Saturday Postcard: Gladstone Driving

Ponies grab the spotlight in the first day of competition at the Gladstone Driving Event at Hamilton Farm.
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Ponies grab the spotlight in the first day of competition at the Gladstone Driving Event at Hamilton Farm.

Tracey Morgan goes through the Finns Folly obstacle at the Gladstone Driving Event with her Dartmoors, who are leading the advanced pony pairs division. ? Nancy Jaffer

October 12, 2002 -- This is definitely the year of the pony at the Gladstone Driving Event. We have 18 ponies competing, as opposed to 10 horses in the advanced divisions at Hamilton Farm.

There are several reasons for that. First, the four-in-hands did their thing at the World Equestrian Games, as you'll recall. After winning a silver medal, they can rest on their laurels for awhile, though Tucker Johnson was on hand here last week for an inspirational speech to competitors, while his teammates, Chester Weber and Jimmy Fairclough, have been on the grounds this weekend as well. And since the singles also had their world championship this summer, it's easy to understand why some of them might want a break, too, and decided to stay home.

But even more important to the rise of the ponies is the advent of the first world championship for the little guys, which will be held next year in Austria. Richard Nicoll, the course designer at Gladstone, told me the format will be rather unique. It seems the U.S. can send two teams, but each will consist of a single, a pair and a four-in-hand. Should be interesting.

Anyway, obviously all the pony people want to go to Austria, but probably none more so than Jack Wetzel. Jack used to have a pair of horses that went to their world championships a few years back when they were driven by Vance Coulthard. Vance is now Jack's coach.
Jack gave up driving horses in 1998 after arthritis in his hands made it too painful.

"I didn't want to have an accident," he explained. He bought his Welsh cob, Birchgrove Llewelyn, as a 4-year-old in England. He was U.S. preliminary champ in 2000 and for the last two years, he's been advanced champion in his division.

"He's very responsive. He's got the power and the will," Jack said proudly of his pony pair.
Jack, who lives in South Carolina, is leading the biggest advanced division here, with 10 entries. His score is 112.64 penalties. Dennis Yancho is in second place with the Halflinger Poncho, but he's way back on 127.44.

I had a great talk with Tracey Morgan of Maryland, who's leading the advanced pairs on 119.24 penalties to 133.2 for Muffy Seaton. Interestingly, both have Dartmoors.

But even more fascinating was my conversation with Susan Deutermann, who owns one of the ponies in Tracey's pair. Tracey and Susan also split ownership of a tandem being driven here by Georgina Frith in the advanced pony multiples section, which would include not only tandems (one pony in front of the other) and four-in-hands, but also, I guess, troikas and unicorns, though none of the latter two made an appearance at Hamilton Farm for this event.

Susan, a Georgia resident, bought one of the pair ponies, Maude, in Britain, where the little filly was running wild on the moors, like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, or something.
She paid the princely sum of $65 to get Maude (whose formal name is Lizwell Gambling Queen). Maude was running with "a band of little brown ponies and I had to keep my eye on her or I'd lose her," said Susan.
Maude is the product of a scheme (that's what they call such things in England) to breed government-registered stallions with Moorland grade mares. The idea is to keep the character of the breed while improving the individuals.

Despite Maude's bargain price, she was a costly purchase. It took $6,000 to get the pony back to the States and through quarantine, Susan explained.

So, I got sidetracked while I was telling you about chatting with the very down-to-earth Tracey. She was a dressage rider who got bronze and silver medals from the U.S. Dressage Federation. But, after meeting Susan, she got interested in driving. Also contributing was the fact that her dressage horse was "nutso on the trails," and she was interested in going beyond the ring.

Tracey likes Dartmoors because "they're very personable and have a great work ethic." So does she, obviously. Tracey earns a living by owning furniture rental stores, but she puts in a lot of time to be as successful as she is with the horses.

One thing she likes about the ponies is that for someone her size, 5-feet, 3-inches tall, the equipment is easier to haul around than the larger equivalent for horses. Another is their propensity to "develop and learn quicker. Ponies are clever, and they're fast in the hazards."

She also appreciates the fact it's something which can be done into old age, noting Prince Phillip drives pony teams and he's in his 80s.

I suggested to Tracey, who's 46, that she might be competing against the Prince in Austria.

"We'd both have to get selected to represent our countries," she pointed out.

In the advanced pairs of horses, Lisa Singer had it her way, as she so often does. Using her old stalwarts, the Morgans Chance and Farm, she made short work of the marathon, winning that as easily as she won yesterday's dressage phase.

The Pennsylvanian liked Richard Nicoll's obstacles. "There were a lot of options. I love options, and that's one thing Richard does, he puts options in where you have to think for yourself how would it be better for yourself, and not what other people are doing," she said.

Lisa doesn't have much competition here. Larry Poulin, second in dressage, had wheel problems in the marathon and had to bow out, while Jack Weaver was eliminated. The only other driver left, Mary Hayes, is more than 54 penalties behind Lisa.

In the single horses, Kate Shields of Virginia has a score of 120.63 penalties with her homebred Welsh cob, Hastenis Pilgrim. Carl Furst, who's driving a borrowed Polish Arabian, Pozar, is second with 127.11. Kate came to this country 20 years ago from Britain, and still has that nice accent.

Pilgrim is a homebred out of her late mare, Hastenis Mayflower, with whom she was reserve national champion last year. She misses Mayflower "the most special lady there was," who died in a pasture accident this year. But Kate has just bought her granddaughter, which is some comfort.

She and Pilgrim were third in the marathon, and Kate wasn't wildly enthusiastic about how it went.

"It just didn't flow, but we learned a lot," she said, annoyed at herself for getting time penalties in the last section, when she decided to take it easy in deep going and "realized too late" how slow she was.

This is the 20th anniversary of Gladstone. It once was known as much for its social galas as its competition, but a new board has taken over and focuses on the latter.

Although it's on a much more limited budget than it used to be, as Richard Nicoll pointed out, the Pine Meadow section of Hamilton Farm at the U.S. Equestrian Team Training Center is "a wonderful facility. It's one of the best section E's (the obstacles) you'll see."

The cones are today, and the leaders have such big margins that I'm betting first place doesn't change hands in any division. Of course, I've been wrong before, so make sure you tune in tomorrow and I'll tell you how it went.