This summer and fall, no fewer than six Aiken-based drivers packed up their horses, harnesses, carts and carriages and flew to Europe to train and compete. Five of these whips are in the pony divisions and are on their way to the World Pony Driving Championships in Lipica, Slovenia from September 22-25. One, Joe Yoder, trained in Germany with the American driving coach Michael Freund and then competed with the rest of the American team at the Reisenbeck CAI in July. From there, he went to Conty, France for the FEI World Pair Driving Championships from August 25-28.
Joe, a young driver who recently relocated to Aiken from Montana, drives a pair of black Gelderlander geldings owned by Jack Wetzel. Earlier in the year, he drove these geldings to the United States Equestrian Federation national pairs championship at Live Oak in Florida. The FEI World Pair Driving Championships were his first international competition.
At the championships, things started out well for the Americans. Joe Yoder had an excellent dressage test, scoring 44.03, which was good enough for sixth place in that phase. His teammate, Misdee Wrigley-Miller, scored 52.86 and came in seventh, putting the United States into fifth place going into the marathon.
The weather in France had been wet and the ground was quite saturated on the next day, marathon day. It was a day of changeable weather, with sun one moment and pouring rain the next, the kind of day that can play havoc with competitors and spectators alike.
Kathrin Dancer, the third member of the American team, was the fifth driver of the day, and the first of the Americans. She went clean with no time penalties. Misdee Wrigley-Miller had the 26th start position. She also made it through the course without penalties, despite a driving rain that drenched her halfway through her run. Joe Yoder, the driver who was expected to do best in the marathon and who had a chance of medaling, had an unlucky draw. He went 50th out of 70 drivers. By this time the course was heavy, muddy and cut up. He slogged through, but it was not pretty. His groom fell off the cart on the fifth hazard, and he incurred more penalty points on the course. He ended up in 57th place. Wrigley-Miller and Dancer were 28th and 45th respectively.
The next day, cones day, was not a great one for the Americans either. Wrigley-Miller was eliminated on the course, Yoder had two balls down for six penalty points and finished 21st.. Dancer dropped a ball and had time penalties for 9.66 points and 29th place. Overall, Yoder ended up in 27th place and the American team came out 10th. Although these scores may sound somewhat disheartening, this is a new team with little international experience. Things can only get better!
The pony drivers are still training in Germany in preparation for their trip to Slovenia. On the same weekend as the World Pair Championships, the American ponies competed at the German National Championships in Minden. American drivers fared best in the singles division. Miranda Cadwell, who trains in Southern Pines, N.C. came in second, while Shelley Temple, who has a winter training base in Windsor, finished fifth. Suzy Stafford, another Windsor driver, was just out of the ribbons in 11th place.