July 28, 2015–American horses and athletes departed the Caledon Equestrian Park in Ontario, Canada, having represented their country with great success at the 2015 Pan American Games. The United States entered the games needing to qualify two out of three equestrian disciplines for the 2016 Olympic Games. The pressure was on both the dressage and eventing teams to secure a berth at the Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Riding with heart and determination, the teams did not disappoint, and all three equestrian disciplines will travel to Brazil in 2016.
The dressage team set the stage for success as it began the equestrian competition at the Pan American Games. With a new format combining Small Tour and Big Tour combinations, the U.S. Team was comprised of veteran championship competitors Steffen Peters and Laura Graves, and first-time representatives Kimberly Herslow and Sabine Schut-Kery. From the first entrance down the center line to the last, the team performed with precision and animation and was rewarded with a Team Gold medal. Both Graves and her own Verdades and Herslow and Kiroli Enterprises LLC’s Rosmarin achieved personal best scores in team competition.
Bolstered by the superlative performances in team competition, the individual Freestyle tests were equally as impressive. Olympic, World Equestrian, and Pan American Games medalist Peters and Four Winds Farm’s Legolas 92 excited the crowd and the judges with excellence to achieve the Individual Gold medal. Fellow compatriots Graves and Verdades excelled in their Freestyle to earn the Individual Silver Medal.
The U.S. Eventing Team arrived in Ontario hoping to accomplish the same feat as the dressage team; with Olympic qualification also at stake. With the pressure on veterans Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin and new championship contenders Marilyn Little and Lauren Kieffer, the team began the dressage phase on a cold, blustery Canadian day. The riders were pleased with their horses’ tests, and the day finished with the U.S. team in first place with a narrow lead over Canada. Following an exemplary dressage effort, Little and Raylyn Farms Inc. and Phoebe and Michael Manders’ RF Scandalous were in third place individually entering the challenging cross-country phase.
Revealing the skill and depth of the team, all four combinations completed the cross-country portion with no faults and began Sunday’s show jumping phase on their dressage scores. The U.S. team was in close contention with Brazil and Canada as the crowd watched a nail-biting contest in the Caledon Equestrian Park. Dutton and Thomas Tierney and Ann Jones’ Fernhill Fugitive had an unlucky rail early in the course, putting the pressure on the remaining three athletes. Kieffer and Marie Le Menestrel’s Meadowbrook’s Scarlett performed fault-free, as did Boyd Martin and the Pancho Villa Syndicate’s Pancho Villa. Last to enter the ring for the U.S. were Little and RF Scandalous. Sitting in second place individually, the pair needed a clean round to keep its hopes for Gold alive. With her solid background in show jumping, Little delivered a fault-free performance and ultimately earned both a Team and an Individual Gold Medal.
The show jumping team was the last to perform at the Pan American Games. Pre-qualified for the Olympic Games via a Bronze medal-win at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, the accomplished squad of Kent Farrington, Lauren Hough, Georgina Bloomberg, and McLain Ward endeavored to accomplish the same stellar results as their fellow American equestrians.
The first round of Nations Cup competition proved to result in an unlucky rail for all four athlete and horse combinations. Unwavering in its confidence and determination, the team returned to produce the singular feat of four fault-free rounds in the second phase, earning a Team Bronze medal behind Canada for Gold and Argentina for Silver. It was Bloomberg’s first championship competition and her first medal experience. Robin Parsky and Farrington’s Gazelle and the Ohlala Group’s Ohlala, ridden by Hough, earned valuable experience as they competed brilliantly in their first championship.
Heading into the Individual competition, multiple Olympic and Pan American team Gold medalist Ward continued his winning ways with Sagamore Farm’s Rothchild. With Ward and Rothchild as one of only two combinations to produce two clean rounds, the Gold medal was decided in a thrilling jump-off with Venezuela’s Andres Rodriguez. Famous for his jump-off acumen, Ward and the chestnut gelding flew around the short course leaving all the poles in the cups. Rodriguez dropped a rail on course, and Ward was rewarded with Pan American Individual Gold. In a five-horse jump-off for Bronze, Hough and her gusty mount Ohlala were the only clear round, resulting in Individual Bronze.
Amassing a total of eight medals in equestrian competition, the United States was the leader in medals won. Five individual medals and three team medals represent the hard work of a large contingent of riders, coaches, veterinarians, farriers, and behind-the-scenes support staff. As the 2015 Pan American Games equestrian competition drew to a close, the United States athletes proudly wore their medals as they looked forward to future medal contention in 2016.
The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOC, and USEF Sponsors and Members. Without the support of these organizations and individuals, it would not be possible to support our athletes. The USEF is especially grateful to individuals who give generously of their time and money to support the equestrian teams.