies.com. "I could not have achieved the gold medal without the team of people that have supported me. I owe my success to the whole of team Great Britain, my parents and of course Boyd Exell.
“I cannot thank the owner Emma Burge enough for giving me the opportunity to drive her ponies Capitola Mr Houdini, Menai Lone Ranger and Belle de Jour. Hats off to the best ponies in the world, they really do deserve it! They are most incredible three ponies who put just as much effort into performing at their highest level for the full week as we all did.”
“A special thank you to my sponsors who have been with us the past two seasons, Excalibur, Thornton 4x4 Breakers, Bunton Plant Hire and Zilco.”
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