Allentown, N.J., May 8, 2006 -- "Let's go to the videotape" is a phrase usually used in the context of football or basketball reporting, but this weekend it was effectively applied to settle a dispute in combined driving.
Scott Monroe, defending his 2005 National Singles Championship at the Garden State Combined Driving Event, had a marvelous marathon Saturday. Or so he thought, until the scores came out, and he found he had been charged 20 penalties for allegedly taking the gates out of order at "Old Glory," the last of eight hazards on the course at the Horse Park of New Jersey.
Scott was quite sure he had negotiated the hazard properly. There's more than one route through such a winding hazard, and while his way was different, it was legal. But how to prove it?
Then Adam Skipper, who likes to take videos at driving events, popped up with the tape he had taken at the hazard.
"That was heaven-sent," said Scott.
The ground jury hiked up to the hazard, Adam showed the tape and Scott explained how he had driven his black Morgan, Bethesda After Dark (better known as Shadow), around Old Glory's many twists and turns. The 20 penalties were removed and he was declared the winner of the marathon. The whole process took two or three hours.
"As one person said, I was the only one who had to do two marathons in one day," said Scott. "It was stressful enough to do the marathon and then to have to go through this, when everything could be taken away from you, when we knew we were right. But we needed proof and the video was the proof."
Of course, there was still another day of competition to come, with the cones segment the final proving ground for the championship.
Fred Merriam, a former national champion, won the dressage with another Morgan, Gaitwood Lightwing, and was still in the lead by 4.65 penalties after the marathon when the scores of the two phases were added together, because Scott placed sixth in dressage.
Fred, a Vermonter, told me he had given Gaitwood Lightwing a year off after the last world championship.
"We drove around the farm and looked at the trees and leaves. We didn't look at the inside of a dressage ring," he said. "It rejuvenates the system." He felt the Morgan deserved a break because in competition, "He's a very dedicated horse. He gives 200 percent all the time, I don't want to cook his brain."
At the Horse Park, the cones phase involves a course divided between two rings, an unusual vision with the horses going from one to another as they hustle to finish within the tight time allowed.
Such times can be "unrealistic," Scott suggested, and it's particularly tough to make on the hard-packed surface at the park, where carriages going too fast can skid. "It was a very challenging course; it makes us better, but everyone had time penalties," he pointed out.
Scott, next-to-last to go in the cones, finished with time penalties (but no balls down) and headed off to the stable. He didn't bother to watch Fred's round; after all, Fred was the first American to win an individual medal in a world driving championship when he took the bronze in 2002. Scott naturally figured Fred would keep his lead. Then someone ran up to Scott and said, "You won." It wasn't exactly an official announcement, so he was a bit skeptical.
"But word started to spread that he'd had a ball down and time penalties, and we'd won. It was a surprise and a thrill and an honor," Scott said. He wound up with 125.56 penalties to 129.5 for Fred. Eleanor Gallagher was third on 134.25 with her black Gelderlander, Kashmier, while Sterling Graburn, who has a striking gray Belgian warmblood gelding, Quincey, finished fourth with 137.31.
Sterling, by the way, is a fourth-generation horseman. When I asked if his great-grandfather was involved with driving, Sterling smiled graciously and replied that he was "by necessity." No cars in those days, remember?
The Advanced Single Horse Division drew 22 starters, because there was more than a title at stake here. The event was a selection trial for this summer's World Singles Championships in Italy.
"I'd like to eat pizza in Italy," said Scott, a true amateur who works as an arborist in Connecticut. He doesn't travel to Florida, so he missed the trials down there earlier this year and thus cannot skip the final trial in Bromont, Canada.
He's been pleased by Shadow's progress.
"We're getting better every year," he noted, and it's something I've noticed over the time I've watched this intense duo compete. He was really blowing through those hazards, except the one where his reins unluckily got caught on his brake. (Read Scott and Shadow: Building a Driving Team.)
Scott works with Margaret Beeman, and always gives credit to her as well as his horse.
"Margaret has been my trainer/navigator since Day One. I was told a long time ago to find one person and stick with them. That worked for me," he said. (Read EquiSearch Exclusive: Beeman on Training.)
The trophy was presented to Scott by Margot Hoffman Miller, the daughter of the late George Hoffman, a former president of the Gladstone Equestrian Association.
Heather Walker, who formerly ran the Gladstone Driving Event, is the organizer of Garden State.
"I want it to be a competitor's event," she said. Garden State doesn't have "a lot of bells and whistles," but it has good footing and interesting hazards that she hopes to see landscaped more picturesquely over the coming years. A new course designer, Barry Hunter from Great Britain, gave the marathon a fresh look. I loved one of his hazards, the ant hill, a neat little tower that had personality.
There was no four-in-hand division, since the fours went off to Aachen, Germany, the week before for the pre-World Equestrian Games show there, and there was only one horse pair, so the focus really was on the singles.
There was another, unrelated competition called Garden State in northern New Jersey over the weekend: The state's largest hunter/jumper show, put on by the old Junior Essex Troop. It was a junior cavalry organization that took a fatal hit during the Vietnam War when uniforms and marching weren't in vogue. But the troop alumni stage a very successful show for five days every spring at the Sussex County Fairgrounds, better known as the home of the Sussex show that goes with the county fair in August, the one with the bright lights and whirly rides that scare some horses.
Garden State ends with the $50,000 Dimensional Health Care grand prix that draws big names--Chris Kappler, Anne Kursinski, Laura Chapot, etc. But this year the winner was 17-year-old Brianne Goutal, the same one who took the equitation world by storm last year after winning every championship there was between the 2004 and the 2005 seasons. Remember her from Animal Planet's "Horse Power: Road to the Maclay"? Now the grand prix world is hearing her thunder.
Although this was her first grand prix victory, I'm sure it won't be the last! She and Onira beat Laura Chapot and Sprite in the 9-horse jump-off. How often do you see someone go faster than Laura Chapot? In fairness, Laura had to go first, so she wasn't as bold as she usually is. But Brianne knew just where to do what she had to do to wind up the winner. She had a great team behind her from Beacon Hill--Frank Madden; his wife, Stacia, and Max Amaya. But in the end, it's Brianne who does the riding and makes the decisions, and she knew just how to alter the game plan to make sure she won.
This summer, Brianne will be spending a month in France riding with Katie and Henri Prudent. Her father is from France, and she has dual citizenship. I'll bet both the U.S. and French teams will be bidding for her services one of these days.
And finally, do you believe that Andrew Hoy of Australia won Badminton the week after he won Rolex Kentucky? Different horse, of course! He rode Moonfleet to the honors this time, once again finishing on his dressage score. That gives him two legs on $250,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. Now all he has to do is win Burghley this fall (easier said than done) and the bonus is his!
I think that's enough from me today--driving, show jumping and eventing. We've covered a lot of terrain. Next up is the Devon Horse Show, so I'll be sending you an EquiSearch postcard from Philadelphia's Main Line at the beginning of June.