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The Carriage Commentator

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FEI DRIVING WORLD CUP 2022-23
london

The CC was at the London International Horse Show in it's second year at the ExCel Arena, for an electrifying 6th leg. Images courtesy of Paul Orchard - December 2022

Boyd Exell maintained his unbeaten record this series with another win in London

A stalwart event for many families in the run up Christmas, the relocated London International Horse Show felt very much at home in the Docklands based ExCel Arena.  With the emphasis on all round fun entertainment and shopping, interspersed with top class equestrianism and displays, the show also provides a golden opportunity for the up and coming competitors to shine alongside the old stagers.  There were two very different displays, the French Regiment de Cavalerie de la Garde Republicaine, which was all about elegance, precision, rhythm and style versus the raw skill and sheer wow factor of Dan & Camilla Naprous’ Devil’s Horsemen, whose nerve, verve and sheer daredevil antics thrilled the younger audience.  No doubt there were a few parents telling their children not to try what they saw at home!

London is unique in that there are three days of driving, kicking off the Hugh & Karen Scott-Barrett sponsored ‘Extreme Driving’ which rolled out to a full house on Thursday afternoon.  The drivers, most now well into their season, ramped up the speed in what is the smallest arena of the tour, their bursts of flat out galloping interspersed with flowing and weaving through the obstacles, round an excellent Jeroen Houterman course.  A designer who specialises in fast and flowing courses, he always asks spot-on questions of the drivers who still can make mistakes and set the balls dropping despite the record breaking pace.

The Veteran In-Hand and Ridden championships have brought in a whole new raft of horse owner to compete at this special show and some of the oldest champions, at 33 years of age, made their showing debut.  The Mountain and Moorland final brought together all the native breeds of the United Kingdom, if not to win the championship, but as much as a showcase for the best that the various breeds have to offer.  

Firm favourites with the crowd, the Shetland Grand National races for the Bob Champions Cancer Trust, plus the Pedigree Dog Agility classes, meant that there really is something for everyone.  The only slight disappointment is that we miss the formerly spectacular performance finale where once upon a time the arena was full of dancing elves and fairies, children and horses, Shires to Shetland and of course, Father Christmas.  It wouldn’t take much to bring back this icing on the Christmas cake and give us all something to sing along to!

Click on the below image for the FEI World Cup Driving Press Conference – 

Bert Jambon (President of the Ground Jury), Jeroen Houterman (Course Designer), Bram Chardon (2nd), Boyd Exell (winner) & Koos de Ronde (3rd)

SARAH’S FEI PRESS REPORT

Billed as the first ‘Clash of the Titans’ since Leipzig’s (GER) final in April, the question on all lips was, ‘Who would win in London – Bram or Boyd?’  Fresh from victory last weekend in Geneva (SUI), Bram Chardon (NED) knew that his first appearance as a competitor in London would be a challenge, and trying to break Boyd Exell’s (AUS) incredible run this season would be tough.  But how close he came.

While Boyd produced the winning round in the final drive-off on Saturday night with a score of 147.89, it was Bram who had the fastest time of 142.05, 1.84 seconds ahead.  Whereas Boyd had one ball down to add four, Bram rolled two balls and added eight, which was enough to push him into 2nd place.  But with Boyd as the Wild Card entry, alongside British driver Daniel Naprous, Bram was able to take the full 10 points for the ranking table so after only two events, now sits in 3rd, surely securing his place in Bordeaux (FRA) and a chance to defend his FEI Driving World Cup™ title.

“I am a few runs behind the other guys, and I think I need one or two more shows.  I am happy how the horses moved and that they showed an extra gear, so I am really pleased with the time.  And it was great to be competing in London for the first time!” – Bram Chardon 

Challenging closely over the three days of Driving in London was an on-form Koos de Ronde (NED), who, like Boyd, was the only one of the seven drivers to be a finalist at each of the three competitions – something unique to London.  Precise and positive from start to finish, he said that he thought he was as close as he has been all season to a win, but admitted that perhaps he pushed a little too hard at the end and added an expensive 12 penalties to his time of 147.9.  Like Bram, he tallied valuable ranking points and will, with only two more legs to go, surely be another cert for the final.  A firm favourite with the crowd, his loyalty over the years as a regular competitor at the popular pre-Christmas show, Koos was rewarded by a groundswell of voluble support which must have helped propel him and his horses into a suitably speedy sphere.

Dries Degrieck (BEL), who was in drive-off territory in the prelim round on Thursday afternoon, after a good Geneva, couldn’t quite keep up with the pace and with only three drivers forward for the drive-off in competition one, missed out on his chance to go again.  As did a much-improved Chester Weber (USA), who was more assured than last weekend, his rounds being more fluid with less faults to add.  His Lipizzaners horses are based for the season with the Chardons in Holland, so Chester made the most of walking the course alongside Bram and their collective match play experience must have benefited them both.

Getting used to his new, svelte bay Lusitano horses, Benjamin Aillaud (FRA), a consummate horseman and trainer, stayed in the bottom half of the order but will come away from London pleased with the improvement that the combination has made, not only over the three days, but the series as a whole.  Whether they have done enough to in a qualification place for the final remains to be seen, but there is always the chance that as a French athlete, he may gain a Wild Card place in Bordeaux.

Juggling his Wild Card slot with providing dare-devil riding entertainment at the show, Daniel Naprous admitted that as a driver who might only appear once in the series, he is a little rusty.  Despite the lack of match practice in comparison to his compatriots, his times were perfectly respectable and with his notoriety in the film business, remains a crowd-pulling favourite.  Admitting that he would love to compete in the series as a qualified driver, the logistics for Dan to attend enough European based events to gain the points and results are prohibitive. 

In contrast to the capacious arena in Geneva, the smaller dimensions of the ExCel venue create an intimacy that really involves the family-based crowd, who are so close to the action.  It also requires a different approach when trying to save time on the turns and lines, as opposed to the fast running and ground cover which comes with a bigger space. 

A designer who confesses to building his courses by feel and instinct, Jeroen Houterman (NED) has created five of the six courses so far this series and has managed to ask something new of the drivers each time, tailoring his layouts to suit the place, the equipment available, and that unique ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes these events so magical.

Next up is Mechelen (BEL), just after Christmas.  Then, for the final leg in Leipzig, all the big guns will be out.  Not only will they be securing their Bordeaux places, but they will also be marking their cards as to where they would like to be in the final order.  Can Boyd maintain his peak performance?  Had Bram gauged his ascent correctly?  Or will Koos and Ijsbrand release their full potential and upset the order?  We can’t wait to see!