Lexington, Kentucky- Gold Medalist Suzy Stafford’s knowledge and experience proved her well yet again with two consecutive wins in different divisions at the FEI Kentucky Classic Combined Driving Event held at the Kentucky Horse Park on October first thru the fourth. Stafford’s Morgan mare “PVF Peace Of Mind” took home the FEI Advanced Single Horse Championship with a strong finish in all three phases of competition. Suzy also drove “Micha”, a young Dutch cross in the Preliminary Single Pony division, bringing home the blue for his owner and breeder Margaret Mayer of Ocala Florida.
The weekend started with the threat of Hurricane Joaquin making its way to the Kentucky Horse Park. The ground jury opted to move the Dressage and Cones phase to the Rolex arena to provide optimum footing for the competitors and horses despite the deluge of rain expected. The Hurricane did stay away but the rain did not. From the vet Jog, the starting day in competition, until the end of marathon the rain was relentless.
“I cannot tell you how appreciative I was that the jury and organizing committee made the decision to move the two phases into the Rolex area. It made for safe footing for the horses in “not so ideal” conditions as well as providing the drivers the honor to be able to perform in such a prestigious setting. The stadium is just magnificent” Stafford said.
Dressage was over two days with the FEI divisions competing on Thursday. Stafford and “Hunny” drove the new FEI dressage test to the lowest score posted to date in the US and in Europe. This was the first venue that the new test has been offered in competition for preparation for the USEF drivers to compete at the FEI World Championships in Austria in late summer 2016.
“I am happy with the new test, it will highlight the horses trainability, obedience and elasticity between gaits. “Hunny” is a brilliant mover with presence and personality that comes thru in competition. She is an amazing horse that I am privileged to own and drive!” Says Stafford.
On Friday the rain came down in sheets as the Preliminary and Intermediate competitors drove their dressage tests. Stafford drove “Micha” the 6 year old homebred owned by Margaret Mayer to the best dressage score of the entire show. The judges were impressed with his obedience, consistency and quality despite the horrible conditions.
“Micha” pony was a real trooper, he was light, obedient and focused even with the diesel trucks and windshield wipers going on the side of the area that the judges sat in. I gave him 4 golden stars for that performance” (well, apples in his case) laughed Stafford. The dressage areas held up impeccably well and the volunteers were steadfast as they kept the warm- up ring flow running smoothly despite the weather. “We cannot have shows without volunteers! As miserable as I and the horses were tromping around in the downpour, I am astounded and grateful for the volunteers that took the time to help with the show throughout the weekend” Stafford said with appreciation.
The marathon day was misty, muddy and magnificent for both of Team Stafford’s entries. Suzy’s first outing on course was with the young pony Micha and Margaret, his owner/breeder, riding as navigator for the Team effort. The course was unexpectedly challenging due to the footing and rainy conditions. A confident and steady round by the trio solidified their dressage lead going into the third day of competition.
“It was gratifying for me to see Margaret able to enjoy watching, and being part of the development of this young pony that she has bred and raised from birth. Micha is coming into his own now and showing his true potential as an FEI level candidate. He was extremely confident on this course and showed me that he is ready for the next step” smiled Stafford.
The second drive with “Hunny” proved Stafford was fast, accurate and aggressive as the pair held their dressage lead going into the cones phase. “What a horse she is, graceful and elegant one day, confident, cocky, agile and brave the next. “Hunny’ is one special horse! I am also lucky to have a great Team keeping everything in front and behind the scenes in order. A great navigator, Jeff Legg is essential as well as the groom, Emily Langer at the start, finish and vet check are an essential part of this Team’s success. I am lucky to have a wonderful Team supporting me” Says Stafford.
A ray of sunshine shined over, not only Stafford but the entire showground’s on the last day of competition for cones obstacle driving on Sunday. Stafford threw down two double clear rounds with “Micha” and “Hunny to solidify her weekend lead in both divisions.
“The course was flowing and open in the Rolex arena footing. I was worried while driving “Micha” that the carriage was sliding (fish tailing) a bit more that I had expected it would. Margaret rode as groom for her pony “Micha” and Jeff Legg rode on for my cones round with “Hunny”. I decided at the last minute to use Jeff for the FEI round as he is a bit heavier than Margret. I know I would have to go faster with “Hunny” so therefore I felt I needed a bit more weight on the back of the carriage for skid control. The plan worked to a T and both equines came out businesslike and responsive. I could not be more pleased. I am grateful and could not have the success without the support of my owners, sponsors, wonderful grooms and family that hang in with my crazy schedule year after year”. Says Stafford.
Stafford, who operates Stafford Carriage Driving out of Chester County, Pennsylvania, was the youngest and first American driver to win an Individual Gold Medal with Cefnoakpark Bouncer at the 2005 World Pony Driving Championships in England. Since then she has continued to drive to success, being named the 2005 Driver of the Year by Chronicle of the Horse, winning the 2008 and 2009 National Single Pony Championship with Courage to Lead, and being awarded the Becky Hart Trophy in 2009. In 2011, Stafford Miss Josephine put in a brilliant performance at the 2011 FEI World Pony Driving Championships in Slovenia where they were awarded with the Individual Silver Medal, Stafford’s second consecutive Individual medal.
For more information on Stafford, visit her website at www.staffordcarriagedriving.com.