DRIVEN to excel

Sunday, June 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PONCA CITY, Okla. (AP) _ Deryn Stewart has always been driven to excel with horses.

Born in Manitoba, Canada, she first rode English, then switched to Western and barrel racing. Before immigrating to Oklahoma in 1964, she was a provincial barrel racing champion.

After moving here, she still trained reining horses for people around Ponca City. She still competed in barrels and even had a horse she could run at the track.

About 25 years ago, dressage made its way to Oklahoma. She was the first person in the state to train and compete at the international level in ridden dressage.

``That says a lot about her skills as an equestrian,'' her husband, Paul Stewart, said. He explained the sport while his wife demonstrated for the North Central Chapter of the Oklahoma Dressage Society.

Deryn Stewart has been long-listed twice by the United States Equestrian Team. Driven dressage is not an Olympic sport, but it is a World Cup sporting event. Being on the long list meant she is eligible for selection to the U.S. Equestrian Team in Driven Dressage.

``That means she has been to a selection trial and her scores were competitive,'' Paul Stewart said. ``These people (on the list) are all very good at what we do.

``To be selected on the long list is a goal in itself. Then, it would be nice to represent the United States in a world game.''

There are two types of dressage, ridden and driven.

Driven is fairly new. It began in England in the late 70s, then spread across Europe and to the United States. It is based on the three-day riding event in England where they had dressage, stadium jumping and cross country, which simulates a fox chase.

``What we see in the United States on TV is mostly stadium jumping,'' Paul Stewart said. ``They show hardly any dressage or cross country.''

He said they took the same rules, but since a carriage can't be thrown over a jump, the rules were modified. Instead of stadium jumping, it's called the cone course.

Twenty pairs of cones are set in a configuration that includes a figure-8 and other intricate maneuvers. Each carriage is measured and the cones are spaced so there is 25 centimeters of clearance between the cones and the carriage. A tennis ball is set on top of

each cone. If a ball is knocked off, then a penalty is applied to the contestant's time.

``It's real close and it takes a great deal of precision driving to get the horse and carriage through there without knocking a tennis ball off the cone,'' he said. ``In the Georgia International Event, where we were about a month ago, we were the only one to have a clear round in cones.

``We're very proud of that.''

According to the U.S. Equestrian Team, an event has three phases that stresses combined driving. Combined driving is the ultimate challenge to the true horse lover. The sport demands versatility in drivers and their horses as they compete in the three very different sections of the competition _ each with its own specific requirements for energy, skill, precision and obedience.

Drivers communicate with the horse through voice, hands on the lines and cues with the whip.

The competition begins with a dressage test, a set pattern driven by each competitor. This is where the driver shows off the harmonious development of his horses' physique and ability through progressive levels of training. Suppleness and responsiveness are called for while driving the dressage test and the best dressage tests will show off the horse's even, rhythmic cadence, brilliant movement, and correct, accurate transitions.

This is the most elegant part of the competition as both horses and drivers are ``turned out'' in their best. The overall impression of suitability and style is reflected in their scores.

Phase two is the marathon. This action-packed cross country test challenges the driver's judgment and skill as well as the obedience, courage and agility of the horse. Here, the long hours of conditioning are put to the test. It is a time of pure sport, and the elegance of phase one is replaced by state of the art marathon vehicles and sturdy harness.

There are either three or five sections in the marathon. A three section marathon consists of a trot section, followed by a walk section, followed by the cross country section.

A five section marathon has an additional trot and walk section before the start of cross country. The cross country section consists of many challenging obstacles which must be negotiated at speed.

But, unlike the gaits of riding horses, driven horses keep their chins tucked in close to their chest and their hind legs underneath them so they bear more of the weight.

``A horse standing in the pasture will carry 70 percent of its weight on its front legs and 30 percent on its rear legs.

``In the process of training, we reverse that, so the rear legs carry the bulk of the weight, because that's where all the thrust is. They can get up to speed quicker and it gives them a more elegant look.''