Press Release by Kathleen Landwehr, US Equestrian Communications Department | Mar 9, 2017, 9:15 PM EST
The four USEF Combined Driving National Championships kicked off competition on Thursday with the dressage phase at Live Oak International. After a great day of competition, Tracey Morgan, Katie Whaley, James Miller, and Chester Weber lead their respective divisions following the first phase.
Morgan (Beallsville, Md.) and Fuego 88 had an excellent test that demonstrated quality work from start to finish. The longtime combination executed great one-handed movements and relaxed, yet powerful, canter work. Morgan and her own 2011 German Riding Pony gelding won the dressage phase with a score of 48.54. They have an eight-point lead in the USEF Single Pony Combined Driving National Championship heading into Saturday’s marathon phase.
“I was very pleased with Fuego today, and the ring was absolute perfection,” Morgan said. “It is a good way to start a national championship; we have the lead and I hope we can keep it the whole way through. He won the national championship in 2013 and 2015, so to win again would be special. He is a fun, fun pony and really professional.”
Barbara Chapman (Metamora, Mich.) and Darlene Daly’s Maduro performed an obedient test with good diagonal yields and deviations. She and the 2008 North American Sportpony gelding sit in second place on a score of 56.54. Lying in third are Rebecca Gutierrez (Windsor, S.C.) and Naria BW6, Richard Olson’s 2003 Haflinger mare, who punctuated their test with a great final halt and secured a score of 57.39.
USEF Pair Pony Combined Driving National Championship
Defending-champion Whaley (Paris, Ky.) had a great test with her own and Barbara Sims’ Welsh geldings highlighted by wonderful extended trot work. Her ponies were attentive throughout the test, allowing her to win the dressage phase with a score of 49.79. With over a 12-point lead, Whaley’s quest to defend her title now moves to her favorite phase, marathon.
“I’m a marathon specialist; I love the marathon. I feel like I have just been to the dentist, so now it is fun for me,” Whaley said. “My ponies are pretty handy. I do see big runs in and big runs out [of the obstacles], and that’s good for me because they have a big stride. So if all goes to plan I think I will have a good day.”
In her national championship debut, Mary Phelps (Columbia, Ky.) had a smooth test to put her and her own American Shetland Pony pair in second place with a score of 62.65. Jennifer Matheson (Aiken, S.C.) and Katrina Becker and Carina Crawford’s mixed pair are close behind Phelps in third place with a score of 63.06.
USEF Pair Horse Combined Driving National Championship
James Miller (Paris, Ky.) had a spectacular performance in his first national championship. Conquering his nemesis, one-handed deviations, Miller drove wife Misdee Wrigley Miller’s Dutch Warmblood geldings to win the dressage phase with a score of 48.90. Despite being a new competitor to combined driving, he showed great poise in the atmosphere of Live Oak International, compared to his usual comfort zone on the polo field.
“In this sport, there is a lot of mental preparation, and actually, that is the biggest adjustment for me, just everything that goes into it. Not only are you having to do your dressage test like today, but this morning we were walking hazards and planning and talking about the next couple days. It is a tremendous amount of mental pressure,” Miller said. “It makes you respect the sport that deserves far more respect than it receives.”
Defending-champion Steve Wilson (Louisville, Ky.) and his own mixed KWPN and Lipizzaner geldings had a solid test to slot into second place with a score of 55.04. Josh Rector (Dyke, Va.) and his, Jessica Buchanan, and Rainier Tanglao’s mixed pair sit in third place with a score of 70.26.
USEF Four-in-Hand Horse Combined Driving National Championship
Weber (Ocala, Fla.) had an excellent test with a combination of horses that are only in their second outing. His, Jane Clark, and Fritz Grupe’s Dutch Warmblood geldings showed great harmony and performed lovely movements. Weber won the dressage phase with a score of 36.51.
“In four-in-hand driving, we often talk about the blocks and how the horses work together as a cohesive unit. I was really pleased with that today,” Weber explained. “I felt like they really came into the ring with a presence. This is a spookier ring; they come out of a hole down there and they don’t see any of this until the crest that hill. It takes having a really bold team.”
Misdee Wrigley Miller (Paris, Ky.) had a beautiful test with her own Dutch Warmblood geldings to sit in a close second with a score of 41.47. Allison Stroud (West Grove, Pa.) and Willow Star LLC’s Dutch Warmblood geldings are in third place with a score of 51.79.
Watch the remaining Intermediate Single Pony and Horse divisions perform the dressage phase in the Competition Arena at Live Oak International beginning Friday at 8 a.m. ET on USEF Network.
Photography Courtesy Chester Weber/Picsofyou.com