The FEI Driving World Cup™ has taken tradition and given it a modern twist. It’s about power, skill and teamwork where four horses work together as the driver guides them through the course at speed, assisted by two back-steppers, while giving the crowds an experience they won’t forget.
Over eight qualifying legs at major indoor shows in Europe between November and January, the world’s top ten four-in-hand drivers and their equine athletes will vie for six places at the February finals in Bordeaux (FRA) and the chance become the FEI Driving World Cup™ Season 2023/2024 winner.
Defending champion and history’s most garlanded horse fours driver, Australia’s Boyd Exell, has his sights set on an incredible 11th title. Based in Valkenswaard, the Netherlands, where he runs a busy training and event centre, Boyd is not only preparing his own horses but he’s coaching other competitors too.
“This season, the margins between the top drivers are tighter than ever, so I’m expecting the results to be really close. I’m competing with the same horses that I used all last season when we were so consistent and fast, and ended with the title in Bordeaux. But when you have the best horses, there is a huge responsibility because you have to perform at your best too and not let them, or the people around you, down – which adds another pressure.” – Boyd Exell
Another driver who is accustomed to the responsibility and expectation that a champion bears is twice winner Bram Chardon (NED) who will compete alongside his father, the great Ijsbrand. Bram, who recently defended his European horse fours title in Exloo (NED), last won the World Cup final in Leipzig (GER) in April 2022.
“Alongside our more experienced horses, we have some new Lipizzaners for this season who will add quality to our indoor teams. With both of us competing, our planning has to be strategic, and I don’t want to start my season as late as I did last year, so instead of opening at Geneva (SUI) I am starting as a wild card at the second leg in Maastricht (NED). The aim is to combine speed and accuracy, which takes time to build up with new horses, but I am feeling really positive.” – Bram Chardon (NED)
Another experienced driver who is always in the mix is the Chardons’ long-term teammate Koos de Ronde (NED), who won the FEI Driving World Cup™ gold ten years ago. His current form bodes well for the series, especially after a superb marathon which helped him to individual silver in Exloo. Making a welcome return after skipping last season due to the birth of her daughter, Germany’s Mareike Harm enters the line-up ranked fifth. She is joined by two more Germans, regular World Cup competitor Michael Brauchle and Georg von Stein, who competes as a qualified athlete for the first time in several seasons.
"Alongside our more experienced horses, we have some new Lipizzaners for this season who will add quality to our indoor teams."
Bram Chardon (NED)
After a successful outdoor campaign in both horse fours and pairs classes, Anna Sandmann (GER) earned a place having finished in the top ten but decided not to take it up due to business commitments. This opened the door to the Belgian Dries Degrieck, who is now in his third season on the World Cup circuit. He is joined by his regular teammate, Glenn Geerts, who took bronze at the Leipzig final in 2022. Completing the line-up of qualified athletes is another indoor specialist, Jérôme Voutaz (SUI) with his compact Swiss horses who are so well-suited to the format.
The first three events fall on consecutive weekends, starting at the Longines Equita Lyon Concours Hippique International, where Boyd, Glenn, Jérôme, Dries and Ijsbrand are joined by the host nation’s two wild card entries Benjamin Aillaud and Anthony Horde.
The spectacle moves onto Maastricht (NED) where Koos, Mareike, Michael, Glenn and Georg are the qualified competitors, with Boyd and Bram as wild cards. Stuttgart (GER) is the following weekend, then there is a break before Stockholm (SWE) where Fredrik Persson is confirmed as the wild card. Christmas comes early in Geneva and London with the glitzy, festive arena decorations which adds to the family friendly atmosphere. Shortly after Christmas the focus turns to Mechelen (BEL) before the qualifying legs wrap up in Leipzig where those six finals places will be confirmed.
Each of the eight legs has two competitions with a drive-off, run over two days, and the first competition placings set the second round’s running order. Points towards the final are earned from the second competition positions and are given to the five qualifying drivers, not the wild cards. Ahead of the series, each driver will have indicated which legs they wish to attend, and there is the bonus of an additional outing as a wild card by invitation of the organisers.
The first World Cup champion was German legend Michael Freund who took the title five times, sharing it in 2005 with Ijsbrand Chardon, who has been champion on three occasions. The Driving is staged alongside other equestrian disciplines and is a favourite with the crowds who join in and cheer on the teams as they race through the pairs of cones and two marathon-style obstacles. The format is easy to follow as the aim is to be fastest against the clock while not knocking any balls or elements, which add expensive penalties.
The FEI Driving World Cup™ Series is a high-energy experience which raises the roof while showcasing teamwork from both horses and humans. With only the reins in their hands, the drivers must combine lightening-fast reactions with precision under pressure. While on the back of the carriage, the navigator is in charge of the routes, and the bottom back-stepper provides ballast and keeps the carriage level on the tight turns. All involved need bravery, great communication skills, focus, speed and accuracy – and a bit of luck to keep those balls in place!
For dates, schedules and information - FEI Driving World Cup™ - Season 2023-2024
*Article courtesy of the FEI and written by: Sarah Dance *