6 August 2016

Beesd: Dutch claim gold on home soil in FEI World Para Driving Championships

The Heerlijkheid Mariënwaerdt Estate in Beesd, the Netherlands, was the decorum of the 10th FEI World Para Equestrian Driving Championships. The Dutch claimed the gold medal in the nations competition, while Dutch World Championship debutant Francisca den Elzen won gold in Grade 2. Germany’s Heiner Lehrter won his third individual gold medal in Grade 1.

For three days, 21 competitors from eight nations competed at the FEI World Para Equestrian Driving Championships in Beesd, venue of the 2008 FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships and host of one of the largest yearly national driving competitions. Competitors from Germany, Great Britain, USA, Italy, Latvia, Belgium and the Netherlands had made the trip to the beautiful estate. Parallel to the FEI World Para Driving Championships, Beesd also hosted the National Pony Driving Championships. A total number of around 200 competitors competed at the wonderful venue in the Betuwe area.

After all horses and ponies passed the horse inspection early on Thursday morning, the para drivers prepared for their dressage test the same afternoon. Defending World Champion Jacques Poppen put down a very nice dressage test with his 11-year-old Arabo Friesian horse P.P. with which he also won the title in 2014. As everybody expected, Poppen won the dressage, ahead of his biggest opponent Heiner Lehrter, who drove his pony Dashwood, who was put at his disposal by his wife Sabine because his other pony was not able to compete. Great Britain’s Deborah Daniel drove her 11-year-old Valeside Galaxy (Sparky) to the third position and the battle for the medals had begun. In the marathon it was Lehrter who drove his small pony fast and fluent through the six obstacles, flagged by level 4 Course Designer Barry Hunter (GBR). Poppen finished second and Daniel stayed at close distance with the third place.
Poppen was still in the lead after dressage and cones, but with less than one ball advantage to Lehrter, the 55-year old most experienced driver of all, he is the only German driver who competed in every World Para Driving Championships, drove his pony relaxed and concentrated through the cones: “I decided that I had nothing to loose so my motto was all or nothing,” said a very happy Lehrter after his win. He only had one ball down and finished within the time allowed. Poppen entered the arena to defend his small advantage and drove more careful than usual. Although he did not have any knockdowns, the time was going to be short for him. Then he suddenly turned towards a wrong gate. He luckily corrected his error in time and made a circle, which cost him five penalty points and time. He herewith lost his gold medal and dropped to silver. The golden Dutch team medal did not get into danger however.
Deborah Daniel won her first individual medal (bronze) and contributed to the British bronze team medal.
Heiner Lehrter was extremely happy with his gold medal: “I was not sure for a long time that I was going to be able to start. My own top pony is injured and the pony I competed with at the German Championships does not have the power for this level. Luckily, my wife gave me her pony Dashwood and it went perfect. In the dressage he was prepared at exactly the right moment. He was able to show what he could. He is a real fighter in the marathon and we had the fastest times in five obstacles. Only in the fifth obstacle we lost seconds when we had to change route when the time keeping blew away.”

Defending World Champion Alexandra Röder drove the very experienced 21-year-old Rheinlander gelding Donnerstolz, kindly lent to her by Dutch international single driver Frans Hellegers. Röder won the dressage and the marathon ahead of her closest opponent Francisca den Elzen. Den Elzen competed with her 8-year-old Welsh pony Bart Blom with which she had been very successful at the Dutch driving events. Beesd was her first international start and first World Championship.
The difference between the 29-year old Röder and Den Elzen was less than one ball before the cones. Den Elzen drove her pony fast and souple through the cones and had one knockdown. Röder entered the arena but was so nervous that she had several knockdowns and herewith dropped to silver. Her result also dropped the German team to silver and allowed the Dutch to win the gold.
The bronze medal went to Dutch individual driver Aad van Marwijk, who climbed in the rankings after German driver Ernst Botte left the arena with too many penalty points.

Francisca den Elzen was very happy after her cones round: “The cones course was very difficult, but I did it! After my disappointing dressage score I did what I had to do. It has been a fantastic experience to compete here in Beesd, it was my first World Championship experience and I really enjoyed it.”
Dutch chef d’equipe and trainer Harry de Ruyter was very pleased with the performances of the para drivers: It was a joy to work with this team, they were all very focused and they train very hard. We are very pleased with the gold medal although we had some insecure moments when the British Team protested against the mistake in Poppen’s round. Luckily we had video images, which showed that his groom had not tapped him on the shoulder as many thought she did to help him. Francisca has fought very hard after her disappointing dressage score. In the cones she showed her mental power, I am very proud of her.”

Click here for the results

Click here for the photoalbum