Mystery of damaged WEG Dutch carriage remains unresolved

'inside job' rumors in carriage-slashing case lead nowhere

jpatton1@herald-leader.comJanuary 15, 2011 

Dutch driver IJsbrand Chardon won the marathon portion Oct. 9 of the driving competition in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Chardon's carriage had been slashed the night before.

Horse sport fans might never know exactly what happened to a Dutch carriage damaged at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Driver IJsbrand Chardon's carriage was discovered with slashed cushions just before he was due to compete in the arduous marathon phase of four-in-hand combined driving competition at the Kentucky Horse Park in October.

After pleading his case to Games officials, Chardon got permission to drive last, after the rest of the field. He ended up winning an individual silver medal and the Dutch won team gold medals.

Kentucky State Police, who were called in to investigate, said in December that they looked into several rumors — including the possibility that it was somehow an "inside" job — but have not been able to conclusively rule anything in or out.

"The team raced, they won the gold medal, they're gone," Lt. David Jude said. "We couldn't find any information to concretely address yes or no" as to whether Chardon or someone connected to him might have damaged the carriage to gain a competitive advantage.

Chardon's wife and navigator, Pauline, reached in the Netherlands where they are training for the European indoor competition circuit, chuckled at the idea that her husband might have been involved.

"It would be very crazy," Pauline Chardon said. "Maybe that's people that don't know IJsbrand. He's a very sportive guy and he would never do something like that."

She said they have not been thinking about the incident since they returned.

"I'm not concerned," she said. "We already forget. We want to forget."

At the time, IJsbrand Chardon and Dutch officials expressed shock and anger at the incident, calling it an attempt at sabotage. Declaring, "It's got to have been a lunatic," Chardon was able to overcome the drama and put in the best round of the day on the obstacle course.

Chardon has since been named Dutch driver of the year for the 22nd time.

Dutch team official Maarten van der Heijden said the incident was big news in the Netherlands. Carriage makers quickly offered to repair the carriage for free, and it has been taken care of, he said.

He dismissed the rumors of an inside job.

"What should his advantage be? Everybody was so emotional I can't possibly think of any advantage to do something like that," van der Heijden said. Even though Chardon started 40 minutes later than originally planned, he wasn't able to see any other drivers go, van der Heijden said.

"With such panic to get the horses ready ... it was not proper preparation," he said. "He was not watching anything ... he was with his horses and his carriage."

Van der Heijden said the Dutch have put their concern aside. Chardon has competed several times since then without incident, he said.

"We are sleeping very well. IJsbrand is doing well, the horses are doing well," he said. "We are focused on the future. ... IJsbrand will go for the gold again next time. He's always very focused."

Grania Willis, spokeswoman for the Fédération Équestre Internationale, the governing body of international horse sports, would not comment on the matter. One of Chardon's horses was selected for random drug-testing at the Games and, like the other 81 horses selected from the Games, found to be clean.

Jamie Link, chief executive officer of the World Equestrian Games 2010 Foundation, acknowledged the question of "whodunit" may go unanswered unless police get a credible tip.

Although the incident was the most significant security problem at the Games, Link said that overall "we're very fortunate that there was nothing of any greater magnitude."

Link said he would "find it hard to believe" that a competitor of Chardon's standing would damage his own equipment, even superficially.

With all of the horses, drivers and any potential witnesses gone, some to foreign countries now, KSP's Jude said, the inquiry "kind of just fizzled out on its own."

Police detectives had few leads, Jude said. They were not able to fingerprint or photograph the marathon carriage before it was moved. Nothing from any of the surveillance cameras shed any light on who might have done it.

Unless someone steps forward with information, he said, the case will probably be closed unsolved after a year.

"There's all kinds of hearsay on the street," Jude said. "This was a high-profile event and we took it just as seriously as anybody in Kentucky and the world. ... I feel confident that if we would have found that the rumors were true and that he did it himself and reported a crime, then there may be some charges there. But that's one of the things we'll probably never know."

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