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  • Writer's pictureBrendan Dwyer

Cream of combined drivers converge for national champs

ABOVE: Byron McIntyre from Yass and his Cleveland Bays Alabai Vega and Revilo. Picture: LINDA MACE

THE Australian Combined Driving Championships were held over the Easter weekend at Boorowa NSW and despite some challenging and changeable weather, the event was very well received by competitors and spectators.

With competitors and officials from all states, this was a true national championships (the first held since 2019 due to Covid19 disruptions) and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

The Ellmore Driving Club, which hosted the event on behalf of the Australian Carriage Driving Society, set out a little over two years ago to construct a competition course and venue of the highest standard at Boorowa, and the 66 competitors who commenced the competition were not disappointed.

Beautifully decorated arenas in red, white, blue, green and gold set the scene for Friday’s dressage phase, with some lovely tests being driven, despite the untimely storms.

The championships and the associated level four event encompassed a range of competitive levels, so there was a wide range of dressage tests driven, from entry level through to advanced, with some strong performances delivered by the drivers.

Several drivers achieved sub-40 penalty scores, including Sandy Hunter, Rachel Haslau and Gail Bain, but it was Andrew Pollock with Merricks Stedinger Crusade who took out the garland for best dressage with a score of 35.23.

ABOVE: Lyn Callaghan and Shepherds Hill Dennis braving the wet conditions in the last dressage test of the day. Picture: LINDA MACE

Saturday was cool and showery, which made for perfect conditions for driving the suitably testing marathon course of almost 18km, if not necessarily for spectators.

The marathon obstacles at Boorowa have been laid out so that they are grouped together in order to give spectators an up-close viewing experience, and action all day long.

Course designers Trevor Brand and Graeme Dowling set tracks that were challenging yet open and flowing and drivers responded with some fantastic times.

Sarah Keevers from Cobargo on the NSW south coast set the fastest time in the garden (MO1) of 29.91 seconds, with her pony Drumeden Paddy.

The water obstacle is always great to watch with plenty of splashes, and Andrew Pollock from Tuerong in Victoria proved the versatility of Merricks Stedinger Crusade, by taking out the prize for the fastest time through the twin lakes, with a time of 32.70 seconds.

Other obstacles presented some different challenges for drivers with the variety of elements and the questions being asked however, competitors rose to the occasion with some very fast times and smooth drives.

The farmyard was a new addition to the course for this year and was very well received for its technical construction and decoration (including life-sized sheep and farm machinery). The “‘Well, Well, Well” obstacle was a great way for competitors to finish out the course, with its open, flowing track amongst the trees and wishing wells.

ABOVE: Building up speed towards the exit of the wishing wells on the marathon is Kirstin Feddersen and her new young equine protege, Shepherds Hill Simon. Jessica Meredith is balancing on the backstep. The Shepherds Hill horses, bred by Evanne Chesson and Jodie McKeone in Victoria, have been doing very well in combined driving and show events. There were five competing at this event. Picture: LINDA MACE

Strong marathon performances were on show in the keenly-contested novice classes with Rachael Taylor, Peter Lee and Merryn Byers all achieving under 80 penalties, but it was Peter Smith from Geelong, with On-Track Park Lucy, who had the best marathon score of 70.63 penalties.

In the intermediate and open classes, Dawn Walter, Rachel Haslau, Andrew Pollock and Yvonne Brown all achieved impressive scores, whilst Margaret Sperrin and Kim Branch led the way amongst the multiples.

Sunday offered a chilly breeze, but the cones phase went ahead in the main arena with a flowing but technical test set by Trevor Brand.

Featuring two excavators as part of the course, there were certainly plenty of challenges for drivers, with this phase of the competition having a real impact on the overall results.

While the cool conditions no doubt had an effect, it seems that perhaps a lack of practice on courses set to championships clearances brought many drivers undone, with knock downs and time penalties the order of the day.

Dawn Walter and Phil Marshall had the best rounds in the championships, with Dawn missing out on a double-clear by just 0.59 of a second.

In the level four event being run in parallel, young driver Lily Quartermaine showed how it should be done, achieving an impressive double-clear cones round with her 21-year-old pony, Shadow.

The organising committee was delighted with the success of the event, thanking the host of people that helped put Boorowa firmly on the carriage driving map.

ABOVE: Kathy Miles and Tina making a splash through the water obstacle in the rain. The Western Australia competitors travelled more than 3400km in a 40-hour trip to take part in the championships. Picture: LINDA MACE
ABOVE: Matilda Bannan and Molly, with Wayne Armstrong on the backstep. Matilda's mother, Skye Bannan, was also competing at the event driving A Tribute to Horace. Picture: LINDA MACE
ABOVE: Doddy Goile, from Western Australia, with her backstepper Amy Lucerne and Welsh Cob Rowen Black Magic (aka Dennis). Picture: LINDA MACE
ABOVE: Not exactly "singing in the rain" as the song goes, the first competitors of the event were Lily Quartermaine and Shadow with Sandra Quartermaine as groom, pushing on regardless while the rain poured down and doing a nice dressage test despite being soaking wet. Picture: LINDA MACE
ABOVE: Judy Tonkiss and Bells Mountain Playboy, with Payricia Hobeyman on the backstep, going through two of the marathon obstacles in the cold, misty rain that was prevalent throughout the day. Picture: LINDA MACE
ABOVE: Yvonne Brown and Sherbet Lemon making good time through the cones. Picture: LINDA MACE

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