Jimmy Fairclough won the National Four in Hand Championship at The Laurels at Landhope International Combined Driving Event.
The 25th anniversary edition of The Laurels at Landhope CDE was held Sept 9 to 11 with a relatively small field of entries, but unusual twists in the action. The Laurels has had the honor of being the venue for many USEF national championships, and this year was host to the four in hand title competition.
Eight time national four in hand champion Chester Weber looked like he would take home an unprecedented ninth title when he completed the dressage phase with a score of 39.04, well in the lead over James Fairclough at 47.79, Josh Rector at 56.32 and Canadian Eugen Hug at 69.76.
Weber would have continued to win every phase of the competition had he not taken a gate at obstacle 3 the wrong way on the marathon. That error cost him 20 points and let Fairclough move into the top slot. It wasn't clear sailing for Fairclough either as he had a glitch in the water hazard causing his team to take some stutter steps. "My whip got caught," he said. "It cost me four or five seconds."
Weber was disappointed with the Marathon but blamed no one but himself. "I had a gate backward in hazard No. 3," he said. "We walked it that way. It was just a mistake and I have nothing to say except it was inexcusable." He was very pleased with how well his horses went. "I thought the course was very heavy-going," he said. "It was terribly hot and the whole Section E, you could be going downhill and the horses had to pull."
Even though Weber had a better cones run on the final day with just 6.55 penalty points, Fairclough scored 10.30 penalties on cones, holding on to the win with a total score of 132.76 over Weber’s three day combined total of 136.89 penalty points.
First Time Out
This was the first time out with this team this year for Fairclough, who is looking for a sponsor. He was pleased with the way they performed, particularly in dressage given the deep going. “The mud was really a factor,” he said. “It was a good test even in the deep mud.”
Footing was a challenge again in the marathon. “The mud was heavy. The horses got tired by 5 and 6,” Fairclough said. “It’s heavy out there because they never get out on any kind of hard track where they can catch their breath and come back.”
Fairclough was thrilled with his performance over the three days: "My dressage was very good, I was hoping for something a little better but 47 is a really good score. The marathon went really well, first competition since WEG so I was a little rusty but it went well, and the cones went well. They were very consistent all the way through. I do it because I love it, I love to drive a four-in-hand and I love to represent our country, and it's been 10 years since I last won the National title so it's pretty cool to win it on 9/11 ten years later."
For Fairclough it was a relief - he put a team together after parting ways with long-time owner Jane Clark last year. "I'm looking for another sponsor," said Fairclough. "And I would like to pull something together before the next World Games (in 2014)."
Fairclough won his first USEF National Championship in 1982, he has been a stalwart member of the U.S. Driving Team, and most recently he and Weber were members the Bronze Medal-winning Team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Though the number of entries for this year’s event was lower than usual there were drivers from all across the continent. Pennsylvanian Paul Martin of New Holland drove his German Sport Pony and Welsh Cobs to win the Intermediate Pair Pony title while his second team of Welsh Cobs placed second with German driver Neils Kniefel at the reins.
Mary Clark Lind had been the leader after dressage with a score of 48.21, followed closely by Martin with 49.49 and Kniefel farther back at 61.65. Lind did not fair as well in the Marathon, retiring from the course at the third hazard while both of Martin’s entries made it through the day with good scores. Lind did return to drive the cones course and beat both her competitors, but was not ranked in the final standings.
Another multiple winner in a different way was Kimberly Stover of Smyrna, DE who brought two entries and drove them both to wins in two different divisions. Stover won the Advanced Single Horse title with Laughlin, a Connemara/Thoroughbred cross, and took the Intermediate Single Horse division win with her Friesian/Thoroughbred cross Bruce Wayne.
Just behind Stover in the Intermediate Singles Class was Judy Canavan of Limekiln, PA, who finished second with her Thoroughbred Montana Light.
Another second place finisher from Pennsylvania was Newt Brosius of nearby Avondale in the Preliminary Pair Horse division. Driving his Morgans, Rowdy and Stevie, Brosius stayed close to the top of the score sheet after dressage and marathon and was less than three points out of first going into the cones phase. But the deep course was a problem for his pair, and they could not make up the difference.
Following on the heels of Hurricanes Irene and Lee, mud made the footing deep, but the sun prevailed for the weekend’s competition. “Sometimes the weather is not our friend but you can’t have everything,” organizer Jamie O’Rourke chuckled.
The Laurels began as a schooling event and has grown over the years to a three-day event with a top-flight marathon course, built specifically for the competition. In its 25 year history over $250,000 in proceeds from The Laurels at Landhope have been donated back to community organizations that preserve open space, protect the environment, and promote the welfare of animals.