September 11, 2011–The 2011 U.S. National Four-In-Hand Championship was contested over the weekend in Kennett Square, PA, at the 25th annual Laurels at Landhope International Combined Driving Event, one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the U.S.
The Championship included four entries in the Four-in- Hand division – three Americans, Chester Weber, James Fairclough and Josh Rector, who vied for the National title, and one Canadian, Eugen Hug.
Competitors took to the soggy, post-Tropical Storm Lee dressage arenas on Friday, with Chester Weber of Ocala, FL, getting off to an early lead with a picture-perfect dressage test with a score of 39.04, putting him up by a margin of eight points over Fairclough.
But Fairclough took the lead on Saturday during the Marathon when Weber made an uncharacteristic mistake, going the wrong way through a gate in the third hazard to put him a little under eight points behind Fairclough as they headed into Sunday’s Cones phase. It wasn’t clear sailing for Fairclough either as he had a glitch in the water hazard causing his team to take some stutter steps. “My whip got caught,” he said. “It cost me four or five seconds.”
Weber was disappointed with the Marathon but blamed no one but himself. “I had a gate backward in hazard No. 3,” he said. “We walked it that way. It was just a mistake and I have nothing to say except it was inexcusable.” He was very pleased with how well his horses went. “I thought the course was very heavy-going,” he said. “It was terribly hot and the whole Section E, you could be going downhill and the horses had to pull.”
Fairclough sealed the win in the Cones on Sunday and despite adding 10.3 points to his overnight score, he held his lead over Weber – scoring his third USEF National Four-In-Hand Driving Championship on a final total score of 132.76. Weber won the cones portion on a score of 6.55 with an overall final of 136.89.
Fairclough was thrilled with his performance over the three days: “My dressage was very good, I was hoping for something a little better but 47 is a really good score. The marathon went really well, first competition since WEG so I was a little rusty but it went well, and today (the cones) went well. They were very consistent all the way through. I do it because I love it, I love to drive a four-in-hand and I love to represent our country, and it’s been 10 years since I last won the National title so it’s pretty cool to win it on 9/11 ten years later.”
For Fairclough it was a relief – he put a team together after parting ways with long-time owner Jane Clark last year.
Fairclough won his first USEF National Championship in 1982, he has been a stalwart member of the U.S. Driving Team, and most recently he and Weber were members the Bronze Medal-winning Team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
“I’m looking for another sponsor,” said Fairclough. “And I would like to pull something together before the next World Games (in 2014).”