The road to the top of any sport is wrought with ups and down and one thinks that they might not ever make it there. That’s how it was for me. I purchased Daniel Dawson in December of 2001. Daniel had already had a career in the Morgan show ring and was quite successful at it. In 1996-1999 he placed in the top ten at the Morgan nationals in driving.
Starting in January of 2002, I started to retrain Daniel for the purpose of competing in Combined Driving. Since he was such a natural at driving, he took to the changes quickly. Although his hardest part of the event was the dressage portion, he tried hard to learn what he had to do. He felt like he was going back into the show ring, which was a place I guess he had rather forget.
In 2002, we started at preliminary level and managed to compete at six CDE’s, and we always improved our total scores as we went along. Then, in 2003, we competed at two CDE’s and a week after the second CDE in California, Daniel faced a bout of colic, which turned into a life threatening illness.
It was nine in the morning when I noticed that Daniel was acting strange with all the signs of colic. I loaded him in the trailer and went straight to the vet who did the usual oil and pain treatment. We returned home and an hour later he was back on the ground rolling around, so back into the trailer to the vets I went. I was told that it was more than they could handle here in Prescott, so we drugged him up for the pain and raced down to Gilbert and the surgery center there. When arriving and after an examination by Dr. Taylor, we were given two choices, one sit and wait and repeat the oil and pain treatment or two, do surgery now. We chose surgery and it turned out to be the right thing to do as Daniel had twisted his large intestine right after the stomach, and without surgery, he would have died.
After a week in the hospital and three months of stall rest, I started the slow process of rehabilitation. By the end of 2003, we managed to compete at two more CDE’s with a remarkable sixth and third place. We had hoped to attend the USEF 2003 National Combined Driving Singles Championship in Colorado, as it was the first time in years that it had been held out west, but I guess it was not in the cards. However, we did manage to place third in the 2003 Morgan Open Competition in Combined Driving For Singles. This was quite a shock considering all the Morgans that drive, and that we were out of commission for half of the year.
2004 was going to be the year that we would move up to Intermediate level. We started in January at the Arizona CDE and pulled out a first place win. After the year we just left behind it was a great accomplishment. In planning the year’s events, we found that Colorado again was going to host the USEF 2004 National Combined Driving Singles Championship. I had to decide if Daniel would be up to the challenge. We competed at Ram Tap with not a very good dressage score.
We had planned a month long trip and our first stop was the Moorpark Dressage festival, where we met David Saunders, who was one of the judges and was giving a clinic during the weekend. We audited the clinic and learned a lot of good pointers, but were unable to take a lesson from him at that time.
We continued our trip and competed at the Trinity CDE where David was also judging. I was able to set up for a lesson with him, which turned out to be the best money I had ever spent. David took the back breaching off of the harness and had me change the bit I was using and had me hold my hands higher, the transformation in Daniel’s way of going was breathtaking. Since his surgery, I thought he would never get that type of collection back again. This actually gave me some hope that we might one day be able to make it to the top in singles driving.
The last leg of our trip was to the Happs CDE in Ethel Washington. We had ten days before the competition, so I practiced what I had learned at the clinic in preparation for the event. The day of dressage we earned a score of 53.96, which was the lowest, that we had ever scored at an event. This really gave me hope, and with an overall second place for the event, things looked even more promising.
On returning home, I decided that we might as well give Colorado and the 2004 Singles Championship a try since it was close to us and the possibility of it returning for a third year was very unlikely. I sent in the application and waited to hear if I got in. On August ninth, I received an email that I was in. We had two months to practice the Advanced test with it’s one handed driving.
August 27th arrived to a day of clouds and gloom, but we tried to make the best of it. The advanced competitors included last years first and second place winners. Our dressage was scheduled for one thirty-five in the afternoon. We were ready and warming up forty-five minutes ahead and everything was going great until ten minutes before our go. The sky started to open up and the rain came down harder and harder. We didn’t have time to go back to camp and get rain gear, so by the time the whistle blew, we were soaked to the skin, as was Daniel. We drove the test in a down pour and I found it hard to hold the reins, and I’m sure Daniel had a hard time telling the difference between my shivering and me telling him what to do. Daniel was such a trooper through the entire nine-minute test. Needless to say, we didn’t wait around to watch the other advance competitors. We returned back to the barn as quick as possible to work on getting Daniel dry and warm. We were never so thankful for the day to be over. We were in fifth place.
On August 28th we woke up to a sunny bright day, with hopes that the day would go better. We were scheduled for a one thirty start time. It was great, because the course had dried quite a bit by the time the advanced competitors were to go. We had the course planned out and all the hazards etched into my brain. Our only trouble spot would be the walk section, as Daniel doesn’t always want to walk fast. This turned out to be a good walking day and we had thirty-five seconds to spare. The rest of the course went pretty much as planned and we had a great time. By the end of the day, we moved up to third place. At this point, I was elated with our standing and would have been happy right there.
The final day, August 29th , was again a beautiful day of sun shine. As usual the advanced competitors were scheduled to go after one in the afternoon. The cones course was full of tight turns and deep sand that prevented one from picking up too much speed. I was the fourth to go and by then there had not been a double clean round. My strategy was to go clean on the cones and take time penalties. We came out with combined penalties of thirty-six points, which was the second best of the day, so I knew I had held third place. The last two competitors went, but we were unable to hear their scores, so I had no idea if I had moved up or not. We lined up for awards and they called sixth place, then fifth place, then fourth place, then third place which I thought was us, but it turned out the current second place competitor did not fare so well in the cones. There was just us and the first place winner left. They called 2004 USEF National Combined Driving Singles Reserve Champion Eileen Davis driving Daniel Dawson, I was just completely blown away. We received a ribbon and a large sash for around my horses’ neck and a dozen red roses, what a day!
I would have never thought in my wildest dreams that this could have happened this year, especially, for all the turmoil of 2003 and how sick Daniel had been. It has been a life long dream that one day I would get one of my trained horses to the top of an equestrian sport. So, if you have ever wondered, it is true that you can Beat The Odds.