Mill Spring, N.C. – Battling through the heat and humidity, the U.S. Driving Team of James “Jimmy” Fairclough, Misdee Wrigley Miller, and Chester Weber steered their talented teams of four-in-hand horses through Richard Nicolls’s obstacles on the marathon course at the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) Tryon 2018 on Saturday. Holding the lead position after dressage, the U.S. Driving Team, led by Chef d’Equipe Barry Hunter, maintained their gold-medal position to finish on a score of 338.55 headed into Sunday’s cones phase. After confirming marathon penalties, team results were finalized and Belgium currently holds the silver-medal position on a score of 353.80, with the Netherlands in bronze on a score of 357.67.
As the trailblazer for the U.S. Driving Team, Fairclough (Newton, N.J.) was the first on course and through the obstacles. With Bento V, his 2006 Dutch Warmblood gelding; Citens, his 2007 KWPN gelding; Dapper, his 2008 Dutch Warmblood gelding; and Zenden, his 2004 Dutch Warmblood gelding, Fairclough weathered the course well, but made some rein adjustments for the leaders after obstacle four. He finished on a score of 189.52 for 12th place individually headed into the third and final phase, cones, on Sunday.
“We had a little problem in number seven, a little back-up and correction, but otherwise it went well,” said Fairclough. “I had a lot of horse at the top. They gave us a big window to do the marathon in, and with that kind of window, we were able to walk and give [the horses] a break. I gave [the horses] a break before and after [the obstacle], so that helped them recover. The leaders were really good when they came in, but the wheelers always do much more of the work and they were a little hot, and their temps were up a little bit. But they normally come down quickly.”
Weber (Ocala, Fla.) and Wrigley Miller (Lakewood Ranch, Fla.) were the second and third drivers on course for the U.S., with back-to-back runs. Weber expertly guided his team of Asjemenou, his 2005 Dutch Warmblood gelding; First Edition, his 2009 KWPN gelding; Reno, his 2009 Hungarian gelding; and Boris W, his 2006 KWPN gelding through the obstacles. He made quick work of the course, but with his horses’ best interest in mind, to finish with a score of 160.61 and sitting second individually.
“It was a hot, challenging course,” said Weber. “I think the key was to keep as much horse in the bag as you could for the end of the track. It would have been easy to light them up and have a blistering fast time through the first track. But, we went at it today, as a plan, a little bit like a turtle race, to make sure that you had enough gas at the end…at the end of the day, the horses had to do everything and I was just like the conductor of the orchestra playing the music. [The horses] were brilliant, really nice to drive. I couldn’t be more humbled to sit behind them and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
Though she claims not to be an expert on marathon, Wrigley Miller with Beau, her 2006 KWPN gelding; Bravour 54, her 2006 KWPN gelding; Bolino D, her 2006 KWPN gelding[ and Calipso 86, her 2007 Dutch Warmblood gelding, looked experienced and poised as they finished a clean course, with just a small mishap at obstacle six. An improperly buried timing cord became tangled in her carriage as she rolled over it, but the team persevered and cleared the obstacle safely. Wrigley Miller finished on a score of 197.94 for 15th individually.
“It went really well for me,” said Wrigley Miller. “My job today for the [U.S. team] was not to make any mistakes, not to get eliminated, but just to get a clear round. I wasn’t pushing them, I was definitely not pushing to win the marathon, I just wanted to give my horses a good ride and make them happy and keep my dressage score in place. So, I did my job and it was a real confidence builder as well.”
The U.S. Driving Team will contest the third and final phase of the combined driving world championship, the cones phase, for team and individual medals on Sunday, September 23, beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. The cones phase will be streamed live on FEITV and broadcast on NBC Sports.
Chester Weber on training and preparing for the heat:
“We have done a lot of studying of lactate levels and heart rate in them, in different works to try to get them ready for this, in the heat in Florida and things like that. Because certainly when the temperatures get hotter, the heart rates get higher and lactate grows.”
“The U.S. team doctor and I spoke this morning and I had cold towels around my neck throughout the course, like a boxer would have. I did a lot of things to make sure that the horses and I were at [our] peak condition for today.”
Wrigley Miller on her plans after WEG:
“Well, the horses will be put out on wonderful Kentucky bluegrass at our farm. I get about a week, and then I have to go into training to prepare for the Saddlebred national championships in Kansas City in November.”
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