A lot is on the line for two of the U.S. equestrian teams at the 2015 Pan American Games.
With direct Olympic qualification up for grabs, the riders will descend upon the Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park and the Pan Am-Cross Country Centre.
A first-place finish will see the dressage team through to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. For the eventing team, its Olympic fate hinges upon the Americans besting every team in the competition not named Brazil or Canada, the two nations that have already punched their tickets to Rio.
Less pressure rests on the shoulders of the U.S. jumping team, which was able to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games with its third-place finish at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. Even so, the jumping team will still be looking to take home the gold during its time in Canada, competing every other day from July 21 to July 25.
The first of the three equestrian disciplines to take place, the team dressage competition occurs over three days starting on July 11 and concluding on July 14, with a one-day break in competition on July 13. The three-day eventing encounter will then commence soon after from July 17 to 19.
Tagged by many as the most eloquent in the sport of equestrian, dressage brings out the most beautiful elements of horse and human working side by side. Specifically, judges will be studying the predetermined walking, trotting and canter routines presented before them, as well as the highlight of the competition, in the choreographed freelance routine.
The U.S. dressage team will be led by three-time Olympian Steffen Peters and his horse Legolas 92. Joining him on the team will be newcomers Laura Graves, Kim Herslow and Sabine Schut-Kery, riding Verdades, Rosmarin and Sanceo.
With all of the success that Team USA has had in the past at the Pan Am Games in dressage, Peters talked about the importance of the team not overlooking its competition in Toronto.
“The Canadians have wonderful horses and great riders plus the home advantage,” said Peters. “The biggest mistake we could make is going overconfident into the Pan American Games.”
Peters hasn’t seen the intensity of his fellow teammates drop even in the slightest during their preparation, which is reassuring given all that is at stake.
“We are very focused, no doubt,” he said.
That same mindset has been adopted by the four members of the eventing squad: Phillip Dutton on Fernhill Fugitive, Lauren Kieffer on Meadowbrook’s Scarlett, Marilyn Little on RF Scandalous and Boyd Martin on Pancho Villa.
The three-day event combines different disciplines of the sport of equestrian. Starting on day one with dressage, then transitioning over to the signature cross-country phase on day two, while ending with jumping on the third and final day of competition.
Phillip Dutton, the most seasoned competitor within the U.S. eventing squad, is ready to give it his all in Toronto and believes his teammates are as well.
“I would like to get the best possible performance from myself and my horse which would hopefully result in a medal for our team,” he said. “It is a very important team event for USA eventing. Everyone in the team understands this and is determined to give a personal best.”
Representing the U.S. in jumping at the Pan Am Games will be Georgina Bloomberg on Lilli, Kent Farrington on Gazelle, Lauren Hough on Ohlala and McLain Ward on Rothchild. Ward is a two-time Olympic champion and world No. 5, while Farrington is ranked third in the world.
The speed and overall control of the riders will be put to the test, as more than a dozen or so fences must be quickly cleared in the cleanest fashion possible to assure a victory.
Robert Ridland, head coach of the U.S. jumping team, believes his group is focused and prepared to take care of business when the time comes.
“Everything has gone smoothly,” he said, “and all four starters are ready to go.”