The U.S. contingent maintained their hard charge this week at the 19th Pan American Games, sending forward four first-time championship team riders and delivering four clear cross country rounds on Saturday to hold their gold medal position after two phases.
The U.S. riders will take a collective score of 86.2 and a berth of 15.3 penalties into show jumping. Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake (Tolan R – Doughiska Lass, by Kannan) move up into individual gold position, with Liz Halliday and Miks Master C in silver and Sharon White with Claus 63 in bronze.
Looking to the battle for Olympic qualification, Brazil moves up into team silver on a collective score of 101.5, without a rail’s worth of room ahead of Canada on a score of 105.2. As it stands now, those two teams will obtain Olympic qualifications if they can stay in those top two qualifying spots tomorrow.
It was a true championship track designed by Paris designer Pierre le Goupil, exerting its influence on a field that featured both Olympic veterans as well as lesser experienced horses and riders from developing countries.
It was a well-designed challenge with plenty of long options to get pairs safely home, and though we saw 11 pairs eliminated or retiring on course it was a very safe day of cross country riding and therefore a great success. One challenge to a designer in these circumstances is to design a track that will challenge the best but allow the rest to navigate it safely. It’s not a task to be taken lightly, and we’ve seen many a designer’s course fail this test. That was not the case today, and I think Pierre will be taking a jolt of confidence forward with his plans for the Palace at Versailles next summer.
Riders also agreed, sharing praise for Pierre and his team of builders, though many of the more experienced pairs did encounter the unique challenge of a track whose jumps and terrain were not always enough to back off a strong 4* or 5* horse.
“Like I said before, it’s very similar to Strzegom [Poland], but it’s quite smaller,” Caroline Pamukcu noted after a flawless clear round inside the optimum time with HSH Blake, who is owned in partnership with Caroline as well as her mother, Sherrie, and Mollie Hoff. “So it’s a three-star track, but it’s four-star questions, so it was quite hard. So I made sure on the galloping tracks I moved along and then I had to a little bit set him up more than normal, because the jumps are a little bit smaller than what he’s used to jumping. So that’s what makes it a championship course. And it was very fun to ride. The ground was unbelievable. They did such a great job. Each jump is so perfectly decorated. It’s kind of what you dream of.”
“One of the things about [El Mundo], which makes him probably more of a five-star horse is he really takes it on, and to step him down to this level, the size of the jumps in the combination weren’t enough to hold him,” Canada’s Mike Winter concurred. He and El Mundo (Numero Uno – Calvaro’s Bria Z, by Calvaro Z) were the trailblazers for Canada, which is seeking its Olympic qualification this week, delivering a clear round 7.6 time penalties to sit in 10th individually. “So I had to show jump through a few combinations, which took me a lot of time.”
It’s a special week for Mike, whose family in the UK and partner in ownership, Jonathan Nelson, couldn’t be here this week but whose parents were able to come down from Canada to watch the competition.
Liz Halliday was another to find the time challenging solely as a result of having to manage a very strong and keen Miks Master C (Mighty Magic – Qui Lumba CBF, by Quite Easy), who is owned in partnership with Ocala Horse Properties and Deborah Palmer. At the final combination, a double of corners with an option to jump a bending line of upright rails, Liz opted to swing the still-strong “Mikki” for the long route, noting later that she’d had to “throw out the anchor in some places where I didn’t want to” and picking up a total of four time penalties.
“It’s disappointing, but I can’t be disappointed with the horse because he’s a wonderful horse,” Liz said. “It was a little rough and ready, but sometimes that’s just how it goes in eventing, you know, and he’s a world-class horse, he’s still the young horse. We haven’t been together all that long, so today was a learning experience in some ways for me — I wish it hadn’t happened at the Pan Am Games, but I’m still thrilled with him. And I’m thrilled for my teammates, they were just fabulous today and all of Team USA was just really world-class today.”
Liz was originally assessed 15 penalties for missing a flag at the C element of the Casino Fountain water complex (fence 5), but the penalties were quickly removed and on the live stream replay it was pretty clear that the horse’s shoulders had passed through the flags. This gives her a two-day score of 28.8 to go into individual silver.
Sharon White was deservedly pleased with both herself as well as Claus 63 (Catoo – Tina II, by Levisto), turning in a foot-perfect cross country with 2.4 seconds of time to add to their dressage score. They will go into show jumping on a 30.6, meaning not one rail is up for grabs between the top three.
For her part, Sharon found herself in unique position as she set out on course: as she jumped into the first water complex, Mike Winter was also jumping into the same water on the tail end of the course. Riders came back through this water at fence 16 after first jumping it at fence 5. I hope they can pull the drone shot of this happening, as it was barely visible on the live stream — but it was very noticeable to Sharon:
“Jumping into the first water, I actually jumped in at the same time Mike Winter from Canada jumped in the last water. I was like, ‘we are jumping in tandem!’ I was like, ‘wow!’, I was like ‘focus Sharon!‘ So things like that. There were so many things to get distracted about.”
And focus she did, as once the pas de cross country was complete, she continued on her way to secure another valuable clear round for her team.
“I’m so happy. I’m so happy with my little horse. I thought he really stepped up to the plate,” she said afterward. “This is so ideal for his trajectory — having to come here and all of the the atmosphere is a lot…there are so many people here in a small space. So that is so useful for a horse and he’s been in situations like this before but not quite like this. And then there’s the pressure — they know it’s a championship. It matters a lot, so I’m just really thrilled that he stepped up to the plate, which I guess means I stepped up to the plate too, so I’m pretty thrilled with both of us.”
Trailblazers for the U.S. were Sydney Elliott and Carol Stephens’ QC Diamantaire (Diarado – Lantana, by Sandro Hit), who delivered a textbook double clear as the very first to see on the course this morning and will be in seventh individually overnight (33.3). She’d be among the quickest of the day (the top award goes to Karl Slezak and Hot Bobo — more on them shortly) with a time of 7:53.
“I think that we always were concerned about the time,” Sydney said of her team orders as first to go. “So getting out there and just doing my job and seeing what routes are fastest and if we could take an option here or there and still get under time. I think it was great.”
Sydney reiterated what her teammates said about the course, speaking to the versatility that these modern courses demand. “This actually was, I think, a little bit challenging only because there’s nothing to hold these experienced horses back. And even though he is so easy, and I hardly ever have to touch the rein, it was just making sure the frangibles stay up because there are so many of them and it changes your way of thinking of how to ride cross country.”
While it’s true the U.S. has an excellent track record at these Pan American Games — to be fair, the large amount of funding and availability of events and horses helps a lot in contrast with the smaller-scale efforts of some of the South and Central American federations — it’s also true that this program hasn’t always delivered its strongest performance here. It’s a very recent memory, the times when the U.S. would struggle to complete a team or at least a cross country with all clear rounds at these major championships. This can be, of course, be reasoned away by many variables: this is intended to be a developmental step along the pathway, and there hasn’t always been as much depth as we’re currently blessed with to choose from.
Nonetheless, the proof is in the performance of these four women, who went out with a gold medal to defend and made good on their every intention. With much changing of leadership in recent years at US Equestrian, the program seems to have stabilized with the efforts of many and currently helmed by Bobby Costello, himself a Pan Ams champion. Also of extreme value to the U.S. is the the expertise of Chief of Sport David O’Connor as well as cross country advisor Ian Stark, both of whom are on the ground with the team this week in Santiago.
Caroline has been the most vocal champion of the eventing pathway, having been a product of it herself. HSH Blake also has risen through the development pipeline, starting out in the USEA Young Event Horse program. “The first thing is had to thank my federation for giving me a really good prep for this competition,” she said after her clear round today. “My horse and I have grown up through the Young Horse and the Young Rider program in the States. So a really big shout out to the developmental program, the [Le Lion] program — there’s so many programs and we’ve been through all of them. They recently sent us to Strzegom in Poland to the Nations Cup, so I would say that really prepped us for this track.”
We’ll plan to catch Bobby for a quick debrief after the action concludes tomorrow but I think it’s a safe enough speculation to say that there’s much to be excited about for the U.S. as we look ahead to perhaps our strongest depth of field for the 2024 Olympics.
Is this wheeling and dealing type of track going to be more the norm? It’s hard to say. Land is a valuable resource, and more of it is sold on to developers each year. I’m not sure of the total acreage at this venue, but the screenshot of the course below gives you an idea of how little land the course uses:
Mike Winter, always keen to find opportunity for access to the sport, shared his perspective here: “You’ve just got to decide where the sport is evolving to. Land is becoming less. If we want to do this and make it a true international sport, leave a legacy in South America, hopefully with some new jumps and footing, you’ve got to work with what you have. And not everywhere is like England with big park land or Kentucky in America. And we have to be somewhat adaptable to that and if we want the sport to be accessible and be global.”
After Mike delivered his clear round to set the tone for the Canadians, who came into the day in second overall, it was up to the rest of his teammates to deliver the goods, too. And that they did. In the end, all Canadian pairs returned home with clear rounds. Though the team would give up one position on the podium due to Brazil coming home just a bit quicker on the clock overall, it’s enough to keep the team-everyone-wants-to-join-because-they-got-Lululemon-to-sponsor-them (sorry, I know, my eyes are bleeding now too) well in the hunt for their main goal this week: Olympic qualification.
Top-placed for Canada overnight will be Lindsay Traisnel, who piloted “the best cross country horse”, Patricia Pearce’s Bacyrouge (Mylord Carthago – Lelia, by Clyde de la Combe) to a clear round inside the time to go onto a score of 32.6. They’ll move to fifth place individually and are well within striking distance of an individual podium finish to boot.
“He’s just the best cross country horse. I’m so lucky,” Lindsay said. This is her first appearance on a championship team for Canada. “I didn’t really know, to be honest. It was all happening so fast, I was having a hard time knowing my minutes — it was like an eight minute Short format kind of the way it was just twisting around. Which I mean, even for him, it’s not his ideal track, so he was just super.”
Just behind Lindsay is Karl Slezak and Hot Bobo (Arkansas VDL – Taneys Leader xx, by Supreme Leader xx), who was purchased as a 4-year-old from the Monart Sale and promptly “tried to kill” the inspecting vet who visited after the sale. After several months of wondering what, exactly, he’d bought, Karl was happy to have his initial feeling about the athletic mare validated. “I was like, ‘What did I buy?'” he said, recalling the whirlwind weekend that ended up with the purchase of the “rearing and spinning” mare. “So we buy in November, and I don’t actually get to sit on her again between transport and we were still transitioning from Canada to Florida, so I didn’t actually sit on her again til January. So the whole time I was just fretting as to what I bought. But honestly, she’s been fantastic. She was very spooky cross country in the early stages, but just I knew she was special from from day one.”
That fiery nature served her well today, as when she jumped through the final water complex she nearly toppled over the D element. Here’s a slow-motion partial replay of the save:
“Honestly when she clambered up and I thought we were going down!” Karl said. “Her head disappeared, I thought we were tipping over. And then somehow she got her feet out underneath her again. She’s so catty, that’s why I love her. That’s a good Thoroughbred in her.”
Drama behind them, Karl and Hot Bobo turned in a super double clear. They were briefly held on course for unconfirmed reasons — not related to a horse or rider fall, I know that much — but were sent on their way soon enough to finish the day on their dressage score of 32.7 and move into 8th overall.
Olympian Colleen Loach was kicking herself a bit for not, well, kicking FE Golden Eye (Goldfever – Cascade, by Contendro) more in front of her leg to get the course done quicker today. She finishes up the day with a super clear, collecting 13.2 time penalties to drop down a few placings into 11th. “I wish I could have gotten a little faster but he got a little backed off at the first water and couple of the turning questions near the beginning,” she noted. “We lost a bit of time and then we didn’t lose any more after that, but we weren’t able to make it up. I did the direct options everywhere, I think just after the turning question to the corner before that, it was hard to get them back galloping ahead of your leg, and I didn’t do a good enough job to get him out in front of me before [fence 5, the lobster drop into the water], so I ended up with a bit of a deep stride going in. He just kind of went really high and straight down.”
Colleen noted she’s been working on her speed with “Goldie”, who she owns in partnership with Peter Barry and Amanda Bernhardt, who wouldn’t be the most naturally quick-footed as it is. We do also know that clear rounds will be valuable tomorrow, and as someone who frequently practices in pure show jumping with this horse, our bets are on her to deliver what could be an impactful clear in the final phase.
And how about those Brazilians? Bolstered by multiple Olympic veterans as well as the coaching of William Fox-Pitt and the leadership of chef d’equipe Julie Louisa Purgly, the Brazilian team delivered the strongest cross country performances of the day, bringing home two clear inside the time and the third just four seconds over the team. This was enough to boost their team score ahead of Canada’s, though the margin of just 3.7 penalties leaves them no room for error on Sunday if Canada produces clear rounds.
After trailblazer Ruy Fonseca picked up 19.6 time penalties with Ballypatrick SRS (Pacino – Ballypatrick Romance, by Clover Hill) , who looked to have similar trouble to some of his competitors with fences not really backing him down, the pressure was on to keep driving ahead to gain some traction on the team standings.
The next away would be Carlos Parro with the 11-year-old mare Safira (Spring’s Spirit – Hidden Sapphire, by Uptons Deli Circus), who produced a clear round bang on the optimum time. He was followed by Rafael Mamprin Losano and Withington (Wolkenderry – Unnamed mare, by Loughahoe Guy xx), who also laid down a double clear to stay on their dressage score of 36.1. Anchor rider Marcio Carvalho Jorge and Castle Howard Casanova (Womanizer – K Cavalier Belle, by Cavalier Royale) came home four seconds over the optimum, sealing the charge for Brazil as Ruy’s score then became the dropped mark.
The remainder of the field was fairly smattered with learning experiences. Ecuador’s Nicolas Wettstein and Altier d’Aurois, who competed in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, are the highest placed individual pair, currently in 12th on a score of 47.6.
We’ll now look ahead to tomorrow’s conclusion of eventing at #Santiago2023. The Final Horse Inspection will take place on Sunday at 9 a.m. local time (8 a.m. EST). There will not be a live stream of the jog. Show jumping will begin later in the day around 1 pm local time / 12 pm ET. You can catch the live stream on ClipMyHorse.TV with a subscription or membership.
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.