Ponies in Kisber - Winning Cones for USA

Monday, June 21, 2021
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Here it is the winning cones round. It’s crazy. We had moved up from 29 place in dressage to 22 place after a great marathon with non-other than Bram Chardon as my navigator and coach. The ultimate marathon driving lesson! This meant we started in the first half of the day. The top 10 of the singles, pairs, and four-in-hands came in the afternoon session.

Here’s the Story
The ponies were wild. When we began warm-up I was thinking, “We should have started an hour before.”Bram later admitted he was thinking we should have driven them earlier in the day first.

The Warm Up

Kimba was all over the place and Al was ready for another marathon. But I wasn’t stressed or even nervous about what was to come. I had Bram Chardon to guide me. Bram told me not to worry about Kimba and her antics, just focus on Al. Al listened to the corrections when he kept getting strong and settled a little.

We were hitting cones in the warm up, and Bram kept directing me as we had trained so much at home. With several sharp left right turns in the course  I just needed to give us space and stay straight after clearing each cone just a little longer. 

Wayne is my “beef on the back”. The rule has changed to allow the “groom”  to talk in cones. But they are not allowed to walk the course in advance with us, just the trainer. We had just one and a half hours from 7-9:30 to learn the course. We used headsets to talk and Wayne sat in the grandstand while I walked the course. 

Then Bram walked with me. The route was cemented in my brain after watching the first of the singles. A lot of balls were hitting the ground but I didn’t stress.

No Turning Back

I was early in the order of the cones. When we entered the arena I circled, saluted then there was no turning back.

Something just clicked. As long as Kimba and Al can go fast they are happy. And they did, turning handily at all the tight turns. I kept thinking “I must be clear, I don’t see any ring crew running to pick up balls”. 

At one point Wayne told me to pick up speed and the ponies happily obliged. We don’t really have a strategy like others who watch the “split times” we just go fast because we have to to make time.

After we went through the final cone at 20, I had completed my first Pony Driving World Championships. Then I heard the result. Clear with just 3 seconds slow which equates to 1.5 time penalties.  I couldn’t believe it, and cantered out the arena pointing to my ponies as the crowd cheered. Then I finally let myself cry.

Leader Board

There we were on the leader board. Mary Phelps 🇺🇸 but it was early on in the division. I even went back to the camper and started to pack. Then I thought “I better go get a picture of the scoreboard while my name and the American flag is still in the number one position because that probably won’t last. “ Then I watched as balls fell, I could tell time would be an issue for many. Most World Championship cones courses only have maybe 1 or two “Double Clear”: no balls, no time.

After each driver the announcer said “and Mary Phelps from they USA is still in the lead.” At the end I remained on top but the best 10 pairs drivers were ahead of me in overall scores (dressage-marathon combined) were still to come.

Wayne the numbers guy, was tracking results and we were moving up in the overall standings. By the time we got to the final ten, I could be no worse than 13. My goal, hope, dream was to be in the top half of the best in the world in the overall standings. Here we were in the top third, and still on the leader board for the cones division. 

Then came the top 10. Bram was next to me at the in gate. I stood quietly and surprisingly calm as each combination went, and each combination had balls and time. I felt for the drivers who were in medal contention, I honestly did. I was happy we had done so well, anything else was cake icing.

Our US Equestrian support crew Danielle and Dee had joined our small group and I could see Bram kept looking a little amazed as Mary Phelps USA, was still at the top of the leader board. He was tracking team results of course for the Dutch who were in hot contention (as usual) with Germany.

Most of the ponies in the top ten were bigger, and I believe this is where small ponies have an advantage. Cas Hendriks 🇳🇱 came in with his small pony pair, made the time but had one ball. Same with Melanie Van de Bunt  🇳🇱 and her small ponies. That kept me in the lead by 1.45 points. Then Rodinde Rutjens 🇳🇱 the eventual World Champion had one ball too. This was insane, to be in the company of great drivers and now friends was good enough for me, but now my name and 🇺🇸 was still on top.

Really? Really?

As the final driver and the final ball fell I turned to Bram, Dee, Danielle and my amazing helper for the week April Hardeman (Wayne was in position in the stands tracking and sending score updates) and quietly cried and hugged.  Being on the other side of the camera at so many of these moments,
I have never been impressed when people yell and cheer as the person ahead of them loses. I didn’t want to do that.

We had just won the cones division of the FEI World Driving Championships for ponies. Really? Really?

My small spicy wild and different Classic American Shetland ponies, just became the best in the world for cones. Out of 38 competitors in the pairs division we moved from 29 after dressage, to 22 after a rocking marathon to 12th place.

The Podium

Not only were we in the awards, we were to be on the podium, on the top together- Wayne Humphreys my husband and guide, not just in cones but in life. As we stood there watching the Single cones awards being presented Wayne (who is 77) said “ I think I might have trouble getting up there.” Oh boy, I hadn’t thought of that either. It had been a long week and both of us were stiff and sore. Yikes, the FEI TV is rolling, and the stands are full. Just one more challenge left in the Pony World Championships, getting on the podium without hurting ourselves. 😂

This journey together, 3 months in the Netherlands training with the great Chardon family and Bram Chardon had come to this. 

To be in Kisbér, Hungary as guests of organizer Vilmos Jambor is the greatest honor I have ever experienced.

As each driver got their award, they stopped by the podium to congratulate us. I have to say even before we did this, several made a point to come up to me with genuine words of congratulations

I have been good-natured about enduring comments about my “little ponies”. This has been going on for some time, but Bram knew, I knew, Wayne knew and a few others too, they are small but mighty, they have talent, and are world class. Now they are World Champion Cones Ponies, and 12th overall in the world. That means from now on we ask for the word RESPECT. We showed ‘em. 

Now we will go home to the USA and play it forward. Share what we have learned and encourage anyone on any level, at any age, any size you can do it too.