Lisa Singer, top US combined driver, trainer and coach, and member of USET, has kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to write CarriageMart the following article.
We hope you enjoy it. Good luck Lisa, in any future competitions!
What it Takes to Compete at the World Pair Championships
courtesy of Lisa Singer, US Equestrian Team
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Competing at the international level requires nerves of steel, stamina, talent and of course, great horses, but most of all, patience. If anyone had ever told me, Lisa Singer, that I would have the honor of representing the United States at three World Championships, I wouldn’t have believed them. But it’s true.I along with the Beasties, Mimi Thorington’s little Morgans, Maple, Leaf, Farm and Chance, have not only been to Europe three times, we have won the National Championship and the Triple Crown of Combined Driving twice.
In 1992, I asked Mimi if I could try out for the team that would compete for the World Championship at Gladstone in 1993. She agreed. Unfortunately, Maple developed some physical problems which interfered with our training program and we weren’t chosen either for the team or as an individual.
The Championships at Gladstone offered me an invaluable opportunity to gain international experience, even from the sidelines. Larry Poulin was one of the three members of the team and I asked if I could help him.
It turned out to be an incredible week. I learned first hand what is was like to compete at the top level. We put in 30-hour days filled with stress and anxiety. My normal patience turned out to be a valuable asset. Basically, it would have been easier to stay home curled up with my dog.
Knowing first hand the reality of international competition didn’t faze me at all. The horses were sound, going beautifully and we were ready to make a bid for the team. I was thrilled when the USET named me to the 1995 World Pair Championship team which competed in Poznan, Poland. Larry was also on the team as was Vance Coulthard.
To give the horses and us a chance to acclimate, it was arranged that we would spend a week in Holland to train. We went to top international pair driver, Mieke van ter Grouw’s facility in Beekbergen. Bill Long came as our coach.
Training was serious business, but we did take one day off to tour Amsterdam. We saw the canals, visited the Van Gogh Museum and of course, had to see the city’s famous “red light” district.
It took 18 hours to van to Poland. Nothing I had ever encountered at Gladstone in 1993 could have prepared me for the ordeal we faced when we got to the show grounds in Poznan. The entire area was in deep sand. It took a huge “big-foot” tractor to pull the vans into stabling. Five people were needed to push and pull our presentation carriage. My patience was sorely tested!
And, to make matters worse, there were only four porta-potties for 300 people. Our Beval bucket and some of that sand came in very handy! The final indignity came when we learned there would be no hay for the horses for 24 hours! Trudging around in the sand had one benefit. We all came home with very tight buns.
Once the competition began we had to ignore everything else and focus only on the horses. My dressage test was adequate and I finished that phase in the middle of the standings. On marathon day we were introduced to our referee who even at 8 a.m. was well intoxicated. He did not speak one word until we got into the hazards where he proceeded to wave is hands in front of my face to get the attention of his friends who were volunteers. We got even with him in the sixth hazard when Leaf and Farm decided to jump out of a 4’ deep moat up a concrete wall. The mishap caused Farm a superficial cut but it was enough for us to withdraw. We never saw our referee again. Luckily Farm’s cut was so minor that we were able to do the cones. The United States finished in sixth place.
By 1997, Maple was retired and Chance was added to the Beasties. It was a very good year for me as we were chosen once again by the USET to compete at the Worlds in Riesenbeck, Germany, along with teammates Larry and Chester Weber.
My patience was tested to the max when I got to New York with the horses, luggage, equipment and helpers, my daughter Paige and friend, Shelley Temple. I was horrified to discover that I had left my passport home! Shelley was able to arrange to have it shipped to me via her family’s trucking company in time for me to get a plane out the next day. The horses went ahead with Paige and Shelley.
We returned to Mieke’s facility in Holland to tune up for the event. This trip though, we did not have a coach. It was unfortunate as it’s always good to have someone on the ground to give pointers.
Our only side trip this time was to the harness maker, Hank van ter Weil’s in Belgium.
The trip to Riesenbeck was a piece of cake compared to our Poznan experience. It took only three hours and the facility was a big improvement over the one in Poland. If we had any complaint it was about the food, strictly Army rations.
I placed 11th in dressage which made me feel very good. The marathon is my best phase and after doing so well in dressage, I felt very confident. The hazards were very tight with no options so they became a race. My navigator, Roger Summer and I inspected them at 4 a.m. on marathon day with a flashlight because we were first in the order of go. The horses were right with me in each hazard and I finished the day in ninth place.
We incurred a few penalties in the cones putting me in 11th place overall while the American team came in fifth. It was my personal best and I was happy to be in the top 25-percent in all phases as well as the highest placed American driver.
On the trip home, our carriages were bumped off the flight to make room for flowers sent from Holland for Lady Diana.
It was a very good year for me. I was first in every event but one when I placed second. I won the National Championship and the Triple Crown for the second time.
Leaf, Chance and Farm got to go abroad again in 1999 for my third World Championship try at Keskemet, Hungary.It was a good thing I was a seasoned traveler, remembering to bring my passport and the horses’ papers. Even so, we were in for a patience testing trip.
As we were leaving, the shipping agent realized that we were missing a health paper. this time their fault, not mine. Luckily he got it signed by a veterinarian and handed it to me just as the door of the plane was closing or we would be living in Germany.
The airline lost one of the USET’s generators in Frankfurt and a later when we were in Landstettin, Germany training with Jamie Johnson and Cester, we found out that another vet had not signed a paper in frankfurt. I guess they really wanted me to stay in Germany and not go on to Hungary.
Travel to Keskemet took 15 grueling hours and provided a bit of a scare when we got to the border. The Hungarian official in charge was asleep and our van driver actually had to bribe him with money to come out and stamp our passports!
We had another anxious moment when we noticed Leaf was under the weather. Dr. Midge Leitch, the USET veterinarian came to his rescue and made him feel much better.
There was more trouble in store for us when it appeared that the number assigned to Leaf on his passport differed from the one provided by the event organizer. It was only one number, but it caused some very nervous moments. What if I couldn’t use Leaf? I can’t imagine what I would have done without him.
Shelley helped me stay relatively calm, but I confess to losing my normal patience.
The event at Keskemet was well organized and the display of modern technology was amazing. It was televised day and night and there were huge screens at the showgrounds for spectators.
The Hungarians love combined driving. It’s their second most popular sport next to soccer. The people were very nice and hospitable despite a major language barrier. They pulled out all the stops for the opening ceremonies with at least 30 parachutists falling out of the sky. They had a four-in-hand of oxen and a Hungarian cowboy known as a “chico” galloping 12 horses in hand while standing on the backs of the last two cracking a whip!
After all that, the arena looked very calm for the next few days. I had a very respectable dressage test and placed 14th and a solid marathon where I finished in 18th.
By the time we got to the last day the American team was in third place and in medal contention. But the tension was overwhelming and we dropped back to fifth.
One observation I’ve made over the years I’ve been privileged to compete for the United States is that the competition keeps getting stronger every year. Combined driving is growing very fast in many countries and I’m happy to see the FEI recognize single horses and ponies.
Just remember, some dreams can come true. I’m proof of it! Even if competing at the international level is not in your plans, have a blast trying to improve just for yourself. Dreams have to start somewhere. For me, the next goal is to compete at the WPC in Switzerland in 2001 with Mimi’s new pair, the Baby Beasties, Count On Me and Malvern I Count Too.
This article was provided courtesy of Lisa Singer, USET member, and coach and trainer in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania