Defending World Champion Boyd Exell from Australia came, saw and conquered at the 23rd edition of the FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship at Breda, the Netherlands. Exell won all three phases of the combined competition and was crowned individual World Champion for the fourth time in a row. Boyd left Dutch drivers IJsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde to battle it out for the silver and bronze medals. Host nation the Netherlands took home team gold for the fifth consecutive time.

Fifty-six drivers from 16 nations had travelled to The Prinsenhoeve Estate in Breda, which has been host to many FEI Championships in the past. Contrary to the previous years, the organisation had changed the layout of the show grounds completely, which resulted in a very nice set up with a true World Championship atmosphere. The mud from last year at the FEI World Pony Driving Championships in Breda was still in most people’s minds but this was quickly forgotten thanks to the lovely sunny weather during the competition days.

After four-times World Champion and Dutch team member IJsbrand Chardon had taken the lead in the provisional dressage standings the first day, all eyes were set on the reigning World Champion Boyd Exell on the second day. Boyd had decided to use the experienced 16-year old gelding Rambo in the wheel instead of the better moving mare Daphne. Boyd showed perfect transitions and extensions with his beautiful team of horses and was awarded with the winning score of 33,15 points by the Ground Jury: “I was very pleased with my test, the horses went very well. I am disappointed that the Judges were not brave enough to give points,” commented Boyd. “I believe I have the best pair of leaders that there are at the moment. I have sold one of them to Hungarian driver Martin Hölle, who will use this horse in his horse pair. I thought to myself that if I can’t get more points anyway with these two fantastic leaders, I might as well sell one. I do have a lot of depth in my team, I will use the leader horses of Aachen in my team next season.” 2014 silver medallist Chester Weber from the USA finished on the third place.

Level 4 Course Designer Jeroen Houterman from the Netherlands had designed a challenging marathon with eight demanding obstacles: “This is the first proper marathon since the World Championships in Riesenbeck 2012,” said Exell. The first obstacle was situated in the main arena, which attracted many spectators as well as the other obstacles. Some 10,000 spectators visited the event on marathon day.

As the day passed by, the competition became very exciting, with a great deal of activity: “We had lots of work today,” commented Houterman. “It was a fair course but there were lots of drivers with problems. They took the very short routes, while the longer routes were much better, I hope this will be a lesson for those drivers for next time.”

The most unfortunate in the marathon was probably the young talented driver Edouard Simonet from Belgium, who was very well underway and drove nice and fast. However, on his way to the last gate in obstacle six, his carriage tipped over. Edouard was thrown but managed to hold on to the reins and injured only his ankle.

German drivers Christoph Sandmann and Michael Brauchle who had almost beat all the fastest times up to that moment, but as the saying goes, they saved the best for last. The tension grew when the top five drivers entered the main show grounds. Theo Timmerman (NED) drove fast and steady without any mistakes. His compatriot Koos de Ronde really went for it: “My goal was not to make any mistakes. I went all right in the first few obstacles, and I was able to speed up.” He had one knockdown in the last obstacle but this did not prevent him from finishing on the second place: “It was a very nice course,” said Koos. “My team is in super form, they were a little tired in the end, but I am very pleased.” De Ronde has moved up to the second place in the standings behind Exell, who has an advantage of 19,07 points.

Chester Weber missed the necessary speed in his team and finished in 21st place, which put him back to fifth place in the standings. IJsbrand Chardon had to replace his experienced leader horse Darco with a less experienced horse leading his team, and was unable to perform at his normal high level. Chardon also nearly drove a wrong gate in obstacle 7 and dropped to bronze in the individual standings after dressage and marathon.

All eyes were set on last starter Boyd Exell, who put in an excellent performance: “It was a course to treat with respect. My horses went very well, I did some training after Aachen and I was happy with my leader horses now.”

The battle in the tough cones course was about the silver and bronze medal. Chardon was the first driver to stay within the time, but had an unlucky knockdown, which gave his compatriot Koos de Ronde some more air. De Ronde had silver in his sights but lost it when he knocked two balls down. Chardon took home the silver medal; and De Ronde dropped to bronze.

“It was a very difficult course,” commented Chardon. “But I had a very safe feeling and I was well within time. I am pleased with my silver medal. We came here to win gold, but Boyd was simply better again. We will definitely go for it again in two years time!”
Koos de Ronde was also pleased with his bronze medal: “This is the best result I have ever achieved at a World Championship. Of course I would have loved to have won silver, but I don’t feel I have lost silver, but I have won bronze.”

USA’s Chester Weber drove a very good obstacle driving competition and moved up to the fourth place in the individual standings, just ahead of the third Dutch team member Theo Timmerman and the best ‘rookie’ at the World Championships in Breda, 24-year-old József Dobrovitz jr. from Hungary.

German lady driver Mareike Harm drove an excellent cones course and left the arena with only 2,44 for exceeding the time, which moved her from the 16th to the well-deserved 9th position, finishing as the best four-in-hand lady driver in the world.

After winning the dressage and the marathon, Boyd also won the obstacle competition, which is unique at a World Championship. His advantage over Chardon in the end was 24,73 penalty points.

The Dutch team won the gold medal for the fifth consecutive time, with an advantage of 25,13 points to Hungary and Germany.

Last World Championship
The medals were presented by the Chairman of the FEI Technical Committee Driving Károly Fugli (HUN) and Bettina de Rham (SUI), FEI Director Driving. Breda was the last Driving Championship for Bettina in this role. She will take over as Director of the Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage Department at the FEI next month: “I have very much enjoyed being involved in FEI Driving the past eight years,” said Bettina. “I will for sure miss it, but I will still follow the international driving sport and will remain involved, but less close.”

During her term as Driving Director, the number of international driving competitions have gone up 50% and many important milestones were reached, such as the introduction of the 1, 2, 3 and 4-star levels, the changes in the qualification criteria and, most importantly, the whole Driving rulebook was re-written.

Individual results FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship Breda 2016:
1) Boyd Exell (AUS) 158,40
2) IJsbrand Chardon (NED) 183,13
3) Koos de Ronde (NED) 185,26

Individual results FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championship Breda 2016:
1) The Netherlands 365,09
2) Hungary 390,22
3) Germany 394,79