Mill Spring, N.C. – In a week that exuded many historic moments for U.S. equestrian teams, combined driving added another. They closed out their home FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) with their first-ever four-in-hand team gold medal at Tryon 2018 on Sunday. The U.S. Driving Team of James “Jimmy" Fairclough, Misdee Wrigley Miller, Chester Weber, and their respective groups of horses ended with 353.39 penalties, following three phases of competition. In addition, Weber earned his second career individual WEG silver medal, ending on 163.38 penalties. The Netherlands won silver on 356.79 penalties and Belgium won bronze with 364.089 penalties. Individually, Australia’s Boyd Excell won gold with 154.14 penalties and Belgium’s Edouard Simonet rounded out the podium with 174.15 penalties.
“This was brilliant, unexpected really. Everyone played their part, a true team effort,” said Chef d’Equipe Barry Hunter.
Weber added, “What also makes this team gold medal extra special to the three U.S. drivers, there was a wonderful man who passed away a year ago, [Chef d’Equipe] Ed Young. He was the force around US Equestrian’s program and led the way for a number of years, and today, when the reality was there that we won team gold, to me personally, for me and this team medal, that’s for Ed Young,” added Weber.
The U.S. team held the gold-medal position heading into Sunday’s cones phase on 338.55 penalties. Richard Nicoll constructed a challenging, technical course, dependent on precision and accuracy. Wrigley Miller (Lakewood Ranch, Fla.) with her team of Beau, her 12-year-old KWPN gelding; Bravour 54, her 12-year-old KWPN gelding; Bolino D, her 12-year-old KWPN gelding; and Calipso 86, her 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, were the first on course for the U.S. Serving as the pathfinder, she helped the team gain a solid understanding of the tough course at hand. However, they added an unfortunate 32.93 penalties to their score to end with 230.87 for 16th place overall.
“It was wild in there; really tight. My horses were so responsive and wonderful and made the most of a really tough course,” said Wrigley Miller, who earned her first WEG medal. “There was one spot to make up some time, but it was followed by so many sharp turns . . . but my horses were brilliant.”
Fairclough (Newton, N.J.) and his team of Bento V, his 12-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding; Citens, his 11-year-old KWPN gelding; Dapper, his 10-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding; and Zenden, his 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, followed for the U.S. They encountered a minor incident on course when the left wheeler broke a noseband. This caused the team to stall a bit. As a result, they dropped two balls and added 6.07 time penalties, adding 12.07 penalties. They ended with 201.16 for 11th place overall.
“I had a hard time [on course] today. They were fighting me a little bit and they got really strong,” said Fairclough, acknowledging the broken noseband. “I couldn’t figure out why it was so heavy. It was a very technical course, so that already makes it a little difficult to be quick, and I felt myself a little late. I was hoping it would be a little smoother than it was, but it got rough and a little jerky, but that’s the name of the game.”
The U.S. sat in the bronze-medal position with Weber (Ocala, Fla.) as the second from last in the order. The team gold medal depended on a cautious completion with Splash, Jane Clark’s 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding; First Edition, his nine-year-old KWPN gelding; Reno, his nine-year-old Hungarian gelding; and Boris W, his 12-year-old KWPN gelding. The double-WEG silver medalist and his team delivered in true fashion, adding only 2.77 time penalties to solidify the gold medal.
“It is a lot of fun to be on this team. When I was introduced to combined driving, Jimmy was my teacher; I was 13 years old. I remember when Misdee came up to me at the Florida State Fair and wanted to get into carriage driving, so it was really humbling and nice to be here. [Winning gold] was a surprise. I thought we came here with a chance at a medal, but if you asked me to bet on if we would be the world champions at the end of the week, I would have said ‘I’m not sure.' ”
On her journey to the WEG:
Wrigley Miller: “It has been an amazing journey, learning about horsemanship, about finding the right combination of horses, and trying to learn new skills. It has been so much fun; I’ve put my life on hold the past year because this was my goal and focus. It was worth every second.”
The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOC, and USEF Sponsors and Members.