The Mariënwaerdt estate in Beesd, province of Gelderland in the Netherlands hosted the 19th edition of the FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship from 3 to 7 September 2008. After five days of wonderful sport, in which the top 59 drivers from 20 nations competed, IJsbrand Chardon and the Dutch team confrimed their position as one of the world’s greatest Driving nations by winning both individual and team gold.
BACK TO HOLLAND
It was the fifth time in history that the FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship was organized in The Netherlands. After 1976, 1982 and 1988 at Het Loo in Apeldoorn and in 1994 as part of the World Equestrian Games in The Hague, the enchanting Mariënwaerdt estate was the site for the biggest 2008 event for the carriage driving community. The people of Marienwaerdt, led by their owners Baron and Baroness Frans and Nathalie Van Verschuer, has successfully organised a large Country Living Fair for the last 14 years and it was only several years ago that the local driving club asked them to use the grounds of the estate for their yearly combined driving event. The spacious site offered the unique opportunity to combine the Fair with the FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship. After over two years of intensive preparations, the Mariënwaerdt estate opened its gates during the first weekend of September for these highly popular events, which attracted 92.500 visitors during five days.
DRESSAGE – A JOY TO WATCH
After a wonderful opening ceremony, which was attended by a large crowd, the competition started on Thursday and Friday with the Dressage. “I have never seen dressage of such high level at an event in my life,” commented the German President of the jury Dr. Franz-Josef Vetter on Friday afternoon. “It already started on Thursday morning, the first tests were a joy to watch and it was simply a pleasure to sit in the judges box all day and enjoy the spectacle.”
USA’s Chester Weber was one of the examples Dr. Vetter was referring to. Weber, who has represented the USA in seven World Pair and Four-in-Hand Championships, showed a Dressage test with his team of KWPN geldings, which was a joy to watch for everyone. Explosive extensions, smooth collections, correct transitions, it was a true masterpiece. The judges awarded his performance with a record score of 32,13 penalty points which put Chester straight in the lead of the provisional standings after the first Dressage day.
Chester, who couldn’t stop smiling as he left the arena with his wonderful team of horses, was very pleased with his performance: “My horses went really well today and my leaders especially did a very good job. I used three horses of the team I competed with at the WEG in Aachen 2006 where I won the Dressage. The atmosphere in Beesd is fantastic, it is like the World Equestrian Games or even better!” Dressage specialists like IJsbrand Chardon, Great Britain’s Grand Father of the Driving Sport, 74-year-old George Bowman, Boyd Exell from Australia and Daniël Würgler from Switzerland were unable to beat Weber’s score so Weber maintained his leading position in the individual standings before the marathon. Thanks to a very good performance (6th position) of Weber’s compatriot Tucker Johnson, the US Team took the lead after Dressage, ahead of The Netherlands with Koos de Ronde and Mark Weusthof as Chardon’s secondants and Switzerland with 1998 World Champion Werner Ulrich, Daniël Würgler and Felix Affrini.
International course designer Arjan Brink from The Netherlands, who was also responsible for the course at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera, had designed a challenging course together with his Dutch assistant Johan Jacobs. Eight wonderful obstacles, each with their own theme such as the pigeon house, old Dutch houses at the harbour, the hay stacks, two spectacular water splashes and even an obstacle with a tented roof, were a joy to look at and received many compliments from competitors, officials and spectators. The rain showers on the dressage days had made the grounds wet, but due to the intensive ground preparations prior to the competition, the footage remained in a good condition from the first to the last competitor. The weather gods were sympathetic on the marathon day. There was sun, but not too much, and there was an occasional breeze. The weather altogether was perfect for the horses, drivers and driving fans.
Sweden’s double World Champion Tomas Eriksson mastered the obstacles amazingly, driving his team of Swedish warm bloods fluently through the gates, set the fastest times in three obstacles and won this marathon ahead of Hungary’s József Dobrovitz and IJsbrand Chardon. Chester Weber, the big dressage winner of this Championship, started concentrated and motivated on the marathon and was determined not to loose too many points on the marathon specialists. Chester drove a clear marathon, did not give one meter away and his horses showed their good form until the very last obstacle.
Chardon took over the lead in the individual standings, putting Weber on provisional silver with only 2,46 penalty points difference. Dobrovitz and his mix of Lipizzaner and Dutch horses moved up to third position, while Boyd Exell kept his fourth place in the standings thanks to a top ten place in the marathon with his team of Dutch horses.
The Dutch team took the lead in the team standings after dressage and marathon. Dutch national four-in-hand Champion Koos de Ronde sadly tipped over in the water obstacle, but he, his horses and his grooms remained unhurt and he finished the marathon in unusual 52nd position. Third Dutch team member Mark Weusthof however drove a very good marathon despite a thumb injury and prooved that team coach Tjeerd Velstra, World Champion in 1982 and 1986, had made the right choice to keep him on the team. Thanks to the performances of Dobrovitz and Zoltan Lázár, Hungary moved up to the second place, while Switzerland remained on third position in the nations competition.
The enthusiastic spectators in the sold out stadium closely followed the final obstacle driving competition on Sunday. The course turned out to be a true challenge with many tight turns and a very tight time frame. In the end, only three competitors managed to drive a clear round so the excitement grew as the last competitors entered the arena. Bronze medallist in 2006, Christoph Sandmann drove the first double clear round and contributed to the team bronze for Germany. Boyd Exell equalled this performance and herewith put the pressure on József Dobrovitz who was only 0,85 penalty points ahead of Exell. Dobrovitz dropped one ball and passed the finish line just a fraction of a second too late, which made him loose his chance for an individual medal. Exell moved up to bronze in this absolutely breathtaking competition. To be able to keep the pressure on Chardon, second to last starter Chester Weber had to drive clear. To be able to keep his silver position he was not allowed to exceed 6,82 penalty points in the cones course…. Florida based Weber kept the tension until the very last second of his round by dropping two balls and finishing with a score of 6,06 penalty points behind his name. But he herewith secured the individual silver medal. Chardon knew he was allowed to have penalty points, but did not need them. The 20-times National Champion and 11-times Aachen winner drove in cold blood the third clear round of the day and was crowned as World Champion for the fourth time in his career, an absolute record.
The crowd and Chardon went totally crazy as he passed the finish line:
“This is how a true Champion wins,” said Chardon after he made a lap of honour in the stadium, this time on his own legs. The spectators gave the champion the standing ovation he deserved. “Unbelievable,” said Chardon whose hands could not keep up with the many congratulations he was offered. “I am already preparing for the WEG in Kentucky 2010. I bought the horses already, I like to think ahead. You can never stand still for too long, although I am taking the time to enjoy this victory.”
The Dutch team won the team gold, while the Hungarian drivers Dobrovitz, Lázár and Juhász received the silver medal. Germany with Sandmann, Weinmayr and young marathon talent Michael Brauchle won the bronze.
The FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship 2008 in Beesd was a milestone in the history of the Driving sport. Perfectly organized, great sport and over 90.000 spectators enjoyed the wonderful event during five fantastic days.
Beesd was a great festival in the royal discipline of four-in-hand driving and the driving community is already looking forward to the next World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship, which will take place as part of the FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010.
Final results (individual) World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship Beesd (NED):
1. IJsbrand Chardon (NED) 131,19
2. Chester Weber (USA) 139,71
3. Boyd Exell (AUS) 140,47
4. József Dobrovitz (HUN) 142,91
5. Christoph Sandmann (GER) 143,59
6. Daniel Würgler (SUI) 146,72
7. Zoltan Lázár (HUN) 150,80
8. Werner Ulrich (SUI) 152,10
9. Michael Brauchle (GER) 154,74
10. Mark Weusthof (NED) 154,87
Final results (team) World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship Beesd (NED):
1. The Netherlands 277,74
2. Germany 292,67
3. Hungary 293,71
4. Switzerland 298,82
5. USA 303,80
6. Sweden 307,69
7. Great Britain 331,09
8. France 345,96
9. Belgium 349,14
10. Austria 371,39