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WELL DONE THE SINGLE HORSE DRIVERS !
A report on the British Team drivers at the World Single Horse Championships
?torp, Sweden  21-25 July 2004
by Jill Holah

Final placings:
Individual - Di Hayes 6th, David Matthews 9th, James Robson 22nd.
Team - Great Briatin 5th
There were a total of 63 competitors

The British team results at ?torp may appear to be disappointing on paper, but infact all three drivers put up magnificent performances - what a pity that so few British single horse drivers took the opportunity to witness a magnificent competition of the highest standard - and see what we have to do to win medals in the future.

The whole event was dogged from start to finish with appalling weather. Torrential rain greeted our drivers on arrival at the show site, and there was no way that they could park on the minute area marked out by the organisers for them. Horses unloaded and safely stabled, a long wait at the accreditation office was rewarded with the allocation of a prime flat parking site near the main building, with their our own water supply, electricity and loo!

Although the rain abated for Tuesday giving everyone an opportunity to relax before the competition (some even went swimming at a nearby pool), the rain returned on Wednesday forcing the opening ceremony into the indoor school. The British horses looked wonderful as they set off for the first vetting, but were sadly damp with dirty legs by the time they came before the judges. We presented four horses including Fred and Beryl Pendlebury?s ?Janton Flame? who went as the spare horse and all passed with flying colours.

Luckily for the survival of the event, the warm-up arena was on a gravel area with a very thin covering of sand, and it was agreed to run the two days of Dressage on this arena. The two grass training areas were waterlogged, so there was very little schooling area, but everyone was anxious to help the hard-working organisers and so a compromise was necessary. Once again the Dressage judging was controversial. It was difficult to see exactly what the judges were looking for, especially when they marked up horses showing very little change of pace. Jimmy Robson performed one of his best ever tests with ?Duke? on the Thursday, and indeed Tjeerd Velstra gave him the second best mark of the competition, but sadly Jimmy?s final score was anchored by some fierce marking by the judges from Austria and Sweden. Di Hayes was second to go on Friday with ?Hamewith Culmellie? (?Mel?) and she, too, excelled herself (she eventually finished eighth in this phase). Expectations were high when David Matthews entered the ring with ?Carnwallon Boneddwr? (?Rosco?), but sadly it was not his day and a slightly flat test relegated him to 19th place, two places behind Jimmy.

Water obstacle at AstorpThere was initial criticism of the short marathon with a flat Section A of less than 6 Km, but inspection of Richard Nichols? obstacles in Section E revealed that they were going to be extremely testing with lots of gradients, water and bridges/ramps. To add to the demands on the horses, all the obstacles (which were in the last 5 Km of the section) were approached off a narrow track around the perimeter of the small showground and, never out of the atmosphere and tension of the competition, the drivers found they were unable to give the horses a breather. Obstacle walking was somewhat hampered on Thursday by the rising water-level in obstacle 5 which left only the letters on top of the posts above the water, but luckily this was only due to a blocked outlet and was soon rectified! Jimmy was early off on Saturday and completed an excellent round to give the Brits a good solid start. Team Trainer Boyd Exell was helped by some excellent British ?spotters? who watched all the drivers and gave invaluable information on the quickest routes, and a change of plan in the water obstacle helped David Matthews to improve on Jimmy?s time. Sadly ?Rosco? lacked the power of the warmbloods in these particular obstacles, but he soldiered on bravely to knock some 8 penalties off Jimmy?s marathon score. Even ?Mel? ran out of steam towards the end of the course, but Di completed a good round to finish in 11th place at the end of the day. David was in 15th, with the team moving up one place to 6th.

All three horses passed the ?in harness? vetting on Sunday morning, although ?Flame? was once again plaited up and ready to perform if required. The cones course, in the main grass arena at last, was extremely tight but flowed with only a couple of tricky turns. It quickly became obvious that the time was very fast, and Jimmy?s clear round with only 6 time penalties put him right up at the top for a long time. David then drove a beautiful double clear to go into the drive-off. Sadly the heavens opened just before Di?s round, and her confidence was not helped when the French driver before her turned over (in his two-wheeler) on the last turn. But Di drove a superb round to go clear and join David in the drive-off. As the weather deteriorated, conditions became very difficult for the last few drivers, but the Swedish girls showed their class when former world champion Cecilia Qvanstrom, driving the spare horse, went clear with only 2 time penalties, and team-mate Marie Kahrle got only 4 time penalties to clinch both the team gold and the individual gold. Interestingly, Sweden would have lost the gold if Cecilia had not been able to drive the cones as they would not have been able to count her excellent Dressage score and in any case needed a second good cones result. Sadly the overnight leader Henrik Hoper (Denmark), who was outstanding on the marathon, scored 13 penalties in a tense cones round which dropped him down to 8th.

The two Brits joined the three American drivers (what a good cones performance by them!), plus one each from Holland, Finland and France in the drive-off over a shortened course, but they could not quick catch Fred Merriam (USA) with David finishing second and Di third. Di eventually finished in a very impressive 6th place overall, David was equal 9th, and Jimmy was 22nd. The excellent cones performance took the British team up another place to fifth, only three marks behind the Germans and eight marks away from the bronze medal. So close, but so far, but what a good performance out of a total of 20 teams.

Boyd Exell played a very important part in the success of the team, and thanks are also due to team vet Stuart Easby. It was very much a group effort with a lot of people helping in the background, particularly the team 'Chef de Cuisine' Sheila Hawking.

There is certainly plenty of food for thought before the next Single Horse Championship at Pratoni, Italy, in two years? time, but in the meantime we should be very proud of the performance that our drivers put up in Sweden.

CLICK HERE to see the full results.

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