This year, Bordeaux is the venue for the World Cup final for four-in-hand driving. The audience in Bordeaux is assured of a thrilling show by the world's six leading drivers.
Boyd Exell on driving: "The best way to have fun sitting down"
In April 2011, Australian "exile" Boyd Exell completed a hat trick1 by winning his third World Cup in Leipzig. He will be defending his title as reigning champion in Bordeaux. In the meantime, he won the World Championship title2 in Lexington in 2010. This Australian driver certainly deserves his world ranking as n°1 (with another victory in Aachen last July). He tells us all about the fascinating discipline of four-in-hand driving.
Could you describe driving for us in three sentences?
It's the best way to have fun sitting down! In a three-day event, you always have at least two opportunities to offset a poor performance on one day: you have three chances to go home happy. It is also a real challenge to build a team of complementary horses, capable of working together over the whole weekend.
What is the most difficult aspect of this sport for you: finding the horses, training them, or something else?
It takes a combination of five talents to be successful in this sport. The first is to have a good eye to find the right horses. The second is to be capable of training the horses. The third is to have a competitive spirit. The fourth is to be a good driver… a good team leader: my staff consists of six to eight people who should know exactly what they need to do at all times. The fifth quality is to maintain financial stability. Once these you have all these five qualities, you have a chance of succeeding in this sport.
What is the first quality you look for in a horse?
He should look good3 when he moves. The next aspect is temperament: I look for horses that can stand the pressure. They must be able to stay calm both at home and in competition.
Should the four horses all have the same qualities?
No, in a high-performance team, each horse should bring a different dynamic. Once I have bought a horse, I decide whether it will be a leader or a wheeler.
How do you prepare them: mounted or always behind the carriage?
My wife and grooms usually ride them when I am away. The horses are ridden 3 to 4 times a week, or else I drive them.
Do you work on your own physical condition?
Not particularly, as I love sport. I love swimming, playing tennis, water-skiing… and I am still young enough not to need fitness training.
What is the greatest feeling when you are driving four-in-hand?
When the horses help you. When they understand what you want them to do – when they tell you: "OK, we've got it, and we're even going to do it faster and quicker than you could".
Do you miss Australia?
Yes, but at this level of competition, I have no choice but to be based in Europe.
Glossary for neophytes:
1. Hat trick: a term used in all sports when an athlete achieves a triple performance (for example: 3 goals in the same football match).
2. World Championship and World Cup: the first is an outdoor competition, held every four years, consisting of three events: dressage, marathon, and obstacle cone driving. The World Cup is an indoor competition, held every year, with several qualifying rounds culminating in a final. It is based on a single obstacle cone driving event, on a course consisting of pairs of cones with balls balanced on the top that must not be knocked off.
3. Boyd is talking about the horse's paces and the elegance of his movements.
4. The leaders are the two horses at the front of the team and the wheelers are at the back, harnessed to the "shaft", or bar linking the horses to the carriage, so that they can pull it along.
5. A groom is a person who takes care of horses. In competition, two of them sit at the rear of the carriage to balance it and help negotiate the obstacles. In this role, they are known as "monkeys".
6. Boyd is Australian, but left his country 21 years ago, lured by the challenge of top-level competitions. He is based in Leicester, England and is married with two children, James and Olivia.
For more information on Boyd Exell: www.boydexell.com