International driver Lisa Stroud, shown here driving her Connemara ponies at the now-defunct Laurels, is one of the organizers of the new Glen Willow CDE, which will assume the Laurels' venue and dates.
While the Brits had seven years to prepare for this year’s 30th Olympiad Games, a hardy band of combined driving enthusiasts had far less time to organize a show which would replace the now defunct Laurels at Landhope International Combined driving Event.
The group, all graduates of The Laurels, took on the herculean task when founder Jamie O’Rourke announced last January that he was resigning after 25 years of running the show. So the stalwarts of the sport stepped forward to put something in the place of what had become a premiere event in driving circles. Since its inception, The Laurels had drawn a huge amount of entries, so many it was moved from its original home on the farm of pairs driver O’Rourke to around the corner to the land of Lisa Stroud, a pony multiples driver who now is president of the group. With its well planned and built seven hazards (all within sight of the spectators’ tent above the signature water complex), its pair of flowing dressage arenas and well-designed marathon course, The Laurels was built to host competitions for national as well as trials for international championships. Abandoning such a fine facility would unthinkable in the eyes of the organizers of its replacement, the Glen Willow CDE.
At first it was thought “we were going to wait until next year (to put on the show) but there was such demand (in driving circles) not to lose the show, not to lose the dates, that we decided to hold it this year,” said Stroud, who has competed abroad representing the US. She, like two others--horse pair whip Newt Brosius and Lisa Singer, world pair horse championship driver-- were concerned what the loss of the world class venue would do to competition in the Northeast. They considered The Laurels one of the few shows to offer advanced divisions for ponies and horses. The loss of The Laurels would mean anyone with advanced goals in mind would have to go South to find those classes if they were trying to qualify in them. So the trio began discussions after last year’s Laurels for remedies and came up with a substitute to run Sept. 7-9.
Everyone behind the new venture “is very excited about keeping a top notch show here,” Stroud pointed out. The North has been losing good shows over the past few years—the fall Gladstone (NJ) CDE had been suspended while the one at Fair Hill (MD) International had been discontinued. At the same time new shows springing up in Florida have become more attractive to competitors who want to escape the winter cold and are willing to go below the Mason Dixon line earlier each year.
“Even Kentucky is going to have a little Triple Crown (of driving) there eventually,” continued Stroud. “But if you want to go advanced it means now you have to go to Florida (where advanced classes are offered) and not everybody can afford to go there. I want to keep the Northeast healthy; we have a lot of great drivers up here in what could be considered the cradle of good horsemen and women over the years,” she pointed out, adding “and we have a lot of fun showing.”
Not a Laurels Clone
However, as she and the other organizers stressed, Glen Willow (named after a road that bisects the show grounds) is not a clone of The Laurels. A new emphasis, perhaps less glamorous as the one The Laurels was known for, was to emerge, stated Singer, a multiple national horse pairs champion.
“We are regrouping to make it more comfortable for everyone, from spectators and volunteers to competitors,” pointed out the Chadds Ford trainer and driver well known for showing Mimi Thorington’s Morgans to international fame. Singer will be at her usual volunteer job, setting up the dressage rings, then return to show at Glen Willow.
While the advanced single horse and four-in-hands will not be at the early autumn show (since their drivers are competing in Europe), Singer expects a sizeable turnout of ponies and pair horses which are seeking to be eligible for next year’s finals. Many come from the Brandywine Valley, home to many whips, from beginners to advanced. Glen Willow offers a wide variety of classes and the convenience that The Laurels offered non-professional drivers who hold down 9-5 jobs.
“But we are on a very tight budget with little start-up money” for making improvements and repairs which were not made on a regular basis in past years, explained Stroud. A lack of a large amount of seed funding meant that advertising of the event was limited and the tight time frame also dictated there wasn’t a chance for a fundraiser to fill in the financial gaps, noted Stroud.
The bulk of the money to put on The Laurels came from sponsors and donations; now getting cash in hand has become the responsibility of Dan Rosenthal, the Milford (NJ) certified public accountant who drives a pair of Dartmoor ponies. Now a semi-retired financial consultant, he knows the ins and outs needed to form the legal entity for Glen Willow.
“People have no idea how much it costs to put up tents for stabling or for a spectator viewing area,” he said. By his estimation the show cost $250,000 to run last year but with some hard core pruning, expenses will be less this year. The sponsors-only tent with its lavish buffet will be opened up to spectators, from competitors to the general public, and food can be purchased from vendors near the main tent. Battling back against a bad economy makes money harder to come by so organizers made a push to get corporate sponsors from large companies as well as smaller donors. Since he had never handled the purse strings of a driving show, Rosenthal sent out queries to others who have kept the books at driving shows, asking them for advice and suggestions to get funding. The response has been extremely helpful, particularly considering the time constraints on getting the show on its financial feet, pointed out Rosenthal, who has been carefully allotting it to specific projects.
Money went toward renovations in the stabling area with improvements to be made to the electrical and audio systems. Last minute touch ups will be given to the dressage rings, which have seen lots of wear and tear, particularly from Hurricane Irene in 2008. Since taking over the show site, Brosius has become the unofficial groundskeeper. The Avondale man lives nearby and has been keeping up with “landscaping” by doing things such as reseeding the dressage rings and taking care of things that might not be as apparent, such as trimming brush around the competitive venue. He has given his time which is worth more than money in many cases, noted Stroud.
Although many people associated with The Laurels are taking a break from working at the show, longtime show secretary Ann Pringle is returning. The Wisconsin native will handle the details of classes in divisions ranging from training level through advanced. All are recognized by the American Driving Society and the U.S Equestrian Federation. As part of the money saving effort, the organizers opted not to have the show FEI (international equestrian federation) rated. If the show had gone that route, it would have cost more and entailed a myriad of details.
Ann’s husband, Richard, handles scoring while Richard Nicoll returns as the course designer. Quintessential volunteer organizer Bobbi Hagar (the Denville, NJ woman who also runs the Teddy Bear Picnic driving show) will be in charge of getting people to work. They will aid show officials President of the Ground Jury Gerrit Kraal of The Netherlands, jury members Marsoe LaRose of Canada and Kail Palmer of Oklahoma, along with technical delegate Ian Douglas of Great Britain.
As organizers launched into a new frontier with the show, they had their fingers collectively crossed and said a prayer to the rain gods, asking them (even in the face of the country’s worst drought in decades) not to deluge the grounds. And if the show should make a profit, “it probably would go to benefit the New Bolton Center,” said Rosenthal.