"A competitor's view"
Article by British competitor Judith Ralls

Hopetoun House Horse Driving Trials hosted, what has been voted the best ever, International Paralympic Equestrian Committee World Championships for Carriage Drivers, during the last week in May. Set against the dramatic backcloth of Hopetoun House, designed by the renowned architect, Robert Adams, and family seat of the Marquis of Linlithgow; the prestigious surroundings set the atmosphere which was to pervade the whole competition and lift it onto another plain, not experienced by the many foreign competitors before. Organised by The Scottish Carriage Driving Association, ably Chaired by Anneke Wallace, this event was endorsed and supported by Tom Pettifer and the BHDTA to enable it to meet IPEC requirements, and with what has proved, enormous success!

Twenty-nine competitors from eight countries, including five teams, from Germany, USA, Sweden, Netherlands and Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and individuals from Hungary, Ireland and Austria, travelled from across the Pond and the North Sea, to congregate for this biennial event. The Americans and Austrian, shipped out their specialised carriages and, after many appeals, leased ponies and horses from very kind British owners! Without these generous owners the World Championships could not have gone ahead. Camps were set up in the usual fashion, on the Tuesday, and many friends were reunited from previous World Championships.

Wednesday morning was another beautiful day when some of the competitors who had not been Classified for their disability, were examined and graded either Grade 1 or 11 according to the IPEC rules. Much preparation went into the turnout of the horses and ponies, for the Official Veterinary Inspection, plaiting and shampooing and general titivating. Nations Teams and Individuals, smartly dressed in their uniforms, lined up ready for the ?trot up?, not without a few nerves as to whether, or not, all the horses would trot up sound, in front of the FEI vets and IPEC judges. One or two had a further inspection, but to everyone?s relief, all were passed sound, to go forward the next day for the Dressage, Competition A.

Another sunny dawned on the Thursday, for the IPEC dressage. The two best scores out of three from the Teams to count for each nation; for a while Great Britain were in the lead, with two good scores from Judi Ralls with her veteran Welsh B Freddie on 52.8, and Steven Manyweathers and Jordan 54.4, until Karl Bernd Kasgen, from Germany, and Concerto Grosso, his lovely Oldenburg gelding, produced a cracking 37, which knocked GB into Silver position by 15.8 points! At this stage the USA were in bronze position, exactly 5 points behind the British. The new pairs class, staged at Hopetoun for the first time, attracted four entries, two from Great Britain, and one from USA and the other from the Netherlands. Brenda Hodgson, GB, won the dressage and Carol Porter GB was equal second with Jaap Verboom, Netherlands, a previous national champion prior to suffering from a stroke, followed by Michael Muir of the USA

After an early supper there was a colourful Opening Ceremony heralded by the famous Millennium Coach, driven by Simon Baker and owned by Voice Products, one of the Sponsors of both the event and the British Team, followed by the fantastic Junior Musical Drive, coached by Amanda Saville of Chariots of Fire. The Parade of Nations Teams eventually filled the arena, having taken the scenic route on the way from the horse box park, causing a few worrying moments! The World Championships were officially opened by Mrs Jonquil Solt, Chairman of the IPEC, who welcomed everybody and thanked the organisers, sponsors and countless volunteers and wonderful Scottish hospitality, which we all experienced at the official reception afterwards.

Friday was taken up with the course inspection and much hazard walking and a few breaks admiring the fantastic views from the hills above Hopetoun House and the Firth of Forth and the Forth Bridge (spelling?) The obstacles were long, most including F gates and were much appreciated because they were demanding and could be driven long or short, tight trotting, or wide at a gallop. National competitors, walking at the same time, showed much patience with the many quad-bikes and golf buggies, the latter often driven considerably faster that the walking pace required in UK! So, thank you host nation competitors!

After the Evening of Nations, when each nation served tables laden with food and drink and mementos from their countries, which certainly broke the ice and produced a few sore heads the nest day, Saturday dawned wet after a prolonged downpour overnight. Prepared with studs and wet-weather gear the horses ran first, Steven Manyweathers for GB finishing fast on 81.27. By the time Judi Ralls reached section E the rain had stopped and Freddie galloped willingly, although the curb chain got wrapped round his bit in the water hazard and he backed off, but once out of the penalty area, his groom was seen to get down to remove it, having lost valuable time in the obstacle. However they were still3rd individually on the marathon and with Steve and Judi?s combined scores of 159.87, the Team were also 3rd on Marathon, keeping them in Silver position overall.

Carol Porter, with her coloured cobs, Arthur and Scrapheap Challenge, won the Marathon in the new pairs class and Brenda was second, narrowly keeping herself in the lead, with her pair of Welsh Section A?s. Arthur and Carol have been Team silver medallists at the two previous Worlds Championships.

At the Ceilidh, on the Saturday nights? evening entertainment, when all sorts of well- known driving trial personalities were to be seen reeling to the live band, rosettes were given for the dressage and marathon phases and heads kept steady ready for the last phase the following day. The positions had changed once again, Germany well ahead in Gold, GB Silver, Sweden Bronze, followed by USA and Netherlands.

Another crystal clear day for the culmination of the World Championships and everything to drive for! Nerves were fraying! In Grade 1 in gold medal position, the reigning World Champion, Karl-Bernd Kasgen appeared to lose his way on the course, and picked up 4.0 time penalties in addition to his 15 cones driving penalties finishing just 0.2 ahead of his fellow team member Heiner Lehrter. It was a popular win, so Karl-Bernd was World Champion for a second time! James Marshall GB Team member went very steadily as expected = second in the cones, ending up 6th other-all, with Steve Manyweathers just behind him in 7th.

In Grade 11 Judi Ralls lying in Bronze position overnight had two cones down, close ahead of her was the Marathon winner, Charlotte Henriksson from Sweden, who then had three cones down, ending just 0.2 ahead of Judi and Freddie. Elek Taczman, flamboyant Gold medallist in Greven, Germany in 2002, lying in Gold position executed a fast round with one cones down and retained his individual Gold medal; another popular win!

The Team scores to count in Competition C for the British Team, this time were James Marshall and Judi Ralls?. Scores counted from each team member for the different sections; a real team effort.

The Germans won Team Gold on 257.94
The British won Team Silver on 287.07
The Swedish won Team Bronze on 290.29
Individual Bronze Judi Ralls Grade 11

In the pairs Cones, Carol Porter came second and Brenda Hodgson had a lovely double clear retaining her Gold position, but what a result! Overall Gold and Silver.

Pairs Individual Silver Carol Porter
Pairs Individual Gold Brenda Hodgson

The wrap up ceremony was in wonderful Scottish sunshine and made extra special for our foreign fellow competitors, when HRH The Duke of Edinburgh presented the medals to the Teams and individuals. One British pony received both a team silver and an individual bronze medal, having been in the Silver medal winning team for the third time, and is now retiring gracefully! Wonderful that Britain won a gold and silver in the new pairs class too. Gold, Silver and Bronze! Can?t be bad!

Much debt is owed to Margaret Brockie our Team Chef d?Equipe, who has guided the squad through training and selection and given so much of her time and support, freely and willingly, and to our Trainer Rachel Stevens, whose experience and friendship has been so valuable and is an example to all of us! Both these ladies are very special and the British Team would not have succeeded to be in the medals again, without either of them!

Thanks to the wonderful organisational abilities of Anneke Wallace and her Committee, Lord Linlithgow, the generous owners who leased their horses, tireless volunteers and amazing Sponsors, this IPEC World Championships is deemed the best so far! Emulate that if you can, whichever country bids for the next Worlds, in 2006! We were proud to be the host nation at such a prestigious event.

The British Squad would like to thank the many generous Sponsors who supported the Team and Individuals, in particular those known in the driving world were:

  • Calvert Carriages
  • South Downs Harness Club
  • Carriage House Insurance
  • Clifton House Trust
  • Cumbria Harness Club
  • Dodson & Horrell
  • NEDTL.
  • Voice Products
  • Martin Top Farm
  • De Ferranti Trust
  • Escrick Park Sponsored Drive
  • Hampshire BDS