April 5, 2008

by Joanie Morris

Chester Weber won his sixth consecutive USEF National Championship title at the Live Oak Plantation Combined Driving Event last week. Not only did he win the FEI Team Horse Division he also played host, presenter, bloodstock agent, farm manager and competitor.

"I want it seven times because nobody has ever won it seven times," said Weber of his championship run. "So if I win it seven times in a row that's some sort of feat."

Weber's beautiful Live Oak Plantation opened its gates to the community and hosted thousands of spectators over the three days.

"It is without a lot of complications because (organizer) Susan (Gilliard) is a star at what she does," said Weber. "We have most of the running of this event worked out in advance. We get everything done well, well in advance and that makes competing at an event you organize quite a bit easier."

The CAI-A Ocala, also serves as a USEF Selection Trial for the 2008 Four-in-Hand World Championships to be held in Beesdt, Holland September 4-7.

"I have one other horse I haven't driven this year at all," said Weber. "I drove him at Aachen. He's a lead horse in the dressage and that should help get my scores back under 40. The marathon team is pretty good, going better and the cones team is good so I feel good about it."

Weber had a significant lead after the dressage and although he was slightly slower than rival Jimmy Fairclough on the marathon his performance in the cones was plenty good enough to maintain his lead on a score of 140.72. Para, Jamaica, Senate and Boy put on a very confident display in the cones, the phase Weber considers to be this teams strongest. Fairclough remained second.

The second USEF National Championship followed the teams and the cones proved influential in the hotly contested Single Horse division. Also a selection for the 2008 World Driving Championships to be held in Jarantow, Poland August 28-31.

Marathon winner Sterling Graburn put in a dynamite double clear round in the cones which put the pressure on his girlfriend Wendy Ying who was the two-day leader. Ying also drove an awesome round with her horse but had a mistake at the last set of cones to bring her final score to 134.54 just over a point behind her boyfriend.

"I was really happy with my cones," said Graburn who finished on 132.82. "I've had issues with the cones in the past. Mostly horse issues but I had to convince people that it wasn't me. He's a much better horse and he's given me a lot of confidence driving cones."

Graburn and Ying's horses are 3/4 brothers, by a Welsh Cob stallion out of mares that are half sisters, the matching 'sport cobs' as Ying has dubbed them put on impressive displays all weekend in all three phases.

"It's fun because Wendy and I are a couple, the horses are brothers and we have champion and reserve champions in the same house and the same barn," said Graburn of his first national championship title.

Ying, Graburn and David Schneider were also the winners of the unofficial team competition sponsored by Bill Peacock. 'Team Purple' was impressive and took home the champagne for their efforts.

In the FEI Team Pony division two-day leader Lisa Stroud maintained her command of the division with a stellar cones performance with her team of gray Connemara ponies. The West Grove, PA driver finished on a score of 152.18, closely followed by Boots Wright who was second.

Larry Poulin and his immaculate pair drove confidently in the FEI Pair Horse division and was less than a point behind overnight Keady Cadwell going into the cones. Both drivers had two obstacles down and Cadwell exceeded the time but her score of 131.4 was enough to hold the lead and give the experienced driver another victory.