Oirschot, Netherlands – Five U.S. athletes and their ponies made the journey to the FEI Driving World Championship for Combined Ponies, which took place Aug. 30-Sept. 3 at Steenhof Stables in the Netherlands. The championship featured single, pair, and four-in-hand ponies with teams and individuals from nine countries competing for world champion titles.
The U.S. contingent included singles drivers Amy Cross and Hilary Mroz-Blythe, pair driver Katie Whaley, and four-in-hand driver Mary Phelps representing the Land Rover U.S. Driving Team as well as single driver Anna Koopman competing as an individual for the U.S. All combinations gained valuable international experience at this year’s championship.
“I was very pleased with the organization of the event,” said Matheson. “It’s always one of the events that everybody looks forward to. We had several drivers from our Developing Driver program who attended to watch, and we had them participating as spotters during the marathon. We’re educating them on what happens when you go to a world championship, so that helped too.”
Hilary Mroz-Blythe (Leverett, Mass.) and Bijou, her 2006 pony cross mare, had the best result of the U.S. singles, closing out the competition on a high note with a top-10 finish in the cones phase to finish 22nd overall. Amy Cross (Chestertown, Md.) and Wendy O’Brien’s 2010 Welsh Pony gelding Eulenhof Spencer had the best dressage score of the U.S. singles, and Anna Koopman (Middleburg, Va.) and her own Chandler Creek Eclipse, a 2010 Morgan gelding, worked through some equipment malfunctions to complete three solid phases.
For all the athletes, competing overseas as part of a team was an important opportunity.
“I think the experience of traveling abroad and the amount of planning that it takes is a particularly valuable experience, and also working within a team environment,” said Matheson. “All five of these drivers have been competing as individuals, and then we have four of them that formed a team. That comes under the guidance of the Chef d’Equipe, the team leader, and the team veterinarian. This is a new experience for some of these drivers, that there are people there to help them, because they’ve been doing it on their own for so long.”
Katie Whaley (Paris, Ky.) and her ponies Timmy, a 2015 Welsh Pony gelding; Tommy, a 2003 Welsh cross gelding; and Clanfair Sunglow, Gail Riley’s 2012 Welsh Pony gelding; had the top result of the U.S. contingent, finishing 14th in the pair section.
“Katie was the most experienced driver, and she’s bringing some younger ponies into her pair,” said Matheson. “She’s got some young blood, and so it was a good rebuilding year for her.”
Mary Phelps (Micanopy, Fla.) competed in the four-in-hand with her own 2010 and 2007 American Shetland geldings Al Capony and Bugsy Malony; Anouk De Haas’s 2011 gelding, Nova Stables Quirino; Team Bax BVBA’s 2010 Welsh Pony stallion, Vechtzicht Classic Rockstar; and Bert Van Den Boch’s 2002 Welsh Pony gelding, Vechtzicht’s Hopeful. Phelps has previously competed at an FEI Driving World Championship with a pony pair and this year made her world championship debut as a four-in-hand driver. An unfortunate off-course in the cones phase eliminated Phelps from the results, but she and her team successfully completed the dressage and marathon phases.
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