Even tropical storm Hanna could not stop the competition at The Laurels at Landhope, Sept 5, 6, and 7 in West Grove, Pennsylvania. With hard ground from a dry summer, drivers in the advanced, intermediate, and preliminary divisions got through dressage, but some had concerns that the hard going would be too rough for them.
"If there was anything that had me worried, it was that we wouldn't get the rain. I would have scratched. I was not going to sacrifice my "A" team to the ground," said Lisa Stroud after completing the marathon phase of The Laurels at Landhope during pelting rain that Saturday.
Stroud, from West Grove, drove her Connemara team to the Pony Four In Hand National Championship, leading all three phases with just light competition from Elizabeth Keathley, who is still developing her young team.
Stroud would have liked to see more competition in her division. Last year, Boots Wright had her team at the Laurels, but this year, she competed in the preliminary pair pony division. "I'm very upset that Boots has moved back to a pair. She's been my terrific co-rival in the sport ... Hopefully Elizabeth will give me a good run for my money."
In the Pair Horse National Championship, defending title holder Larry Poulin was within striking distance of leader Lisa Singer after dressage, but bad weather and bad luck caught up to him on the marathon phase. In the first few hazards, Poulin looked like he was moving so well that he would pass Singer on times. Even when his horse Wiley slipped of the bridge at the water hazard, he had a good score, but he lost track of where he was after hazard four and entered hazard six by mistake, skipping five and eliminating himself. "It was a combination of everything - between the weather and the course was very confusing," Poulin said.
Without Poulin to contend with, Singer and Keady Cadwell were left to battle for the title. Cadwell had the fastest time through five of the eight hazards for a marathon score of 82.73. That gave her a combined total of 133.80 to put her into the lead over Singer who totaled 135.69 after the marathon.
"My horses are used to mud, but it's hard on them, it takes a lot out of them," Cadwell said after the marathon. She noted that the flagging on the hazards this year tended to slow the lower level entries who do only the first gates. "A, B, and C were difficult, then it opened up," she said.
When it came to the cones course, Cadwell substituted her young horse into the pair, taking out one that has a tendency to wing his forefeet and hit the cones. The five year old did well, but not well enough for a win when the team had five balls down plus time penalties. "He needs experience and this was terrific for him," Cadwell said. "It was hard because he doesn't quite know how to canter yet." Experience for her horses was Cadwell's main priority "This isn't our end goal. Our end goal is the next world championships."
Singer stayed with her veteran horses Count and Gally for all three phases of the event and came out on top, with only two balls down on the cones course. This is her eighth time as National Pairs Champion.
The Laurels is close to home for Singer, who had just returned from Europe three days before the competition began. With a lead after dressage, Singer still was forward with her horses in the rain-pelted marathon. "I thought everybody drove it very respectfully," Singer said after the marathon.
Singer also liked the cones course even though it was not the best layout for her horses, "There was nowhere to really run - I like to run. I didn't mind going up over the bridge," she said.
The Single Pony National Championship was a victory for Suzy Stafford in several ways. Stafford was back driving "Courage to Lead," the Morgan that she won the Single Pony National Championship with in 2004. Just before shipping to the World Championships in England in 2005, the mare suffered a severe torn hip muscle that took more than a year to heal. Last year, when it appeared that the pony was fit and ready to compete at The Laurels, she was kicked by another horse while in the pasture, and suffered a chipped splint bone.
Now it appears that Courage to Lead is back in shape and ready to try to make the team for the World Championships again. At the Laurels she led from start to finish. "This was not as bad as the muscle tear," Stafford said. "I think she's better. That could be that I've gotten better."