Primed and Ready: Catching Up with Team USA Ahead of the Pan American Games

Sharon White and Claus 63. Photo by Kira Topeka for Erin Gilmore Photography.

The U.S. team selected for the 2023 Pan American Games had a chance to get one final run under their belts this weekend at Loch Moy Farm (Adamstown, MD), putting the finishing touches on their preparation for their trip to Santiago, Chile at the end of October.

If you’re in need of a refresher, here is your U.S. team for Santiago:

  • Sydney Elliott (Benton, La.) and QC Diamantaire, a 2010 Oldenburg gelding owned by Carol Stephens
  • Liz Halliday (Ocala, Fla.) and Miks Master C, a 2012 Swedish Warmblood gelding owned by Debby Palmer and the Ocala Horse Properties, LLC
    • Direct Reserve: Cooley Nutcracker, a 2014 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by The Nutcracker Syndicate
  • Caroline Pamukcu (Miami Beach, Fla.) and HSH Blake, a 2015 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Mollie Hoff, Sherrie Martin and Caroline Pamukcu
  • Sharon White (Summit Point, W.V.) and Claus 63, her own 2012 Holsteiner gelding
  • Traveling Reserve: Tamie Smith (Murrieta, Calif.) and Kynan, a 2015 KWPN gelding owned by Kynan Syndicate LLC

Liz Halliday and Miks Master C. Photo by Hannah Ljubli Erin Gilmore Photography.

This year’s Pan Ams team was named in August, about two months ahead of the Games, providing ample time for each rider to prepare both themselves and their horses. For first-time senior squad member Sharon White, this is a big boost in terms of mental prep. “I think that was a really beautiful thing to do, because now you’re under some pressure but you get the chance to practice with that,” Sharon explained. “Maybe if you’ve been on a ton of teams, that doesn’t matter but I haven’t, so it matters to me! So I was very grateful that they named it early so I could get myself right when it’s time to go.”

Now as the trip ticks closer, it’s down to the fine-tuning of details. Chef d’equipe Bobby Costello emphasized this week that his main ask of the riders was to leave this prep event with a clear idea of what “little things” they could improve in their final practice rides.

“I told the team yesterday, the last couple of medals that we’ve had either at Aachen or Pratoni, we’ve missed the gold by, such a slim amount. So I just want everybody to go away from this competition thinking about every single tiny little detail,” Bobby said. “It’s often not big things that need to change. It’s not having a second over on the time or not missing that halt or, you know, not halting one length past C. Just little tiny things that, if everybody’s aware, it can really add up and kind of save you at the end of the competition.”

Alyssa Phillips and Oskar. Photo by Samantha Haynie for Erin Gilmore Photography.

The qualification pressure for Paris is one thing this team won’t have on their shoulders, but for Bobby (and for the riders) that really means nil at this point. The fact remains: this is a championship, and this team is in it to win it.

“I think I would want them to feel as much pressure as though we’re going to get qualification because there’s no doubt that we absolutely should go and win and,” Bobby continued. “And that’s going to be the thing that we’re competing against — basically our own expectations, so I’m plenty stressed out! Because that’s just how I roll — a little bit of insecurity is good to keep everybody really sharp.”

For this Mandatory Outing, riders were able to practice their 4* dressage test (Pan Ams are run as a hybrid: 4* dressage and show jumping, and 3*-L cross country) and show jumping to height, followed by a quick spin around Ian Stark’s Intermediate cross country on Saturday. Designed on a twisting and winding track, this course gave riders a chance to test out the handiness they’ll likely need in Chile.

The equestrian competitions will be staged at the Chilean Army Riding School in San Isidro de Quillota, to the northwest of Santiago. The venue is reported to be relatively flat with one hill, and the incoming Olympic course designer, Pierre Le Goupil, has been tapped to design the course. This will provide excellent intel as to his design style; the U.S. has also scouted other venues he’s designed at this year, including the FEI Eventing European Championships at Haras du Pin.

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire. Photo by Kira Topeka for Erin Gilmore Photography.

“Ian knows his work a little bit,” Bobby remarked. “So it’ll be definitely fact-finding I think. [Pierre is] not afraid of, you know, a big jump into water. I think he’s been influenced, from what I’ve heard, very much so by [2016 Olympic designer] Pierre Michelet. So we’re trying to glean what we can — David O’Connor was at the Europeans, so we got David on a conference call to let us know what his takeaways were from watching that competition. So whatever information we can get, we’ve been trying to get.”

Team rider Sydney Elliott is one who’s had the chance to ride one of Pierre’s courses, as she competed at Lignières (France) in 2021. “It is big, brushy, ditchy,” she described. “And yeah, you have to be very bold. And we studied the Europeans quite a bit. I would say, you’ve just got to attack it.”

The team will next complete one final gallop together and then head up to Cecil County, MD to practice their dressage on Wednesday of the Maryland 5 Star. This is an extra opportunity to get the horses into some atmosphere — the main stadium at Maryland is notoriously electric and “fishbowl” feeling, giving a similar boost of adrenaline to the newly-constructed stadium in Chile. From there, the horses will fly to Chile via Miami and will meet their riders early in the week of competition.

The riders all appreciated the opportunity to not only practice, but also spend some time building camaraderie with their teammates ahead of the intensity of the Games and confirming some last details.

Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake. Photo by Samantha Haynie for Erin Gilmore Photography.

“Our plan was just to give [HSH Blake] a nice run, just make sure my warm-up is all set, that I’m happy with the pre-rides, making sure everything is in place,” the always detail-oriented Caroline Pamukcu said yesterday. “Funny enough, we also checked some other box like making sure the tack is legal, the logo wear is legal, just all the things you don’t really think about going to a team event — it’s a bit different, so we’re just crossing our T’s and dotting our I’d.”

“I think the mental part is such a big part,” Sharon White, who came away as the top-placed of the team today, said, speaking to the mental preparation that goes into it ahead of a big competition. “I think this is such a good opportunity for [Claus 63] and me to learn. Technically, it should not be difficult for him at all. It just becomes the pressure of the situation —- probably more for me than him, but he has to deal with the fact that I’m going to be more intense as a competitor. Of course you’re going to get more intense at the championships – they matter a lot and learning to deal with that and deal with it well is a big part of this game.”

For Liz Halliday, today was about going a bit slower than traditional with Ocala Horse Properties‘ and Deborah Palmer’s Miks Master C. Bobby had given instructions to the riders to tackle today’s cross country as they would prepare their horses for any other big event, as always allowing the riders to do what they knew would be best for their individual horses.

“He was really polite today,” Liz said. “I’ve been playing around with some stuff. I never really let him off the leash completely. He’s quite a different animal when you’re really pushing for time. I made a point of adding the odd stride and making him wait at some of the bigger fences.”

Sydney Elliott, competing with Carol Stephens’ QC Diamantaire, said her focus this weekend was fine-tuning her warm-up. She works with German Olympian Bettina Hoy on the flat, making the most of her time with FaceTime lessons when Bettina can’t be stateside (Sharon White also works with Bettina regularly).

“I’ve been working with Bettina quite a bit since Luhmühlen, just to get some more points on the board in the dressage. And that’s been a really big thing to add her in every week.” Sydney, who relocated to Southern Pines, NC this year, also works with Bobby Costello in the show jumping and noted that since adding Bettina to her training mix, she can feel the additional dressage finessing translating over to the jumping. Two rails down yesterday weren’t exactly Sydney’s plan, so she’ll be working to hone in on putting in her best performance the next time out.

Tamie Smith and Kynan. Photo by Samantha Haynie for Erin Gilmore Photography.

Tapped as traveling reserve once more is Kentucky winner Tamie Smith, who will take Kynan — take note here, Mai Baum fans, as Tamie describes Kynan as the black stallion’s doppelgänger in personality and (we hope) talent! — to Chile should they be needed. It’s a tough challenge to be the traveling reserve, but Tamie’s nothing if not a team player. She’s well-versed in this role, and also has the extra experience as a team rider for the 2019 Pan American Games to add to the team’s depth.

“It’s always an honor to be a part of Team USA,” Tamie said. “It’s really special that this horse was selected to be the traveling reserve because he’s kind of green but he’s wise beyond his years, so I’m really excited for him and his owners that support him.”

Kynan, who was sourced by Matt Flynn and is owned by the Kynan Syndicate, just moved up to the Advanced level this year at Rebecca Farm, and Tamie will perhaps choose an end-season 4*-L should she not be needed in Chile, but those plans remain to be confirmed.

Hannah Sue Hollberg and Capitol HIM. Photo by Samantha Haynie for Erin Gilmore Photography.

Other alternates on-site this week were Liz Halliday’s Cooley Nutcracker (her direct reserve to Miks Master C and aiming for the 4*L at Morven Park next week), Alyssa Phillips with Oskar, and Hannah Sue Hollberg with Capitol H I M (entered in his first 5* at Maryland). Canadian team rider Lindsay Traisnel also competed with Bacyrouge this weekend, opting to withdraw ahead of cross country; Canada did not set out any mandatory runs for their squad, allowing their riders to choose the best prep schedule for Chile.

EN will be covering the Pan American Games remotely, thanks to live stream assistance from FEI TV and ClipMyHorse.TV. The eventing begins on October 27 and finish on October 29. Keep it locked here for much more from #Santiago2023!

#Santiago2023: [Website] [Sport Schedule] [FEI Info Hub] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of Pan American Games is sponsored by Ocala Horse Properties.

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