February 28, 2016 -The 2016 USEF Four-in-Hand Driving National Championship came to a close with the cones phase at Live Oak International. Chester Weber earned his 13th USEF Four-in-Hand Driving National Championship title after leading the competition from start to finish. The field of four competitors demonstrated great driving throughout the competition and is looking strong as the U.S. prepares for the 2016 FEI World Championship this summer.
Weber (Ocala, Fla.) and his and Jane Clark's team displayed great skill in all three phases, winning by a 38-point margin. Weber's team this weekend included a mix of up-coming talent Amadeus, a gelding competing in his first National Championship, and veteran experience in Para, a 19-year-old gelding competing in his 10th National Championship. Their quest for the national title began on Thursday in the International Arena with a fluid dressage test that earned a score of 45.25, putting him at the top of the leaderboard. Weber increased his lead considerably in Saturday's marathon phase with the fastest time in six of the seven obstacles on Gabor Fintha's course, adding 118.70 penalty points to their score. In the cones phase, Weber and his team had another winning performance. They knocked a single ball at cone six and incurred a handful of time penalties to win the championship with a score of 173.20.
"The horses were good today and I was really pleased. I think this team is going to a really competitive cones team internationally," said Weber. Weber also spoke to the added challenge presented during the cones phase at Live Oak International which also hosts show jumping in the same arena. "This is a real test of driving every step of the course when you have an arena with show jumps in it. The course at the [World Championships] probably won't have jumps in the area, but might have some different technical natures. There was a great atmosphere in the arena with the crowds also similar to the World Championships."
Allison Stroud (West Grove, Pa.) has mastered driving Four-in-Hand horses after switching from a pony team less than three years ago. She and Willow Star LLC's Dutch Warmblood team performed a harmonious dressage test on Thursday to receive a score of 53.39. In the marathon phase, Stroud drove confidently through the challenging track, adding 146.86 penalty points to her score. In the cones phase, she entered the arena with steely determination and had just one ball down and 8.36 time penalties to finish as Reserve Champion on a score of 211.61.
First-time National Championship contender Craig Grange (Delmar, Iowa) entered his first FEI event this weekend and showed great promise throughout the weekend. Marking a 66.72 in dressage, Grange boldly took on the tough marathon track, posting the second fastest times of the day through obstacles two and three. He added 155.33 penalty points, to start the final phase in third place. The cones phase proved to be a bit tricky for Grange and his team as they had five balls down and disrupted obstacle 16, requiring a pause for a rebuild. With the additional of time penalties, Grange took third place with an overall score of 258.89.
Misdee Wrigley Miller (Lakewood Ranch, Fla.) began the championship week with a solid dressage test that earned her a score of 49.49 from the ground jury, good for second place. She elected to retire during section A of the marathon phase due to a minor finger injury which she sustained earlier this season.
The FEI Four-in-Hand and Single Horse divisions this weekend served as selection trials for drivers aiming for the 2016 FEI World Driving Championships. Suzy Stafford (Wilmington, Del.) and her 2015 USEF International Horse of the Year, PVF Peace of Mind, took an early lead in the FEI Single Horse division and never looked back. Following a 43.58 score in dressage, the pair dominated the marathon phase, posting the fastest times in six of seven obstacles and adding 94.22 penalty points to their score. In the cones phase, Stafford and "Hunny" again proved their athletic prowess, leaving all the balls up and adding .85 in time penalties, winning the division on an overall score of 138.65.
Find out more about the Live Oak International.