Germany swept the board at the first World Combined Pony Driving Championships in Austria, taking individual gold in pony fours, pony pairs, pony singles and the overall 17-strong team competition.
Tobias Bucker, individual bronze medallist and a member of Germany’s gold medal team in the 2002 European Pony Four-in-Hand Championships, driving his eight-month-pregnant wife’s Welsh pony, Danyloo, produced a fabulous dressage test to take a decisive lead in the single pony division.
British driver Julie Camm and her Welsh section D, Pannau Pandora, put in a stellar performance to lie second, ahead of the USA’s Sara Schmitt.
“It was a huge learning curve but considering that it’s Pandora’s first season, she coped really well,” said Julie, a hotelier from Bristol.
In pony pairs, Germany’s Steffen Abicht established a 12-point lead from team-mate Franz-Josef Lemkuhl. Austrian driver Josef Stickelberger, the eventual silver medallist, was third in this phase, while Britain’s Ursula Hirschberg was eighth with her Welsh ponies.
Despite the loss of Gerhard Gerich – who had two ponies vetted out before the start – Germany dominated the four-in-hand, with European Champion Dirk Gerkens, a hunting
-mad farrier from Paderborn, leading throughout.
His team-mate, Martin Thiemann, was third in the dressage behind Belgium’s Mia Allo. British national champion Emily Bennett was sixth with her black Welsh/Hackneys, leaving the British in second to Germany after two days of dressage.
Temperatures soared for the demanding cross-country. However, hard tracks and generous time-allowances meant that the course drove well. The spectator-friendly showground, with the main arena surrounded by seven closely grouped obstacles, created a compact, raucous atmosphere – rather daunting for newcomers.
In singles, individual British driver Liz Rowe was tipped out in obstacle two – the water – but completed the course. Sweden’s Anne-Christine Arvidsson won the marathon, but Tobias Bucker did enough to maintain his lead. Steffen Abicht extended his pony pairs lead and Dirk Gerkens tightened his grip on the four-in-hand, while Thiemann moved up to silver.
British chances slipped away when Ursula Hirschberg’s black Welsh pony, Freeway, ran into a post in the bogey water obstacle, injuring a shoulder. Sadly Freeway had to be put down.
The devastated Cheshire-based driver decided to complete the championships and drove her spare pony in the final day’s cone driving.
Jo Rennison drove a brilliant marathon with her pair, Albury’s Danny Boy and Mere Of Westmoreland, to pull up to ninth individually.
“The pressure was on and it was hot, but my ponies coped well,” said Jo. “Team spirit pulled us through. It didn’t feel impossible to get in the medals and I’ll definitely have another crack.”
Four-in-hand drivers John Pickford and Philippa Gammell got round safely. Emily Bennett drove with panache into fourth, but a mishap in the cones cost her a chance of a medal and the team slipped to fourth place.
“It was a shame, because my ponies were superb on the marathon and there was just one point in it,” said Emily. “The tight box in the cones just caught me out. Everyone tried their hardest, so we’re not too disappointed.”
Sara Howe and Jane Macdonald’s Welsh pony, Costa Llewelyn – known as Sooty – were outstanding in the cones drive, finishing second in that phase and fifth overall.
“We weren’t quick enough on the marathon because I was too cautious,” said Sara, the highest-placed British driver. “But Sooty was excellent in the cones.”
The drivers from overall World Champion Germany said: “We were surprised to win so comprehensively and we’re sure that the rest will catch up by the next championships.”
Holland took silver and Austria, bronze.