October 18, 2015 -- Suzy Stafford led the field of seven combinations in the 2015 USEF Single Horse Driving National Championship from start to finish with PVF Peace of Mind at the Hermitage Classic CDE, finishing on a final score of 128.97. With three Single Pony National Championship titles (2004, 2008, and 2009) to her name, Stafford claimed her first Single Horse National Champion title. The top three on the leaderboard remained unchanged throughout the competition with Leslie Berndl and Sterling Graburn finishing second and third, respectively, behind Stafford.
Stafford (Wilmington, Del.) and her own 2007 Morgan mare began their championship campaign with a beautiful dressage test aside from a few minor bobbles. The Ground Jury of Debbie Banfield (USA), Dr. Klaus Christ (GER), Marie de Ronde-Oudemans (NED), Marsoe LaRose (CAN), and Sarah Mullins (IRL) awarded the pair a score of 40.64 to put them in the lead. Stafford drove determinedly over the tough marathon track designed by Barry Hunter (GBR), overcoming some breaks in concentration from her horse in the busy atmosphere. She and PVF Peace of Mind had a knockdown in obstacle six, and were helped in the marathon phase with their quickness and some luck, adding 86.07 penalty points to their score. They won the marathon phase, having the fastest times at obstacles one and five. The pair expertly navigated Hunter's challenging cones course, collecting just 2.26 time penalties and finishing second in the phase. Stafford and PVF Peace of Mind's three solid performances allowed them to remain atop the leaderboard throughout the competition and receive the National Champion honors.
"It feels awesome," Stafford said of claiming the title. "Today was a little rough. She was overly excited from yesterday's marathon so it was a little over zealous on her part, but we managed and finished well."
Defending champion Berndl (Newcastle, Calif.) and her own Uminco claimed the Reserve Champion title with a final score of 143.01. She and the 2001 KWPN gelding had miscommunications in the trot and canter extensions across the diagonal in their dressage test but showed much expression and great halts and deviations to receive a score of 49.87. In the marathon phase, they struggled at obstacle four and had a knockdown in obstacle five, but redeemed themselves by being the fastest in three of the obstacles, collecting 90.14 penalty points. Berndl drove a fantastic cones course with Uminco with an unlucky ball down at the final cone at 20 for 3.00 penalty points, finishing third in the phase.
Graburn (Paris, Ky.) drove his and Laura Corsentino's Mannkato, who has only been a driving horse for a short time, to third-place honors. Graburn and the 2001 Dutch Harness gelding's dressage test displayed resistance in a few movements, but had a relaxed walk, powerful extended canter, and nice deviation movements, receiving a score of 52.69. Graburn and Mannkato had trouble at obstacle two in the marathon phase, but finished strongly, tackling the remaining obstacles confidently. The duo tallied 88.71 penalty points and finished second in the marathon phase, with the fastest times at obstacles three and four. In the cones phase Graburn and Mannkato finished within the time allowed but had balls down at 11 and 13 for 6.00 penalty points, ending up with a final score of 147.40.
Marcie Quast (Vass, N.C.) and Daphne White's Halstead by Legacy, a 2005 Hackney mare, won the marathon phase with the only double-clear round in the championship division. They finished in fifth place overall.