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U.S. Team Competes at the 2015 World Pair Championship.

Compared to many other World Championships, this year’s World Pair Championship – from early selection competitions, choosing the team, to the actual Championship itself - went quietly unnoticed. The United States did in fact field a team that in spite of the ‘radio silence’ put their hearts and souls into doing their very best to represent their country among the best pair drivers in the world. Jacob Arnold, Kathrin and Scott Dancer comprised team USA. Who knew?

The championship was held in Fabiansebestyen, Hungary, September 10-13. It was the second World Pair Championship for all three drivers. It was Jacob Arnold’s second World Championship in two years. In 2014 he participated in the World Singles Championship in Izsak, Hungary driving Hotspur’s Red Rowl, winning the marathon and finishing in 7th place. This year he doubled the horsepower, driving a combination of three Warmbloods, each with different owners: Belle Grey Farm, Marco Freund, and Moro Lajos.

Kathi Dancer competed in Conty, France in 2011 and Scott Dancer competed in Topilchianky, Slovakia in 2013 – stepping in for Kathi who was injured. They drove their own horses of various Warmblood breeding.

All three American drivers spent the competitive season in Europe. The Dancer’s were based in the Netherlands with their trainer Ferard Leitjen. Jacob Arnold was based in Dreieich, Germany at Michael Freund’s training center. All three competed in several competitions leading up to the championship including Horst in the Netherlands and Riesenbeck in Germany.

Heavy rain and deteriorating ground conditions were reflected in the dressage scores. According to Kathi Dancer in emails to her supporters, “even the dressage ‘masters’ were not pleasing these tough judges.” Arnold and Scott Dancer were scheduled to drive on Thursday. Arnold was third to drive and scored 66.49 for 45th place. Although the score does not reflect it, Jacob was happy with his test. “It was not perfect, but I felt that compared to Riesenbeck, where I drove the same two horses, it was better.”

Scott Dancer suffered an equipment malfunction just seconds before the bell was rung. The hames on one of the horse’s collar popped off. Coaches, assistants and trainer scrambled to fix it before time was up. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) it popped off again and lay on the horse’s shoulder. Scott was able to finish his test without it being noticed. The judges scored him 62.24 for 35th place out of the 65 competitors.

Kathrin drove her test on Friday. Posting on Thursday night, she commented on a last minute change of horse, taking out her marathon horse that she had planned to use in dressage, “We have decided to put the young horse in.” He [her marathon horse] is extremely sensitive to any change. It was too much change for him last week and now he is agitated and very tense. So little Joop is going to have to put on his big boy panties and try his best. I will have to play up my collections, bending, and good working trot and just be very careful to help him balance in the trot extensions.” Her score of 60.05 put her in 28th place.

Marathon! Kathrin reported: “Marathon day started in a thick fog. The obstacles were very well built and marked. Each of the eight were distinctly different. It makes it a lot easier to remember and the obstacles each had their own technical flavor to them. Some were all-out speed, some tight and technical. We walked the course over and over, and then some more. Each of us drivers were advised on the routes by the coaches according to our driving strengths. The parking lots were overflowing. It seemed like all of Hungary was here to watch. Bus loads of people! It was by far the largest audience environment we had ever been in.”

Jacob Arnold drove first of the team. Although comparatively new to pair driving, he has learned quickly and is usually a very aggressive marathon driver and did well in the events leading up to the championship. He drove the first three obstacles a little slower to get into the rhythm of the marathon. The fifth and sixth obstacles did not go as planned, adding seconds to his overall score. He finished in the middle of the pack – 31st on the marathon.

Scott drove next. His left horse, Dapper, slipped in the muddy footing and went down on his side. Scott’s navigator calmly advised him to wait and Dapper got up on his own and they continued on, however it is hard to completely recover from such a dramatic mishap. They finished in 45th place.

Kathrin saw Scott before starting out on her own marathon, and learning of his mishap, was naturally cautious driving the first obstacle. The mud made the going tough and her horses were tired by the eighth obstacle.

Shaking off their disappointment on the marathon, the team turned their attention to cones. Jacob was first of the team to drive, hitting a couple of balls and incurring a few time penalties, for a 15th place finish in cones. Scott’s horses were strong and hit three balls and had time penalties to finish 44th for the final phase.

“My turn was coming up,” wrote Kathrin. “There were no clear rounds as of yet, and all drivers were exceeding the time allowed, so I knew it was a tough course. We warmed up well but I felt like my boys were still a little too strong. I entered the arena and everything but the course disappeared. I drove it exactly as I walked it and kept my speed up even in the multiples. Since my horses were a little strong I really had to drive each element. There were some cones that I felt like I drove close to, but I never look down (some drivers do and this makes you drop your shoulder and sometimes hit a cone). I drove it like I stole it - I had nothing to lose. My horses were really up in the bridle and attacking the course. I came out of the arena and my whole crew seemed happy. I asked ‘how many did I hit?’- they said none!” Zero course penalties, 3.69 time penalties earned her a 5th place and participation in the prize giving ceremony.

The United States team ended up in 9th place out of 16 teams entered, with each driver contributing to the team’s overall score. In addition to the drivers and their support crews, trainers, coaches and staff, few Americans came to cheer the U.S. team. Heather Briggs, Jacob Arnold’s sponsor, and Jacob’s parents, Mike and Penny Arnold made the long trip to the far side of Hungary. Steve Wilson was another who came and was greatly supportive. A fellow pair driver, Steve also came bearing bourbon for the Nations’ Night Party.

While the driving world focused on Hungary because of the Championship, Hungary was in the news for other reasons – as Kathrin noted in her email journal: “After the celebrating and then packing until 9 pm, we left Hungary at 5 am Monday headed for Straubing, Germany to stay the night. “Along the way we saw the Serbian refugees making the trek along the highways. Even families with small children. At the Hungarian/Austrian border we could see the refugee camps. They were contained in a tight area with Red Cross tents behind a tall fence and guarded by police. The crisis becomes a lot more real when you see it for yourself. You can't help think of 1940s Germany- the unwanted masses - just in reverse.”

Editor’s Note:
Thank you to Kathrin Dancer for sharing her email journal with Driving Digest.

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