Preparation enables Stover to drive to victory

EQUESTRIAN

July 18, 1993|By MUPHEN WHITNEY

*TC Gary Stover of Chesapeake City was prepared to win the advanced pairs division of the Major Combined Driving event held recently at the United States Equestrian Team Headquarters at Gladstone, N.J.

"I felt that my horses and I were prepared to do well," Stover said. "We had done our homework, but at an event of that caliber I wouldn't have been disappointed if we hadn't won."

Stover's win there put him on the team that will represent the United States at the world championship driving competition in October.

His teammates will be Tucker Johnson of Oldwick, N.J., and Sharon Chesson of Bedminster, N.J.

Stover's human and equine teammates at Gladstone consisted of his fiancee Margitta Kerr, who acted as navigator; groom Moira Garborne; the 11-year-old Polish Warmblood gelding Iton; and the 11-year-old Canadian crossbred mare Federal. Stover's spare horse is a young Hanoverian, Efindi, who has been competing for the past two years.

Stover has been competing at the advanced level the last two years. He began competitive driving about seven years ago when he rode with a friend in a single horse division event and "got hooked."

"It was a kind of a thrill going across hill and dale with the horses," Stover said. "It was a very romantic atmosphere, very 'Gone With The Wind.' I thought it was a really neat sport."

Stover had always had horses when he was bitten by the driving bug. His children had ridden and competed, but Stover had never competed until he took up competitive driving.

"Advanced level pairs driving is very competitive," he said. "It doesn't take too much just to get the horses broken to drive, but it takes years to finish them for this level of competition."

Stover was a "pretty good horse person" who possessed common sense in dealing with horses and was able to establish good rapport with his horses, but the basics only will take you so far in competition, so he sought help from Lana Wright, who helped him get his horses ready and encouraged his ambitions to compete.

"Most of the advanced driving world is unlike a lot of other sports," Stover said. "The people who compete in this sport are very helpful to everyone. They want others to excel and they want to help the sport as a whole."

Stover brought on Efindi and another Hanoverian to the advanced level, but those horses were young and had a way to go to reach their full potential. Last winter, he found Federal and Iton, who were then owned by Bob Cook of Laurel. Cook had had the pair since they were 3-year-olds and had brought them along to the advanced level when he decided not to continue competing at that level.

"I liked both of them right away," Stover said of the pair of 16-hand, 3-inch, matching bay horses. "They are really honest horses and they both have big hearts. They really want to excel, and they don't know what it is to quit. They give you all they have."

Federal and Iton both love what they do. Iton, the gelding, is a natural athlete. He is quick and agile and Stover said he competes at this level with no trouble. Federal, the mare, is one of the best moving advanced horses, according to Stover and she "brings a lot from her heart."

Stover echoes the opinion of most others who compete at this sport when he says he finds the dressage phase the most difficult of the three phases of this competition.

"When I started, I didn't know anything about collection or extension. I just shook my head and pretended for awhile," Stover said. "Until you really comprehend and have horses who can do this, you don't understand these things and you lose points for the things you don't understand."

Stover said that he enjoys the dressage as a fun phase.

"The most exciting phase, of course, is the marathon [the course over natural hazards]," he said. "And the most pressure comes ** from the cones [obstacle phase]. These days most competitions boil down to the cones. Everyone at this level does the dressage and the marathon well, so it depends on how accurate and forward you are going through the cones."

Federal and Iton have more on their plates than just endless rounds of competitions, according to Stover.

"These are real childproof horses and they get ridden a lot," Stover said. "And we really baby them."

Federal and Iton have had time off since the Gladstone event. This Wednesday Stover will start 10 days of work with them over cones and practicing for the dressage phase. Then they will get 10 days off before coming back into training for the World Championships this October.

"We have a training session Aug. 22 at the Middletown Pony Club in Delaware and then those of us on the United States Team for the World Championships have a mandatory warm-up event at The Laurels in Unionville, Pa., in September."

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