To wrap up our coverage of last week’s Lexington Combined Driving Classic, here are the “Yaay, it was a successful event!” press release and a few more photos …
The third annual Lexington Combined Driving Classic, held October 1–4 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, was a resounding success, with nearly a hundred competitors in fifteen classes. This year’s event also hosted the Kentucky Cup (the official test event for next year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games) and six USEF National Driving Championships.
The Kentucky Cup / WEG test event technically included only the advanced/FEI-level horse teams class, but the rest of the competitors either benefited from or, depending on their perspective, had to contend with, the realities of the test event.
With rules and restrictions in place for next year’s WEG, and the ongoing road construction at the Kentucky Horse Park, competitors were limited to only one golf cart on the grounds. In addition, these were restricted to the actual roadways and were not allowed on the grass of the marathon course. The route from the stables to the warm-up and competition arenas was a mile-long loop around the back of the park. The main road through the park that the drivers were previously in the habit of using will be reserved for pedestrians at next year’s World Equestrian Games.
However, as several drivers noted, along with these minor hardships came the thrill of competing in the same arena that will hold next year’s WEG competitors. Another benefit: the tremendous learning opportunity that results from driving in front of next year’s WEG ground jury: Diana Brownlie (GB), Peter Bonhof (NED), Klaus Christ (GER), Martha Nicoll (USA), and Hanspeter Ruschelin (SUI). All five of them judged the advanced/FEI-level classes, while only three judged the preliminary- and intermediate-level classes.
In all but two classes, the leader after the dressage phase went on to win the class. Of these, veteran driver Larry Poulin had the best dressage score of the entire competition: 37.50 penalty points. This was Poulin’s final competition before he retires from driving to concentrate on ridden dressage. He described the move as almost like going on vacation because he has for many years been maintaining a rigorous schedule of training / competing in combined driving and training / competing—with the same horses—in ridden dressage at the Prix St. Georges / Intermediate I level. After his auspicious start, Poulin went on to win the marathon in the advanced/FEI-level horse pair class. He finished with 7.64 penalties on Richard Nicoll’s long cones course, but even those penalties weren’t enough to unseat Poulin from the top spot. In his final outing as a competitive driver, he emerged as the USEF National Pairs Champion.
The final section of Nicoll’s marathon course consisted of seven obstacles (the preliminary competitors did not drive obstacles four, “Mick’s Mountain,” or five, “The Hollow”). Several upper-level four-in-hand drivers felt that the obstacles were “not technical enough” to adequately test their horses, but this year’s event included everything from preliminary-level single ponies to advanced/FEI-level four-in-hand teams, so the obstacles of course had to accommodate everyone. Six of the current obstacle sites—although not necessarily the obstacles themselves—will be used in next year’s WEG. The two obstacles newly built for this year (numbers four and seven) will be altered and improved somewhat before next year but may remain essentially the same. The others will no doubt be made more technical for the World Championship. The surprise finisher in Saturday’s marathon was Mike McLennan, who showed a marked improvement in his obstacle driving from last year’s event, finishing the marathon in third place, with fewer than five penalty points separating him from the leader in the marathon, Australia’s Boyd Exell. After several days of heavy rain, the ground at the Kentucky Horse Park was somewhat muddy, and McLennan admitted that “the heavy ground was a little difficult for my horses; coming from Texas, we’re used to something different, especially since we haven’t had rain for two years. But we only lost one shoe out there and somebody found it, so we’re okay. The course was great; you can’t get any better than that.”
In the overall scoring, Chester Weber led the teams of horses from start to finish, and emerged from the cones competition with a record seventh consecutive USEF National Driving Championship. Of the marathon, he said that he believes the track will be “wonderful for next year: the obstacles are well constructed, super horse-friendly, and positioned so that the spectators will be able to see all the action.”
The largest class in the entire competition were the advanced/FEI-level single horses, with sixteen entries. Fritz Grupe led the field after dressage, with a score of 50.05. Grupe’s lead after the marathon was secure enough to handle some penalties on the cones course, but with several balls down and time penalties (a total of 10.77 points in all), his win ended up being a bit less secure than he must’ve liked. During the end of his run through the cones course, all the four-in-hand drivers gathered by the rail, awaiting their chance to walk the course, whooped and hollered as Grupe leaned forward after the final set of cones to urge his horse to gallop to the finish line. Not surprisingly, Grupe was pleased with his win in the USEF National Single Horse Driving Championship, especially considering that his horse had been driven as a single only three times.
After all three phases of the competition, the following drivers won their classes at the 2009 Lexington Combined Driving Classic.
Preliminary — single pony: Paul Maye of Fairfield, VA (overall score: 99.88); single horse: Dean Lacey of Garden Valley, CA (99.84); pony pair: Boots Wright of Ocala, FL (106.53); and horse pair: Lew Smith of Round Top, TX (124.09).
Intermediate — single pony: Debbie Schuster of Chardon, OH (114.99); single horse: Marcie Quist of Vass, NC (136.71); pony pair: Caroline Whittle of Columbus, NC (141.38); horse pair: Misdee Wrigley Miller of Lakewood Ranch, FL (141.58); and tandem pony: Mark Dahlberg of Solon Springs, WI (179.48).
Advanced/FEI / USEF National Championships — single pony: Suzy Stafford of Bear, DE (120.92); single horse: Fritz Grupe of Stockton, CA (134.08); pony pair: Tracey Morgan of Beallsville, MD (130.40); horse pair: Larry Poulin of Petersham, MA (123.52); four-in-hand of ponies: Lisa Stroud of Kennett Square, PA (145.14); and four-in-hand of horses: Chester Weber of Ocala, FL (131.35).
Next year, in place of the Lexington Combined Driving Classic, will be the eagerly anticipated 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The driving portion (four-in-hand teams of horses only) will begin with the first day of dressage on October 7 and end with the cones competition on October 10, 2010.