Tracy Bowman FEI World Para Driving Champion 2021 Gold Medal for USA

Monday, August 9, 2021
Posted by Mary Phelps


Tracy Bowman had a plan. Having produced a strong 8th place finish in the 2018 FEI World Para Driving World Championships, in Kronenberg, the Netherlands, she was hungry for more. With her long-time “partner” Taylormore Laurabelle, retired from driving she was on the hunt for a new pony and knew right where to look. In 2019 Tracy (and company) traveled to Chardon Paardensport, the Netherlands in search of the right pony to get her to the 2021 FEI World Para-Driving Championships, being held in Schildau (GER) August 4-8, 2021. And the best-laid plans with a few changes along the way resulted in an Individual Gold Medal win for the USA, Tracy Bowman FEI World Para-Driving Champion 2021. 

Photo: © - Jurgen Sendel

With the challenges a global pandemic created, there were many twists and turns, and unexpected travels, including her new pony flying halfway across the world, twice. Training on her own until they were sure the 2021 event was a go, Tracy only has two small events under her belt. What happened in Schildau was so unexpected. "It was such a distant thought that we didn't even pack decorations or a flag for her carriage. The organizers had to take the American Flag from the entrance of the event so they had something to raise for the Prize Giving."

Finding the Perfect Pony

Dressage - Tracy Bowman with Jolie Wentworth and Lars
Dressage - Tracy Bowman with Jolie Wentworth and Lars Dressage © - Jurgen Sendel

Isjbrand Chardon had done a clinic with Fransisca den Elzen the 2018 Para Grade 2 World Champion, with Albrecht’s Hoeve’s Lars. So when Tracy approached them about finding her a pony for 2021, Ijsbrand called Fransisca, and the deal was done. With total trust in the Chardon’s, Tracy bought the pony, sight unseen, and the journey began. “Of course,” said Bram Chardon,“ the pony had proven himself already being a world champion, but we needed to see if he would work for Tracy.”

The Chardon’s had a trial period with the pony. As a T2 Paraplegic, Tracy has no feeling from the waist down so cannot use the brakes. “Being a former rider she has great feeling and is an accomplished professional horsewoman,” Bram added. “She knows her limits and does everything to make the best out of it.” Her custom-designed carriage has a very good seat which keeps her comfortable and secure. “She doesn’t need the reins to keep herself in balance, and in that way, the pony stays happy.”

Have Pony Will Travel

The pony stayed in training with the Chardon’s, and Tracy returned to her own Kismet Farms in Martinez, California. As a certified Instructor with the British Horse Society, she began her thriving three-day eventing competition business in 1984 in California. Tracy has produced multiple riders to the CCI4* level and mentors many young professionals.

Then in 2020, with the world affected by the COVID Pandemic, she brought Lars home with her in California, only to send him back in June of 2021, when it looked like the event was a go. Tracy and her long-time student, then assistant, and now her partner at Kismet Farm, Jolie Wentworth returned to the Chardon’s in Den Hoorn, the Netherlands to train and prepare. With the Dutch Para Championships in Oirschot as her warm-up, they headed for Schildau.

During their time together in California Tracy and Lars were on their own training every day and doing two small events. "My partner in the farm and best of all friend Jolie Wentworth would assist me on the ground, " said Tracy. Jolie, who is also Tracy's navigator in competition, "sees everything and is the only one that would have no equal in the flatwork." 

The Warm-Up Event

Two weeks prior to the World Championships they did one show, the Para Dutch Championships in Oirschot. They won the dressage for not just the Para class but the entire event, "It was exhilarating," Tracy recalled.

But her joy was short-lived. An uncharacteristic wrong turn in the first obstacle, and a disastrous cones round dropped them from first to last. "I was humiliated," Tracy admits. "But I can say the other competitors were very supportive. They tried their best to help me rally." There was another benefit to their experience. "I also discovered I needed to change carriages to help me with timing. A Dutch carriage supplier Voskamp Hall graciously donated a carriage for me to use. The support from the community of drivers, trainers, and equipment dealers was amazing. It takes a village, and I had a village of Santa Clauses."

The Chardon Experience 

Team USA - Jolie Wentworth, Tracy Bowman, Bram Chardon, Marcie Quist and Quint van Rijwijk
Team USA - Jolie Wentworth, Tracy Bowman, Bram Chardon, Quint van Rijswijk and Marcie Quist

With a new pony, they were preparing for their first big show together.

Lars had the experience. I put total trust in him and my unbelievable team. I was not ever in doubt of being safe and capable because of all the people involved and my fabulous pony. The team in the Netherlands made it very simple to feel secure and comfortable when we were able to return. The entire Chardon family and their extended family were warm and supportive.

Bram demands total focus and has great attention to detail, which is expected at this level. He lets you know right from wrong without apology. This makes you feel assured of the reality of your skills, good or bad. When you keep it honest it works better for everyone involved; no false hope or inflated ideas. Only down-to-earth hard work to improve or understand where you need to focus. It was very correct for me.

The Competition

The Course at Schildau
The perfect designed marathon course at The Course at Schildau

In Schildau, every day got better. The best groom in the world, part of the Chardon team, Quint van Rijswijk was able to get Lars feeling and looking his best. This really helped in the dressage phase. He took such good care of him the whole show that Lars never felt gloomy or ignored. 

Winning the marathon was such a great feeling. The obstacles were amazing; so well built. The area they were in made it great for the spectators, and easy for my obligatory extra safety grooms to get from one obstacle to the other with no effort. Since my carriage is adapted for me by the use of a 5 point harness, it is required to have safety grooms at the obstacle gate in case we turn over or have a mishap. 

The whole Schildau venue is a horse Disneyland, and couldn't have been better. For wheelchair users like myself, it was very level and accessible. The USEF chef d'equipe Marcie Quist was also pleased with the lack of issues. She has been to several Para events as Chef, so is a good judge. She is a great problem solver and is always there for US drivers. Bram and Jolie made fee feel they had my back and I was never on my own. I was free to concentrate on my job. They help my hand, and also kicked me when I needed it. It was the perfect group.

What It Took To Get There

Jolie Wentworth and Lars in the rainy vet check
Jolie Wentworth and Lars in the rainy vet check. Here's to Jolie and the dedicated photographer who got this epic photo. © - Jurgen Sendel

Doing an event like this is very expensive. There is little financial support from our federation, which I knew going into this. They had the Olympic Games to pay for this year. I financed this trip (and the others) on my own other than a very welcome grant from USDFD. I sold a few nice horses to raise the cash for the massive expense of flying the horse, the humans, and to pay for stabling and training. There was the transport driver, equipment, carriages, hotels, car rental, feed, straw, vets, and grooms. But this was my chance and I took it! I will see if I can afford to repeat another trip like this (Next Para- World Championship is 2023).

This was such a dream ending I can't stop hoping I will find a way. Getting to represent the United States after such a difficult past year was extra special. The importance of that was not lost on me. If you ever get the chance, I advise going for it.

How It All Began

Tracy's Birthday and Gold Medal Welcome at Chardon Paardensport
Tracy's Birthday and Gold Medal Welcome at Chardon Paardensport

With a father in the Air Force, she spent a lot of time in Europe as a rider. In Germany “I got lucky, “ recalls Tracy, “and lived next door at the Rein Mein AFB next door to Herr Josef Neckermann multiple Olympic medalist in Dressage. After her school years, she worked for the Sivewright family who owned and operate Talland, an international competition stable located in Cirencester, England, where she earned her certified Instructor with the British Horse Society.

After returning to the United States, Tracy began her own thriving three-day eventing competition business in 1984 in California at Kismet, Farms. Tracy has produced multiple riders to the CCI4* level and mentors many young professionals.

As a child, Tracy had cancer, (neuroblastoma) and a spinal cord tumor. In her early 20’s she developed a cyst, with a resulting surgery trying to drain it ended badly. “I like to tell people I was hurt in a fall at the last fence in the Olympics.” She eventually was a T2 Paraplegic after her final surgery in 1994. But her lifelong challenges, never let her passion for the life she lives and the work that she does stop her.

She began competing in combined driving in 2000. As a former event rider at the advanced level, Tracy, known for her attention to detail, adapted easily to her new discipline. A common saying from Tracy is “riding doesn’t follow a recipe,” so having to make adjustments and improvise along the way is expected and always offers a chance to learn more. She has learned this in Combined Driving as well.