For the second year in a row, Leslie Berndl, of Newcastle, packed up her horse Uminco (Travis), drove across country, and challenged the combined driving establishment to once again bring back to the West the title of U.S. Equestria Federation National Single Horse Driving Champion.
This win at the Southern Pines CDE in Raeford, NC, was especially gratifying since Leslie was able to purchase the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood from Fritz Grupe last fall after she had competed the 16.2 hand bay gelding for three years.
She kicked off the CDE with a clear win in the dressage phase of the three-phase competition. That followed with a second place, but still in the lead, on the challenging marathon course. The cone phase, the toughest for Leslie and Travis, was saved in part by mental training she had practiced to sharpen her focus.
"We've worked very hard for both Travis and I to focus in cones. He was so into it that day," she recalls. "The last sets of cones were set up in and around a big cross-country jump complex in the arena, and suddenly, Travis was looking at the wrong set of cones, and he decided to head straight for them. When we veered back on the right path, we hit a number marker next to a cone, which gave us three extra penalty points. It was a little close for comfort."
Nonetheless, the pair won with an overall score of 119.67 points over the second place score of 122.43.
Team Travis, which includes Scott Monroe, Leslie's partner, navigator and fellow driver, made the trip to winter in Florida and North Carolina because these locations and Bromont, Quebec, were the only World Championship qualifying competitions in North America.
And it is to the World Singles Driving Championships in Izsák Hungary that Leslie is directing her attention now. She and Travis leave for Germany July 25 to complete in Germany and Austria before the September 25-28 championships with the hope of bringing California driving more glory.