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Five USEF Combined Driving National Champions Crowned at Spring Fling CDE

by Leslie Potter/US Equestrian | Feb 26, 2024, 8:00 AM

Ocala, Fla. – At the conclusion of four exciting days of driving competition at the 2024 Spring Fling CDE, five new USEF Combined Driving National Champions emerged. With both veteran teams and some new faces gracing the winner’s circle, it was an enticing look at some of what’s to come for the sport in the season ahead.

Jacob Arnold with Kenzo and Kenji V. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Advanced Pair Horses National Champion: Jacob Arnold with Kenji V and Kenzo

Jacob Arnold (Stamping Ground, Ky.) earned his fifth consecutive USEF National Championship title in the Advanced Pair Horses driving his own 2015 KWPN geldings, Kenji V (Emilano x Dironette) and Kenzo (Crescendo HBC x Zodancy M). While Arnold has already had a couple of successful European outings with this pair, they’re still a fairly new team.

“I competed them at the last FEI World Championship in 2023 in France, and they also won a show in Poland last year,” said Arnold. “I’ve had Kenji three years and Kenzo two years. This is only the third marathon and cones for Kenzo, so he’s developing and we’re trying to grow the team.”

Spring Fling proved to be a positive experience for Arnold’s pair as they turned in three solid phases on their way to winning the national championship.

“I was honestly pleased with all three phases,” said Arnold. “They all improved from the show before. We had a 41 in dressage, which I was happy about. I was pleased with the marathon because it was Kenzo’s third marathon, and he was super. To go double-clear in the cones is always the icing on the cake. The cones round at the last show two weeks ago didn’t go quite the way I was hoping, so I was really pleased to be able to go clear and have a good result.”

Suzanne Smith and Branson. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Intermediate Single Pony National Champion: Suzanne Smith and Branson

Suzanne Smith (Paradise, Texas) and Branson (Brando x Hoppenhof’s Merel), her 2015 German Riding Pony gelding, made the trek from Texas to Florida to compete in their first intermediate national championship together, and Spring Fling was worth the trip.

“It’s a two-day drive to get here. I love Florida,” said Smith. “I ended up with the national championship for intermediate, and last year I won the prelim. My goal was to step up to the next level, and so it’s very exciting.”

Smith and Branson make the most of their time training at home, but the robust driving community and facilities in Florida are always a draw.

“I haven’t really been able to work him like I want to because the weather’s been so bad in Texas,” said Smith “I came out a little bit early to drive him and work him here, and he was really good.”

Boots Wright with HOF Figaro and Middendorp's Stitch. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Intermediate Pair Ponies National Champion: Boots Wright with Figaro, Stitch, and Bax 3

Boots Wright (Ocala, Fla.) earned the top placing with her own 2008 Welsh Pony geldings, Schermeer’s HOF Figaro (Heitrak’s Marvin x Schermeer’s HOF Feline) and Middendorp’s Stitch (Heitrak’s Marvin and Ammikalge’s Sungmi), and her 2002 German Riding Pony gelding Bax 3 (Brilliant x Alina). While Wright and her ponies are all veteran competitors in the sport, the partnership she has with her two main ponies is brand new.

“Stitch and Figaro have been in this country two months,” said Wright. “They came from Hungary, and they are Austrian Welsh Ponies. They’re both 15 years old, and they’re half-brothers. I have a very good friend who lives in the Netherlands, Boyd Exell, and I’ve trained with him for years. He knew that I was looking for ponies and through the network somehow or other these ponies appeared. He went and drove them, and he liked them and said that they would do very well, and they have so far.”

With solid dressage and marathon phases and a double-clear cones phase, Wright and her team are off to a remarkable start together.

“They know their job. They’re old campaigners,” she said. “Now it’s about figuring out how to get the best out of them, because they had some baggage. They’ve been doing this for years, and people do stuff different ways.

“I used my spare pony for the dressage. He also is an old campaigner. He’s 22 and he only does dressage. And so, figuring out how to get the warmup right and what to do has been a learning experience. The dressage was very good. The marathon was excellent. I made a bit of a mistake in one of the obstacles, I had to correct the course which cost me 20 points which made me very cross. But again, these weekends are about how to prepare the ponies correctly because they have their own way of doing things and we have to come to some kind of an agreement.”

Bettina Scherer and SF Arendell
Bettina Scherer and SF Arendell. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Intermediate Single Horse National Champion: Bettina Scherer and SF Arendell

Bettina Scherer (Wellington, Fla.) topped a competitive Intermediate Single Horse division with SF Arendell (Connaisseur x High Life’s Aria), her own 2017 Westfalen mare. The pair started the weekend with a phenomenal dressage test that set them up well for the rest of the competition.

“We got the second-best dressage score of the horse show with a score in the 30s,” said Scherer. “We were second behind Chester Weber. That was a big highlight.”

At just 7 years old, SF Arendell has had an impressive start in her driving career with Scherer. Scherer is quick to credit her trainer, Jacob Arnold, for his part in her success with the young mare, as well as her breeder, Ann Daum.

“She came from Solomon Farms in South Dakota,” said Scherer. “I’ve been working with her for three years and started her myself. We were the prelim champs here last year, and I hope to start my advanced career with her, maybe next year.”

Kathrin Dancer with Redford and Watson
Kathrin Dancer with Redford and Watson. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Intermediate Pair Horses National Champion: Kathrin Dancer with Redford and Watson

Kathrin Dancer (Woodside, Calif.) drove away with a national championship with her own Redford (Rodgau x Ilka), a 1999 Hessen gelding, and Watson (Wolkentanz x Bon Bijou), a 1999 Hanoverian gelding.

“They’re both 25, and I’ve owned them since 2007,” said Dancer. “They’ve been in multiple world championships, and they’ve been all over the United States. We have a long, long partnership. They trust me and I trust them, and they’re finally starting to mellow at the ripe old age of 25.”

Dancer and her husband, Scott, spend a large part of the year competing their younger Warmbloods at FEI competitions in Europe, so tackling the intermediate level with her longtime equine partners is an enjoyable experience.

“The horses stay here year-round. We have a farm here in Ocala, and when I’m not here they stay at Goldmark Farm out on an 80-acre pasture,” said Dancer. “We come out in late October, drive them around a little bit, and ask them, ‘Hey boys, do you want to do one more season?’ They go up to Keady and Randy Cadwell up in Southern Pines, N.C., and they put a couple of months of fitness on them so that by the time we get here and the season starts in January we are ready to go.”

As the leaders in their division across all three phases, including a double-clear cones phase, Redford and Watson appear keen to keep driving with Dancer.

“It's a little more relaxed, and especially competing intermediate as opposed to advanced,” she said. “Since these guys are 25, I’ve gotta dial it down just a notch for them, and going intermediate is kind of like the good old days of driving, and it’s a really nice atmosphere.”

Full Results

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