Ocala, Fla. – The Florida Spring Fling Combined Driving Event (CDE) played host to the 2020 USEF Preliminary Combined Driving National Championships and the exciting competition that unfolded at the Florida Horse Park. Four preliminary divisions had athletes take home their national championship titles.
USEF Preliminary Single Horse Combined Driving National Championship
Raymond Helmuth (Cambridge, Iowa) and Kendro earned the USEF Preliminary Single Horse Combined Driving National Championship with an overall score of 108.89 penalties. Helmuth guided the young but sensible five-year-old KWPN stallion owned by Helmuth Equine to a solid dressage score of 54.22 penalties for third place in the dressage phase. They went on to win the cones phase and add no penalties to their score. They closed out the competition by winning the marathon phase and adding 54.67 penalties to their overall score.
“He was just an absolutely rock star,” said Helmuth of Kendro’s marathon performance. “He is a small horse, and he is so handy and quick in the hazards that it is work to stay with him. … He gave me absolutely every ounce that he had in the marathon and he wasn’t even out of gas when we were done. It was fantastic; it was just unbelievable!”
Jan Hamilton (Alva, Fla.) and Icen, her seven-year-old KWPN gelding, earned the reserve champion title with an overall score of 112.28 penalties. Ellen Epstein (Ocala, Fla.) and Uncle Leo, her 11-year-old KWPN gelding, finished in third with an overall score of 115.61 penalties.
USEF Preliminary Single Pony Combined Driving National Championship
Leslie Berndl (Lexington, Ky.) added a USEF Preliminary Single Pony Combined Driving National Championship to her resume with the help of Sweetwater’s Maraduke and an overall score of 107.17 penalties. Berndl and Teressa Kandianis’s five-year-old Norwegian Fjord gelding scored 51.11 penalties to place second in the dressage phase. They won the cones phase and added no penalties to their score. Berndl and Sweetwater’s Maraduke finished Sunday’s marathon phase with 56.06 penalties to win the phase and the national championship title.
“For the marathon, I really had no expectations of how he would do because we had only done training level at Grand Oaks [CDE earlier this month],” said Berndl. “I tried to move a little more forward in the hazards and he picked it up like he had been doing it for 100 years. I kind of let him pick his pace in the obstacles, and he stayed forward and light and answered everything I asked of him with 110%.”
Denice Klinger (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Ironwood Xander, her eight-year-old Norwegian Fjord gelding, were the reserve champions with an overall score of 114.98 penalties. Janet Crumpton (Alachua, Fla.) and FRF Donnar, her 12-year-old Norwegian Fjord gelding, finished in third place with an overall score of 122.51 penalties, making it a podium sweep for Norwegian Fjords in the national championship division.
USEF Preliminary Pair Pony Combined Driving National Championship
Roberta Greeno (Ocala, Fla.) and her American Shetland ponies took home the USEF Preliminary Pair Pony Combined Driving National Championship title with an overall score of 124.57 penalties. They began the competition by earning a dressage score of 52.22 penalties, then tallying 3.00 penalties in the cones phase. Greeno and her ponies finished the competition by tallying 69.35 penalties in the marathon phase.
“Marathon was a blast,” said Greeno. “[The courses] are all challenging at prelim level, but it wasn’t too much of a challenge. It was a beautiful course. I live right here by the park, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for how it is being run these days.”
USEF Preliminary Four-in-Hand Pony Combined Driving National Championship
Louise Blankinship (Live Oak, Fla.) and her Welsh and Dartmoor team claimed the USEF Preliminary Four-in-Hand Pony Combined Driving National Championship title with an overall score of 150.17 penalties. They scored 58.20 penalties in the dressage phase, driving in the rain on Friday for an added challenge. Blankinship and her ponies had no penalties in the cones phase for a stellar performance. They ponies tallied 91.97 penalties in the marathon to close out the competition.
“When we did cones, it was the best phase that I have ever driven,” said a thrilled Blankinship. “My goal was to go in and be as fast as I could and as accurate as I could because I would like to move up to Intermediate soon. We came in and it was going well, and it was just like floating. We came in 51 seconds under time. It was just amazing!”
Blankinship believed that her success at the show was due in part to being a member of the Developing Athlete Program for Combined Driving. “Since I got into the program and started doing the clinics just last month, I have gotten so much better, especially with my cones,” said Blankinship. “It is amazing how much I have learned. I hope more people join the program because look how much it has helped me already.”
The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOC, and USEF sponsors and members.