Negotiating the Driving Maze - Final Four and Vaulting Too

Sunday, October 10, 2010
Posted by Article and photos by Diana DeRosa



Today again was a mixed day but the coolest part of the day was the Driving marathon.  This is when they go cross country and negotiate eight obstacles in the fastest time with no faults.  Imagine driving four horses and a carriage through eight different mazes.  You know your plan and you have to communicate that to four horses that then have to work together to get the job done.
I decided to move around a bit and try to get the 25 competitors at a variety of obstacles, beginning with #2, which was one of the water obstacles (Head of the Lake).

By the time these drivers started the obstacle portion of the marathon they have finished section A in about 32.50 seconds.  That was followed by a mandatory walk before going into the Cooling Box to check pulse and respiration.  In all the drivers were allowed one hour 12 minutes to finish the course.

"Once on the course the name of the game is speed and accuracy.  It's a demanding course," was what the announcer explained to the huge crowd that was collecting.

"A good driver will save some gas in the tank to make sure there's lots of horse coming to the end of the course," he continued about the Richard Nicholl designed course.

"It's not just a straight shot but in fact they have to go through gates and loops to get to the next obstacle," he explained.

I didn't expect the crowd to be as large as cross country day but by the time I got to the water obstacle every inch of rope line was filled to the brim starting with those lucky enough to get a front row seat while others tried to peer over and around them.  Fortunately the drivers are in each obstacle for a long enough time that it gave us time to get good photos and the spectators a chance to see the challenges the drivers faced.

As usual we were in photographer's pens and it was crowded.  So we too were trying to shoot from various positions.

One thing that is different from cross country is that there is no whistle warning you that a driver is coming and so you had to stay alert or warn each other.  The first to go was Georg Von Stein who would be the first one to test out the obstacles.  Time is taken once they cross the timers and so the drivers already have mapped out their strategy on how to maneuver through the obstacle.  In this case it was round barrel like elements set in water that needed to be negotiated.  Water is always a bit harder for the horses but he did it without a hitch.  

We would see as each driver came through that they would have their own plan as to what path they would follow.  The next driver, Mike McLennan, the first representative from the U.S., opted to go around a carved duck up and out of the water, which Georg had not done.  This path would end up taking him a bit longer but each driver knows the best options for his team and so he would look to make up time at other places where his team had other types of turns to negotiate.  Again, he did it without a hitch as a cheer erupted from the crowd when he left the obstacle.

After a few shots at the water I opted to try photographing some of the other obstacles.  Since the drivers each choose their own path as long as they go through in the correct order you just have to follow them as they go.  I had caught Chester at the water but also was able to see him maneuver in a later obstacle where he had problems with a piece of the harness and his groom had to get down to fix it.  That, unfortunately, cost him penalty points.

In my effort to go from obstacle to obstacle I was able to capture some interesting pictures which you'll see here.  The field of drivers was such a stellar group that they amazed with how well they were able to follow through on their plans.  

I can recall one funny moment.  As i watched Ludwig Weinmayr at the “The Stone Garden” set on the top of a hill, you could hear him commanding his horses throughout in German words we didn't understand but when he said go go go to tell them to hurry out of the obstacle the crowd understood that and cheered.

The biggest news of the day was when we heard that Isjbrand Chardon was changed to go last and the reason being that his carriage had been vandalized.  Someone during the night had taken a knife to the seat and did some damage to the front of it.  Apparently Chardon had gone to the Ground Jury to ask if he could go last so that he could have as much time as possible to fix it.  It took them awhile to give him an answer because they needed a unanimous vote to do this and finally he got that.

When I saw him go I even forgot about this because he was breaking records in almost every obstacle stopping the clock faster than any of the previous drivers.

When the day was over and the scores tallied The Netherlands led the way (273.77), US second (300.92) and Sweden third (311.24).  Individually Boyd Exell  (130.52) stood first, Ijsbrand Chardon  (132.24) second and Tucker Johnson (147.06) third.

Vaulting Individual Medals Finalized

Vaulting would be the next part of my day as I watched the men finish off their final test before the individual medalists were named.  The men really amaze me.  They have a bit more strength then the women and so they can hold handstands longer and do other maneuvers that demonstrate their power.  

While the U.S. claimed no individual medals the top ones were for the Females – Gold, Joanne Eccles (GBR); Silver Antje Hill (GER) and Bronze, Simone Wiegele (GER); Males – Gold, Patric Looser (SUI), Silver, Kai Vorberg and Bronze, Nicolas Andreani.

There were lots of good stories here but I'll leave that for you to read in the many other WEG press releases you will find on Horsesdaily as I turn to the Final Four.

Final Four Get To Final Three Medalists

The way the Final Four works is that all four riders start on a clean slate.  They first ride the course on their own horse and then they switch horses until they have each ridden each other’s horses.  When changing horses they take their saddle with them and discuss the horse with its rider as they are given tips on the best way to ride that particular horse.

They have three minutes to school the horse before they need to enter the ring and negotiate the exact same course each time.  The course is a shorter course because of how many times the horses have to jump it.

In the first round Abdullah had 8 faults and Rodrigo 4.  Eric and Philippe were clear.  They all went clear in the second round.  Then in the third round they all went clear except Eric who had a rail and 1 time fault for 5 faults on Rodrigo’s horse HH Rebozo.  Then in the final round both Philippe and Abdullah went clear but Eric added another 4 faults, for a total of 9 on Abdullah’s horse Seldana Di Campalto, and Rodrigo  added 8 on Philippe’s horse Vigo D’Arsouilles, which gave him a final total of 12 faults.

Philippe was the last to go and so when he negotiated the final round on Eric Lamaze’s horse Hickstead and his Gold was sealed the crowd stood to their feet while he pumped his fist in the air in jubilation.  Victory was his.

And victory is what WEG is as well.  The buzz around the grounds is all about what a fabulous event this has been and with just one more day to go everyone, though tired, is pretty happy that here in the United States we could create a hugely successful horse event.  The numbers are nearing the 500,000 mark on how many people have graced the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park since September 25, when the Games began.

So, Sunday is the last day and features the Driving cones and Vaulting Team, plus some final Para classes as well as the Closing Ceremonies.  Just one last day to go and we all will head back to our respective homes with lots of stories to tell about what a great Games these have been.

So stick with us for our final day as we say goodbye to WEG and to Lexington, KY.