It was Team USA on the top step of the podium when Sarah Lockman steered the chestnut stallion, First Apple, to clinch Individual Dressage gold at the Pan American Games 2019 taking place at the Army Equitation School at La Molina in Lima, Peru. A superb score of 78.980 in the Intermediate l Freestyle clinched it for the 30-year-old who pipped Canada’s Tina Irwin and Laurencio by just over a single percentage point, while Lockman’s team-mate, Jennifer Baumert, claimed the bronze with her gelding Handsome.
This was America’s ninth individual Dressage title in the history of equestrian sport at the Pan American Games, which dates back to Buenos Aires (ARG) in 1951. And Lockman made it a US three-in-a-row as compatriot, Steffen Peters, posted a consecutive double at Guadalajara (MEX) in 2011 and Toronto (CAN) in 2015.
Both Small Tour and Big Tour combinations compete at the Pan Ams, and the Small Tour riders were first to battle it out in the Intermediate l Freestyle today. Just four horse-and-rider partnerships contested the higher-level Big Tour class that followed, but the medals were decided by the biggest scores on the day, regardless of the category, and it was Small Tour contenders Lockman, Irwin and Baumert who posted those to claim the top three steps of the podium.
The USA was never eligible for one of the two Olympic team qualifying spots on offer because they sent just three Small Tour riders to Lima. They already had their Tokyo ticket in the bag after claiming silver at last year’s FEI World Equestrian Games™ on home soil in Tryon (USA) and were quite happy to settle for silver in the team competition won by Canada on Monday.
But today they were gunning for the gold and they got it, thanks to a stunning performance from team debutante Lockman and her sensational nine-year-old Dutch stallion which is owned by Gerry Ibanez. Judges Thomas Kessler (GER), Mary Seefried (AUS), Eduard De Wolff Van Westerrode (NED) and Janet Lee Foy (USA) all put the American first, while Canada’s Brenda Minor placed her second, and the winner achieved high marks for Degree of Difficulty from all five judges, including a nine from Kessler.
“I’m over the moon excited about it!” Lockman said. “It’s everything I ever dreamed of and wanted, and I’m so proud of my horse and grateful to everybody who helped me get here and the whole support staff that have been here helping me at my first ever Games experience – it’s been truly unforgettable!”
Irwin and Laurencio, members of Canada’s gold-medal-winning team on Monday, put a strong 77.780 on the board to hold second spot, and when Baumert and Handsome slotted into third on 75.755 then all three medal contenders had an anxious wait while the Big Tour foursome strutted their stuff in the Grand Prix Freestyle. And Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos De Muñiz put in a strong challenge here with her 14-year-old mare, Aquamarijn, but when the scoreboard showed 75.430 then she just missed out on the podium and the top three wouldn’t change.
US Chef d’Equipe, Debbie McDonald, who with the great mare Brentina was double-gold medallist at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg (CAN) in 1999, couldn’t hold back her tears of delight. Lockman described the motivation her team leader has been providing throughout these Games.
“Debbie has been sending us some really amazing quotes and I think I’m going to have to have one put up in my barn and on my mirror…. she told us ‘you are what you believe, and preparation is everything and you can really do it, and to work to the very last moment for it’. I’m so thankful to her for the leadership, and to my coach Scott Hassler for his encouraging words leading up to this which have helped me handle the pressure and figure my way through my first Games!” said the new Pan-American individual Dressage champion.