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Carriage Driving at the World Equestrian Games
27 August 2006

Driving Dressage - Wednesday, 30 August, 0900 - 1600 and Thursday, 31 August, 0900 - 1600
Driving Marathon - Friday, 1 September, 1100 - 1600
Driving Cones (Individual and Team Final) - Saturday, 2 September, 0900 - 1330

Fifty-three drivers from 20 countries are expected to take part. This compares with the participation in the first FEI World Equestrian Games in Stockholm where 53 drivers from 18 nations competed. For reference, the participation in 1994 was 44 drivers from 14 countries; 46 drivers from 15 countries in 1998 and 43 drivers from 17 countries in 2002.

Driving - detailed preview

This year?s World Four-in-Hand DRIVING Championship, to be held as part of the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, are without doubt the most eagerly anticipated contest in the history of the sport. They promise a spectacular collision of great with great as the world?s top four-in-hand drivers battle for the ultimate prize.

International Driving events this season have indicated that this will be the closest and most hotly-contested World Championships ever. With more than 50 four-in-hand drivers from 20 countries taking part, the race for medals is wide open. But the most intense excitement sport can stir comes when its standards are raised to the highest levels and when well-matched talents clash. This time no fewer than six previous individual gold medallists ? drivers such as the reigning World Four-in-Hand Driving Champion, Michael Freund of Germany who have already demonstrated their greatness - will contest the medals. And this is the one world title every driver has dreamt of winning.

Aachen is the home of combined Driving. Back in 1968, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, then President of the FEI, visited the great international horse show at Aachen and was impressed by the 24 four-in-hand turnouts, mainly German and Hungarian, he saw competing in cross-country and obstacle-Driving trials. As a result of his visit, Prince Philip was instrumental in producing the first international rules for the new sport of combined Driving trials based on the format used for Eventing with Dressage, Cross-Country and obstacle cone-Driving as the third and final phase.

The first international event took place in 1970 and was swiftly followed by the first European Championships in Hungary in 1971 and the first ever World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships at Munster in Germany in 1972. Since then World Four-in-Hand Championships have been held every two years and Germany has hosted three World Championships at Munster (1972), Riesenbeck (1992) and at Wolfsburg (2000). The World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships have been part of all four World Equestrian Games with Netherland?s IJsbrand Chardon the individual gold medallist at the last WEG.

With a long and illustrious history of hosting major international Driving events, it is hard to believe that this is the first time Aachen will host a World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships! The atmosphere at Aachen is always electric. Winning the CAI-O international Driving event at Aachen is a huge achievement for any competitor - so winning the World Championships in the WEG at Aachen would be the ultimate achievement.

Only three drivers from each country will be allowed to compete at the World Equestrian Games and will comprise the Team for the nations? competition. The best two scores from the three team members in dressage, marathon and cones will count towards the combined team score for the event.

All the top international four-in-hand drivers have meticulously planned their season so that their teams of horses will peak in September. The international calendar of events got underway in March and April with the Live Oak CAI in Florida and the Iberic Cup in Portugal. Following a thrilling indoor FEI World Cup Driving series, which ended with Holland?s IJsbrand Chardon taking the title from four-time winner, Michael Freund, at the championship finals in Gothenburg, attention was focused in Europe on two premier international trials on consecutive weekends in May.

British-based Australian, Boyd Exell, won the prestigious LandRover international Driving grand prix at Royal Windsor Horse Show in Great Britain (11-14 May) while three-times World Champion, IJsbrand Chardon won the spring Aachen CHIO international four-in-hand event (18-21 May) ahead of Werner Ulrich of Switzerland and Felix Brasseur of Belgium. The Aachen Driving Festival provided a fascinating early indication of form in horse fours.

Current World Champion Michael Freund was dominant again at the Lahden CAI-A in Germany (9 -11 June). Controversy has dogged the German favourite after his victory in the last FEI World Driving Championships in Kecskemet, Hungary. In January the FEI decided to terminate the proceedings in the positive medication case that had been hanging over the German driver since then and agreed that Freund be allowed to keep his individual gold medal.

Freund, 52, is a brilliant horseman with a global reputation as a trainer. Individual gold medallist at the 1994 WEG in The Hague and multiple German champion, Freund, who runs a carriage Driving centre in Dreiech, Hessen near Frankfurt, has said he intends to retire from top-level international four-in-hand competition after Aachen. It maybe the last championship for the twice World Champion but he is determined to defend his title in front of his fans in Germany and go out on a high.

Switzerland?s Werner Ulrich showed himself to be one of the favourites for the gold medal at WEG after winning an impressive victory in the Breda CAI-O in The Netherlands (7-9 July). Felix Brasseur (BEL) was runner-up ahead of last year?s Breda winner, IJsbrand Chardon third. Ulrich, 47, from Bariswil, who won the 1998 World Four-in-Hand Championships at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Rome, has recently had a remarkable revival of fortunes and the resurgent Swiss driver bounced right back to win the Aachen CHIO last year. The key to Ulrich?s success this past year has been consistency in all three phases with his well-drilled Swiss Warmbloods and this sustained level of excellence leads many to think he could win the title again.

Among the favourites in the medal race is IJsbrand Chardon. Chardon, 45, a professional trainer from Schipluiden in Den Hoorn, Delft, is determined to make amends for a cone down in the final phase at the last World Championships in Hungary, which cost the Dutch champion the chance of an historic fourth world title. Chardon was unlucky again at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in May when one of his horses knocked a post and he had to retire from the cross-country. But the 18 times Dutch national champion was right back on form when he won the Aachen CAIO the following week.

?The spring Aachen was a good ?general rehearsal? for the World Equestrian Games,? commented the three-times individual gold medallist after his victory in May. Like most top four-in-hand drivers, Chardon has been trying out some new horses along with his experienced bay Dutch Warmbloods at the early events but will only take his best combination to the World Championships.

Australian, Boyd Exell who has represented his native country in the past four World Championships has shown considerable promise and should have been a contender. But the unlucky Australian broke his leg in five places in a freak traffic accident and will miss the championships this time.

Great Britain?s Karen Bassett is the world?s leading lady four-in-hand driver and will head the British Team at this year?s FEI World Equestrian Games. Karen displayed all her skill and experience steering her black Trakhener horses to victory in the crucial selection event for British horse fours at the Sandringham Trials in July.

Professional trainer Karen, 42, has been four-times British champion and was a member of Great Britain?s bronze medal team in the 1996 World Championships. Karen will be Driving her most experienced Trakhener, 22-year-old Muschamp Kangaroo, at Aachen. Karen has driven Roo in all six of her World Championship appearances.

At 71, Britain?s George Bowman is the world?s most prolific and experienced FEI four-in-hand driver. Winner of individual silver and bronze in World and European Championships, George Bowman has only missed one World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships ? the 2004 Worlds in Hungary - in his remarkable 33-year competitive Driving career and will be a stalwart of the British Team again. Team gold medallist at his first World Championships at Frauenfeld, Switzerland in 1974 and again in 1980, Aachen will be George?s 16th World Championships.

America?s rising star Chester Weber secured his fourth successive US horse fours title by winning the 2006 USEF Championships with his elegant bay Dutch Warmblood horses at his home-event, the Live Oak CAI-A in Ocala, Florida, finishing ahead of his US Team-mate Tucker Johnson. A member of America?s silver medal-winning team at the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Weber, 30, will be a leading contender again for the medals. Six-times US champion, Johnson, from Hobe Sound, Florida, is always capable of reaching the heights and narrowly missed out on an individual medal at the last WEG. The third WEG team silver medallist, James Fairclough of Top Brass Farms, New Jersey Driving Jane F. Clarke?s bay horses will complete the US Team.

At the FEI World Equestrian Games, Tjeerd Velstra of the Netherlands (a former World Four-in-Hand Driving Champion himself) will be President of the Jury that will assess the performances in the driven Dressage in stadium 2 on the first two days of the World Championships.

The brand new compact Aachen cross-country marathon course is right next to the stadium, set in an 80 hectare area within the Soers grounds, with the start of section A less than 1km from the stables. The well-drained three-section course will run close to the maximum distance of 17 kms.

?The new course is beautiful and should drive perfectly whatever the weather,? commented FEI Technical Delegate Richard James of Great Britain, ?Although not quite as testing as the old one in Aachenerwald ? there are no steep hills ? the walk is undulating and through nearby woods so it will be videoed to help the judges.?

Viewing for spectators will be excellent around the eight spectacular marathon obstacles grouped closely together. The massive, free-flowing and challenging obstacles, which include two water complexes, will provide the ultimate test for the drivers? skill and the horses? speed as the four-in-hands thunder round.

Aachen will be the fifth World Championships course built by FEI Course Designer Wolfgang Asendorf from Salzhausen near Hamburg, Germany. ?We have to wait until Eventing cross-country is finished before we can complete the marathon obstacles. I have a really marvellous team and without them it would not be possible,? explained Asendorf, who designed the 2000 World Championships course at Wolfsburg, ?There will be small hills, bridges and ramps on section E to make it more interesting for the drivers. We have built eight different-looking obstacles, which ask different questions. We plan to have three options or alternative routes to each gate. The drivers know their own horses and can decide which route to take.?

The obstacle cone-Driving back in stadium 2 on the final day will provide a nail biting climax and Asendorf?s course, with its variation of distances between the gates, will be an exciting and tense finale.

Team gold medallists in 2004, Hungary, led by the brilliant and mercurial Zoltan Lazar (who was individual silver medallist last time with his four grey Lippizaners), will be in the hunt for team and individual medals again. The in-form Belgium Team led by the 1996 World Champion Felix Brasseur and Gert Schrivers are a solid bet for a medal and The Netherlands Team of Chardon, Theo Timmerman and Koos de Ronde ? who won nations cup at Breda recently - are supremely confident as always. Switzerland?s Team, led by Werner Ulrich should feature and USA, with the combined might of Tucker Johnson and Chester Weber, could prove to be the dark horses. But with home advantage, Michael Freund is the favourite to gain gold again and the German Team would be popular winners.

For more information, visit www.horsesport.org or www.aachen2006.de