Four Combined Driving National Championships were awarded Sunday, September 12 after a full weekend of exciting competition at The Laurels At Landhope International Combined Driving Event and Autumn Festival in West Grove, PA.
The Pony Singles Championship was possibly the most exciting, with Shelly Temple turning in a rare clear round on the cones course, adding only 9.55 time penalties to earn a three-day total score of 133.57.
Temple had a substantial lead after dressage with a score of 43.73, followed by Jada Neubauer at 55.25. The placings remained the same after the marathon, but Neubauer had the best score of that phase, bringing her much closer to the leader with a two day total of 129.98, while Temple's fifth place finish in the marathon added 80.29 to her score for a total at that point of 124.02.
"It's a twisty turny course so they get off balance a little bit," Temple said after cones. "It's a very aggressive time because there's nowhere to make it up."
With less than two balls to spare, the pressure was on Temple as driver after driver in the 9-horse class had multiple knockdowns. Neubauer hit six cones to add 18 points plus time penalties for a final total of 152.5, dropping her to third place behind Janelle Marshall, driving Muffy Seaton's pony Captain Jack Sparrow.
There were just two competitors vying for the Advanced Pair Pony National Championships. Jennifer Matheson and Wendy O'Brien were closely matched in dressage with Matheson holding a slim lead at the end of the first day. Bad luck hit O'Brien on the marathon, including one moment where her navigator came off the vehicle in the first water hazard.
Matheson drives Topper and Dannyloo, a pair of German Riding Ponies owned by her mother-in-law, Katrina Becker. This is her third year competing with a pair after taking Dannyloo to the Worlds as a single in 2005.
When it came time for the cones course on Sunday, Matheson began with a total score at that point of 134.41, giving her a comfortable lead over O'Brien's 166.44 point total. The challenging cones course tightened the standings with Matheson collecting five knockdowns and time penalties for a final score of 165.51 and the win over O'Brien.
Two horse pairs competed for their National Championship, with Chadds Ford, PA driver Lisa Singer picking up the title for the ninth time.
Kathrin Dancer of Woodside, CA. gave Singer more of a challenge than many expected. Several errors on the dressage test, including dropping a rein, put Dancer well behind after dressage but she did not give up the battle. In her first try at The Laurels marathon course, she won the day and crept four points closer to Singer.
Despite a valiant effort, Dancer could not overcome the huge deficit from dressage, particularly when both she and Singer had problems on the cones course. Dancer finished with a final total of 185.93 after having trouble with the footing on the bridge that led her into a series of knockdowns.
"The lower bridge, it was so slippery, the back end of my carriage slid out and we were sideways and nearly hit the side rail. We were so busy recovering from that that I could not get myself in order for 12 and 13," Dancer said.
In spite of her troubles on cones, the trip across the country was worthwhile for Dancer. "I came to do what I wanted to do, which was win the marathon and qualify my one horse and I did that so I'm happy," she said. "I love it. I love the hazards and how spectator friendly it is," she said.
Singer opted to include her less experienced mare Tilba in the pair beside veteran LR Ami Bengali (Gali). Roughness through turns resulted in three knockdowns plus time penalties the brought Singer's total to 161.29 for the three days.
"I'm really happy with her (Tilba) on the marathon and I'm really happy with how she did all and all through that cones," Singer said.
The remaining championship of the weekend went to Alison Stroud who collected the National Champion Pony Multiples title uncontested with her team of gray Connemaras and New Forest ponies.
"I'm pleased with where they are at the moment," Stroud said of her team. "It's just a pleasure to drive them because they’re all so experienced."
The Laurels at Landhope was also a training event for the USA four-in-hand teams as they prepare to go to Kentucky next month for the WEG. This gave spectators a chance to see five of America's finest drivers and their horses close to home before they take on the rest of the world at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The spectator friendly venue put viewers on top of the marathon action where all eight hazards could be seen at one time, while the dressage arenas and cones courses are placed just below the patron's tent, providing high visibility from a comfortable location. Along with the driving action, visitors had a chance to shop at an assortment of vendors’ tents, enjoy an art show and listen to live music.
For complete results visit www.laurelscde.org.