US in slender lead after Pan Am Games eventing dressage

Canada's Colleen Loach produced a top 10 dressage performance with Qorry Blue d'Argouges.
Canada’s Colleen Loach produced a top 10 dressage performance with Qorry Blue d’Argouges.

The US hold a slender lead after the dressage phase of the eventing competition at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada.

Brazil's Ruy Fonseca
Brazil’s Ruy Fonseca

The US has a score of 133, just ahead of the home side on 133.7. The Mark Todd-coached Brazilian team is in third with 136.70 before the gap opens widely to fourth place, currently occupied by Guatemala with 170.10.  Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela make up the total of 11 nations contesting the team medals.

Individually, Ruy Fonseca, 42, of Brazil riding Tom Bombadill Too is in the lead with 38.90, one of the only two sub-40 scores. He is followed by British-based Canadian Kathryn Robinson in her major Games debut on Let It Bee, scoring 39.80. In third place is the USA’s Marilyn Little with 40.30 on RF Scandalous.

Next in the individual rankings is Canada’s Jessica Phoenix, the reigning gold medalist, riding Pavarotti. The combination finished on 42.10, ahead of the USA’s Boyd Martin and Pancho Villa (44.30). Rounding out the top six is Chilean rider Carlos Lobos, who put up a score of 45.30 on Ranco.

While one qualifying spot for the 2016 Olympic Games is available through the Games, the Canadian Eventing Team has already qualified for Rio based on its performance at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.  As the host nation, Brazil is also guaranteed a starting spot.

The second phase of competition, cross-country, begins at 11am on Saturday, July 18, at the nearby Pan Am Cross-Country Center at Will O’Wind Farm in Mono, Ontario.  Athletes then return to the OLG Caledon Equestrian Park in Caledon for the third and final phase of competition on Sunday, July 19.  Team and individual medal ceremonies will be held at the close of competition.

US: “This won’t be a dressage competition”

The USA’s Marilyn Little was pleased with the performance of her mare, RF Scandalous, especially in light of challenging weather conditions and an electric atmosphere in the arena.

“These are not the best conditions for her. She is really sensitive and a very high energy horse … I was thrilled that she was as attentive as she was; she put in a really good effort.”

Commenting on the cross-country phase, Little also emphasized the impressive design of the course which is both beautiful and challenging. “There is plenty to do out there; I do not think this is going to be a dressage competition. The water jumps are beautifully presented, but substantial and there are a lot of ditches. [The course] has my full and undivided attention.”

The US Eventing team leads after the dressage phase.
The US Eventing team leads after the dressage phase. ©

Boyd Martin was the last to ride for the US team, and aboard Pancho Villa, was able to overcome a formidable environment and receive a score of 44.30. “He is a bit of a spook this horse … There were a lot of horses, umbrellas, and raincoats around the warm-up, which he does not like the look of, but he went in there [the main arena], took a deep breath, and did a pretty good test.”

Concurring with his teammates, Martin is realistic about the challenges of the cross-country course. “It’s a good course. There are a lot of tiny little traps out there that I think you could have a silly mistake on. I think you have to concentrate the whole way around.”

First to trot down the center line for the US was Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, who earned a score of 48.40. “I was really pleased with the way the horse went. There is a bit of atmosphere in that arena, but he was obedient and could not have done much better.” Always a top competitor in the cross-country phase, Dutton said: “It looks like a nice course. Considering the amount of ground they have, it is quite a flowing course. There are difficult questions spaced throughout and I think there will be some pressure to make the time and still make sure that you are accurate.”

Lauren Kieffer and Meadowbrook’s Scarlett, a combination making their first appearance in international games competition also scored 48.40. “I was thrilled with her. She is a young horse and really handled the atmosphere well. I was a bit caught off-guard by the swap in the counter canter, but she felt really good in her trot work.” Kieffer is enjoying her debut in Pan American Games competition. “I am loving it; it is an honor … and so nice with Philip and Boyd here who are veterans showing us the ropes.” Kieffer and her eight-year-old mount are strong cross-country contenders. “I am ready to get out there. She is a really good cross-country horse. The course and ground look beautiful; they did an amazing job.”

Kathryn Robinson and Let It Bee are currently  second after the dressage phase, in their major games debut.
Kathryn Robinson and Let It Bee are currently second after the dressage phase, in their major games debut.

Canadians full of praise for their horses

In her major games debut, Robinson produced a forward, balanced dressage test riding Let It Bee, her 14-year-old dark bay German-bred gelding.

“He was so good, I couldn’t fault him; he’s the horse of a lifetime,” said Robinson, 29, of the horse she bought as a seven-year-old.  “He was pretty raw when I got him, he hadn’t done anything.  We’ve been learning together, which has been lovely.  He wants to work with you and do his best.  This is our first team competition; it is a great honour to be here.”

While her mother maintains a home in Bracebridge, Ontario, Robinson is based in Kettering, Northamptonshire in England.  She and Let it Bee are looking to have a successful outing in their first North American event.

“I’m so thrilled to be here, and hopefully it will carry on being good!” Robinson said.  She praised Let It Bee for the opportunity, noting, “He’s awesome!  I am so lucky to have found him.  He’s taken me to places that I’ve never imagined going.  I owe it all to him, really.”

Phoenix also has a long partnership with her mount, Pavarotti.  The pair won the individual gold medal and led Canada to team silver at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.  Four years later, they are back to defend their title.

“It’s incredible to see, in four years, the work and the time that has gone into Pavarotti,” said Phoenix of the 13-year-old bay Westphalian gelding (Pavarotti van de Helle x Foxiland) owned by Don J. Good.  “He feels so much more developed and so much stronger through his topline.  He really enjoys his job, and I can honestly say he enjoys it as much now as he did four years ago, which is awesome.”

Defending champions Jessica Phoenix (CAN)  and Pavarotti are in fourth place after the dressage phase.
Defending champions Jessica Phoenix (CAN) and Pavarotti are in fourth place after the dressage phase.

Phoenix, 31, a veteran of Olympic, World Equestrian, and Pan American Games competition, was looking forward to thecross-country phase. “Cross-country looks like it should be a blast!  The jumps are beautifully constructed, and I think the course flows really well.  Everyone is really excited to get out there.”

In her major games debut, Colleen Loach scored 51.80 in dressage to place her tenth in the standings with Qorry Blue d’Argouges, an 11-year-old grey selle francais gelding sired by Mr. Blue and owned by Peter Barry.

“I was really happy with him, I don’t think we could have done much better for where we are now; this is my first big experience,” said Loach, 32, who has ridden Qorry Blue d’Argouges for two years.  “He was super.  He handled the atmosphere really well.  It’s a very nice feeling to be competing in front of a home crowd.  I feel very proud to be Canadian and to be representing Canada.”

Of her thoughts on Saturday’s cross-country course, Loach, who plans to take all of the direct routes, shared, “I think it looks great, I’m really excited to get out there.  For sure you have to be on your game, there are some questions out there.  I think the water would be a good question, but it all looks very doable, and nicely presented and kind for the horses.”

At 26, Waylon Roberts riding Bill Owen, is the youngest member of the Canadian Eventing Team.
At 26, Waylon Roberts riding Bill Owen, is the youngest member of the Canadian Eventing Team.

Riding Bill Owen, an 11-year-old bay Canadian Sport Horse gelding sired by Money Talks, Waylon Roberts received a score of 65.10 to place him 34th in the individual standings.  Roberts owns Bill Owen in partnership with his mother, 1984 Canadian Olympian Kelly Plitz.

“I thought Bill Owen did a really good job of staying with me,” said Roberts, who won a team silver medal as part of the Canadian effort at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  “As soon as he went in that arena, he was looking up into the stands the whole time.  We’ve had some really good work all week and he’s been coming along really well, but I think the atmosphere in there was a lot for him and he got very expressive.  The nerves may have got the better of Bill Owen today.”

Roberts, who has also represented Canada internationally in show jumping, was thrilled to be competing at the OLG Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park.

“It feels like home,” said Roberts, 26, who competed at the 2002 FEI Children’s Show Jumping Final, also held in Brazil.  “I’ve been competing here at Caledon since I was 11 years old.  It really is like coming home.  It is amazing what the Pan Ams have been able to do with the place, and the legacy it is going to leave is going to be wonderful.”

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