Team USA finds themselves solidly in gold medal position following dressage at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile. Three U.S. riders — Liz Halliday / Ocala Horse Properties and Deborah Palmer’s Miks Master C, Caroline Pamukcu / Mollie Hoff, Sherrie Martin, rider’s HSH Blake / Sharon White / Claus 63 — currently hold all three podium positions with strong performances on the flat today.
“I feel like this is a moment I’ve waited for a long time. My coat’s been sitting in a box for two years ever since Tokyo fell apart, so I needed some wrinkle-free to get that figured out!” Liz laughed after her ride, noting that she still feels there’s a “spectacular” score yet to come from the 11-year-old U.S. bred Swedish Warmblood by Mighty Magic. A notoriously big, flashy mover, Liz has patiently put the fine-tuning on “Mikki” since taking over the ride in 2022.
“If I’m being totally honest, I had hoped for a better score than what we had, but you have to ride the horse you have on the day and he was pretty spicy today,” she elaborated. “But still, he’s such a wonderful horse and he always offers me so much, it’s about just managing his power. I feel like we have him suddenly in a space that’s even better, and now he just needs to work in that space for another few months and really develop the strength and relaxation there and then he’s going to be on a spectacular score.”
Liz is currently in individual gold position, a spot many including EquiRatings tapped her as the favorite to grab (and potentially not let go of), on a score of 24.8. At just over 8 minutes on a relatively flat track, Pierre le Goupil’s cross country stands to be a technical test for which time will most likely play a role. Liz has done her due diligence with Miks Master C, tackling tracks of every style from the twisting flats of Grand-Prix Eventing to the open galloping of Kentucky, and should be well-prepped for the task ahead tomorrow as the anchor rider (last in the team rotation).
Caroline Pamukcu, hot off a victory in the USEF CCI3*-L National Championship at Maryland 5 Star last weekend, achieved a personal best with her own, Sherrie Martin’s and Mollie Hoff’s HSH Blake (Tolan R – Doughiska Lass, by Kannan), who at 8 is the youngest horse on team USA this weekend (though not the youngest in the field, as there is one 7-year-old horse competing) but simultaneously one of the most experienced in atmospheres like this. Caroline, a proud advocate of the burgeoning U.S. eventing pathway, as well as Blake are products of the development system starting with the USEA Young Event Horse program.
“He’s only 8 years old, but he does have a lot of experience — he’s done a couple championships now,” Caroline said. “The cool thing, again, about him is he went through the Young Horse program — both Blake and I have been through the whole U.S. program, so my goal is to just prove them proud and show that our system in America works. The Young Horse system, the Under-18s, the Under-25s, the Developmental Squad — all that works, so that’s what I’m here for.”
This is a senior championship squad debut for all team members, and this demonstration of depth is something Caroline’s perhaps most excited about as she looks ahead, crediting the support she’s received in the form of the Holekamp/Turner YEH Le Lion Grant as well as the Wilton Fair Grant as key to her preparation with Blake. “I think right now in America we really are doing a great job. Going and doing the 4- and 5-year-olds at [Maryland 5 Star], and having that amount of atmosphere, and now finally introducing them at such a young age to be ok with this. And then to receive the [Holekamp/Turner Le Lion Grant], then he had 40,000 spectators in Lion and then he did Gatcombe because he got the Wilton Fair Grant. So this would be one of the smaller crowds, funny enough, for him, and he had that at seven. So really, kudos to our country. They’ve done everything they could to give us the best set-up — just being ready for this, so I really have to say thank you to them.”
Caroline and HSH Blake’s score of 26.8 places them into individual silver position ahead of cross country tomorrow.
Also hitting the personal best note are Sharon White and her own Claus 63 (Catoo – Tina II, by Levisto), who earned a 28.2 to take an early lead as the second in the team rotation. Claus was a bit keyed up in the atmosphere, Sharon noted after her ride, but did well to stay in tune with his rider, with whom he’s been partnered since his 5-year-old year. The 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding was originally sourced by Germany’s Dirk Schrade, who has supplied Sharon with many top prospects through the years.
“I will say, the whole thing — he gets pretty excited about walking and cantering, so when he walked and canted I could have cried from sheer happiness!” a happy Sharon said after her test. “I’m just pretty happy with him the whole way because he was up, he was excited, yet he totally stuck with me.”
Sharon, along with fellow teammate Sydney Elliott, credited German Olympian Bettina Hoy for her assistance on the flat. For Sharon, the team effort to support not just her but all the riders here in Chile, has been nothing short of incredible. “Just so much work goes into this, on this end but the years – this hasn’t been months, this has been decades for me, and all the people who help me at home, Bettina Hoy who was in my ear warming me up — I’m just grateful for everyone.”
Sydney Eliott and longtime partner QC Diamantaire are among the most experienced Pan Ams pairs this week, taking the role of trailblazer for the U.S. squad. “I’m so glad we’ve done Aachen a couple times, because that kind of prepared you for what this is,” she noted of the atmosphere and newly-built stadium at the equestrian venue in Quillota. “The halts [were the highlight]. Bettina [Hoy] and I have been working on the halts for quite some time now, so to have three pretty decent halts, I was like ‘ah, my day’s made!’”
As first out on cross country tomorrow, Sydney’s task will be to test all the direct routes and see how tight the time will be. “I think just for all of the horse and rider combinations, you can’t fall asleep out there, so I’m on a very experienced horse but having said that you’d better keep everything in line and respect it,” she noted. More on the cross country to come this evening!
Sydney and QC Diamantaire, who is owned by Sydney’s longtime supporter Carol Stephens, will take an individual score of 33.3 and 10th place into the next phase of competition.
Collectively, the U.S. team goes into cross country on a score of 79.8 (accounting for a dropped fourth score, which for now is Sydney’s) and gold medal position. The qualification pressure for the next Olympics is not hanging over these riders’ shoulders, but it would be foolish to think they’ll be going out with any other goal other than retaining that gold medal tomorrow. They will carry 13.7 penalties worth of breathing room ahead of Canada, which currently sits on a team score of 93.5.
Canada Leads the Qualification Charge
For every other country here in Chile this week, the priority is Paris qualification. Two team berths will be distributed based on the results of these Pan American Games, and with the U.S. already qualified with a podium finish at last year’s World Championships, the next in line currently falls to the Canadians.
A revamped leadership and advisory group and an eagle-eyed Chef d’Equipe in Olympic veteran Rebecca Howard has the Canadians feeling positive about the future of eventing and development of athletes. Canada fields a four-pair team of experienced riders and competitive horses, and the newly-installed High Performance Advisory Group has received positive commendation from the riders thus far.
Mike Winter, in sixth place individually with the very special El Mundo (Numero Uno – Calvaro’s Bria Z, by Calvaro Z), who is owned by Jonathan Nelson in partnership with Mike and Emma Winter, described the revamped program, for which he is a rider representative:
“It’s a far more scientific approach towards what we’re doing, rather than hiring a coach for a cycle who’s gonna teach us all lessons,” he said. “We have heart rate monitors we’re galloping with that go back to a science lab, and they tell us about how our horses fitness is, we look at Equiratings, and how our horses are performing, what our averages are and our speed indexes. We’ve given out grant money this year for people to get European experience and compete in Europe. It’s a big shift from what we had as a model before — it’s a focus on more like a two cycle plan rather than a one year plan.”
Canada’s charge is led by Olympian Colleen Loach, who’s teamed up with FE Golden Eye (Goldfever – Cascade, by Contendro) for this adventure and scored a 28.6 to sit just off the podium in fourth place individually. “Goldie” is owned by Peter Berry, Amanda Bernhard, and Colleen and frequently competes in pure show jumping to complement his eventing skillset. He’s also one of the more experienced horses in the field, with top-10 finishes at the Lexington 4*-S and Bromont’s CCI4*-L on his recent record.
“He wasn’t bothered by any of the atmosphere, he really stayed focused on me,” Colleen said of her test, which from my view could have even been scored more competitively. “He’s got a lovely, uphill build and he’s very steady in the ring. He can fall a little behind the leg, which is sometimes a problem, but mainly I struggle with the changes but we got one of out two today, so we’re getting there.”
Lindsay Traisnel and Patricia Pearce’s Bacyrouge (Mylord Carthago – Lelia, by Clyde de la Combe) are also competitively placed on a score of 32.6 in seventh overnight. Karl Slezak and Lexington 4*-S winner Hot Bobo (Arkansas VDL – Taneys Leader xx, by Supreme Leader xx), are just behind Lindsay in eighth place on a score of 32.9 that would likely have gotten some more competitive scores save for a mistake in the flying change work.
Canada does not have much breathing room ahead of the next top team, Brazil, with just 6.4 penalties separating the two squads after dressage. Brazil, for their part, has also fielded a strong team with Olympic and World Championship riders led by chef d’equipe Julie Louisa Purgly.
Marcio Carvalho Jorge, a two-time Olympian (2012, 2016) as well as team gold medalist here at the Pan Ams in the past, is the top-placed Brazilian rider with the 10-year-old Irish stallion Castle Howard Casanova (Womanizer – K Cavalier Belle, by Cavalier Royale), who is owned by Marcio, Arabella and Hugo Mackenzie Smith, and Annabel Vere Nicoll. They’ll take a score of 29.8 and fifth place to defend into tomorrow’s cross country.
Mexico is currently in fourth position as a team and looking to achieve its first Olympic team qualification since 1984. Fernando Parroquin Delfin and Anahuac SDN (Emperor Augustus – Parkmore Crest, by Cruising) is the highest placed Mexican rider, currently in a tied for eighth position with Karl Slezak and Hot Bobo on a score of 32.9. In preparation for these Games, many Mexican riders have spent time in the U.S. competing. Notably, Fernando and Anahuac SDN finished sixth in the 3*-L at Florida Horse Park this spring.
Full start times for the cross country tomorrow will be made available here and you can in the meantime save them by clicking here. And in some exciting news, you’ll now be able to view the cross country FREE on the FEI TV channel of ClipMyHorse.TV (or, of course, using your ClipMyHorse membership if you have one). Cross country will begin at 11 a.m. local time, so 10 a.m. EST. I’ll also be running live updates for cross country here on EN, and Cheg Darlington will be running a live blog from cross country day at the Pau CCI5* — there’s plenty left to see this weekend, so stay tuned and Go Eventing!
This article will be updated with more photos, so keep checking back!
Follow along with EN’s coverage of the Pan American Games, presented by Ocala Horse Properties, here. We also recommend following @usefeventing on Instagram and Facebook as well as @canadianeventingteam for more content from on the ground, as well as roving photographer Shannon Brinkman here.