Lexington, KY - Combined Driving Dressage came to an exciting conclusion today with the U.S. Team tied for the lead with The Netherlands on a score of 76.16. Following yesterday's performances that had Chester Weber tied for the lead with Isjbrand Chardon (NED) on a 35.97, today was another day of brilliantly executed tests. The always elegant and precise Boyd Exell of Australia and his young team were as good as they've ever been, scoring a 30.08. Exell is ranked first individually and the Australian team is in third.
First go to for the United States this morning was Mike McLennan, driving as an individual. McLennan has bred, raised and trained four of the five horses he brought to compete. The classy team of Quarter Horse/Friesian crosses had a few green moments, but had an overall clean test to score a 67.46.
"Considering how it went in the warm-up, the test went very well. We had two breaks in the walk, my right wheeler has been anticipating a little too much and that's something we've been working on. We were quite happy to live through that and are very excited for the marathon tomorrow," said McLennan.
Next to go was the youngest member of the U.S. Driving delegation, Josh Rector. The 28-year-old from Phoenix, AZ has spent the greater part of this year training and competing on the East coast and his dedication was evident today as his team scored a 57.09.
"For my first World Equestrian Games I finished the test successfully and am happy with the horse's performance," said Rector.
Tucker Johnson was first to go in the afternoon session and was the anchor for the U.S. Team. Johnson drove a team that included the recent addition of Boyd Exell's Black Shadow as a leader and they executed a balanced and fluid test that received a score of 40.19. Yesterday, Theo Timmerman of The Netherlands received an identical score, giving the competition a tie for the lead in the team placings, and ties for second and fourth in the individual placings. This is an unprecedented occurrence and speaks to the level of competition being presented.
"I picked a pace that would be safe, but would show the brilliance that the horses had. I feel good about my test, highlighted by the balance and movement of the horses," said Johnson. "The Dutch team is very strong and it feels good to be up there with them."
After 25 years of driving, this will be Johnson's last competition. He competed in his first World Championships in 1987 and will continue to be involved in the sport in other capacities.
Also driving for the U.S. this afternoon was Cindy O'Reilly, one of only two women in the competition, she drove her team of all mares to a score of 80.13. Gary Stover, one of the most veteran members of the U.S. driving circuit, was last in the ring for the U.S. and scored a 66.05.
Tomorrow, the always thrilling Marathon phase will begin at 10:00 a.m., and is scheduled to air LIVE on www.USEFNetwork.com. The U.S. drivers are all eagerly anticipating the challenging course that will aid in determining the final standings on Sunday.
Photo: Tucker Johnson and his Four-in-Hand team. Photo by Shannon Brinkman for USEF.