US Pony Drivers Prepare for the Test of Their Lives

Saturday, August 12, 2017
Posted by Mary Phelps


Tracey Morgan and Fuego 88 at Riant

Tracey Morgan and Fuego 88 at Riant

Veteran US Pony drivers competed their final preparation for the FEI World Pony Driving Championships at the beautiful facility of Riant Equestrian. Center located near Appledorn, NED in the town of Beekbergen. Host to a major CDE (Combined Driving Event), Riant’s Beekbergen CDE, US National Champion pairs driver Katie Whaley, and US Single Pony driver Champion Tracey Morgan did a VIP class in the event meant to be their warm up and fine tuning for the upcoming FEI World Pony Driving Championships in Minden, Germany August 16-20.

Katie Whaley's Stalls

Katie Whaley's Stalls

The sport created by HRH Prince Phillip is similar to Three Day Eventing, but with carriages. Dressage, Marathon, and the final phase Cones with singles, pairs and four-in-hand make it one of the most challenging and exciting in equestrian sport.

On European soil, American drivers compete in a sport that is popular and strong. Steeped in tradition, talent, and plenty of horse and pony flesh, crowds in the thousands come out each of the three days. American drivers at the Advanced (FEI) Level face a challenge in Europe where in the US they are in an a very small minority.

At Beekebergen Single driver Tracey Morgan had a lovely and correct dressage test with her German Riding Pony Fuego 88. In the marathon meant to be a fine tuning effort she did just that, as did fellow American and speed demon Katie Whaley who was fastest in three of the 8 obstacles. It was in the difficult and challenging cones course where both US Drivers showed they were a force to be reckoned with.

Making the nearly impossible “double clear” effort, within the time, and no balls down. Morgan explained the course which began with the third set of cones heading straight for the crowd. “For the four-in-hand drivers,” Tracey said, “ The nose and ear of the right leaders had to be brushing the faces of the people behind the fence, and then they had to make a sharp and fast turn.”

Whaley's marathon was fast and smooth but there was an uncharacteristic 10 penalties of course. The navigator is allowed at a certain point out of the obstacle to check the equipment if something has been jostled during the effort. However the officials deemed it an unnecessary equipment check, often perceived as a ploy to stall for time. If a driver comes in ahead of the designated time, there is a penalty for that. “ I learned something,” said Katie, and better to learn it at Beekbergen than the Championships.

Riant Equestrian Center Training Camp for the USA

Team Meeting by RV

Team Meeting by RV USA style
photo: Kenny Cox

Joining Whaley and Morgan at Riant Equestrian Center was Randy Cadwell and Leyla, who flew in from the US from their Southern Pines stables several weeks after the others. A veteran at world travel but with a new pony this trip, Cadwell knows the routine. Her pony as did the others all passed the final in stable vet inspection. With just a few days left before travel, a full training schedule of dressage, cones and some obstacle efforts, Thorston Zarembowitz is putting the all girl group through their paces.

US Team Coach Zarembowitz who is from Germany and former assistant to Michael Freund, has his own travel trailer, the preferred home of choice for CDE Drivers. Tracey Morgan with husband and navigator Kenny Cox have a small travel trailer lent to them from the Dutch driving team of Koos de Ronde, and team Cadwell round out the camp in de Ronde’s two trailers used for Team USA and settled at Riant. All are in a small enclave next to the stables, on the edge of bike trails and the forest.

It will be an effort much like a NASCAR team upon their return to DeRonde’s Sunday night after the competition, where all vehicles need to be unloaded, cleaned, and repacked for the DeRonde family to head off for the European Championships.

In Good Company at Riant Equestrian Center

Martin Holle's Eppie

Martin Holle's Eppie, a neighbor

With the beautiful horses of Martin Holle (HUN) who handily won the Pairs division at Beekbergen across the aisle, Morgan and Whaley are in good company.“ I would take this horse as a Grand Prix dressage horse any day,” said Morgan, of Holle’s Dressage grey “Eppie”. Morgan is also a Bronze and Silver USDF medalist and a CDE Judge. “Everyone always gives Eppie the credit,” protested Holle’s groom. “He is beautiful and brilliant in the dressage, but it his partner, Dior who does it all (marathon and cones). In pairs combined driving you are allowed to bring three, and to switch them out according to their strengths.

Also part of Camp USA is the Hermitage group managing the horses for Steve Wilson and Hermitage Farm, Louisville, Kentucky. 2017 is also the year of the FEI World Horse Pairs Championships in Lipica, Slovenia, September 20-24. Wilson brought his entire rig, and Equestrian Coach, and equipment trailer from the USA via a ship. The US National Pairs Champion has his work cut out for him, but is not shying from the challenge.

Amentities at the Riant Equestrian Center

Claudio Fumagalli (ITA)

Claudio Fumagalli (ITA) head trainer for Riant

Home of International Pairs driver Meike van Tergouw, Riant is a training stables in full swing from sunrise to sunset. Always with a selection of world class horses, resident trainer Claudio Fumagalli (ITA) has a stream of horses that leave and return to the yard throughout the day. A five star restaurant and beautiful outdoor lounge area compliment the stables. With the arenas and obstacles still set from the event held two weeks before all that’s needed to prepare for the World Championships is there.

The final training in the rain is completed, and ponies get the day off on Sunday while drivers and grooms, pack and prepare for the journey east to check into the grounds.

Follow our travels and coverage as we prepare to meet them and the rest of the super ponies of the world on drivingponies.com