St­ef­fen Peters and Le­go­las 92

U.S. team earns golden ticket to 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Karen Robin­son

The 2015 Pan Amer­i­can Games dres­sage com­pe­ti­tion took place July 9–14 at Canada’s Cale­don Eques­trian Park in Pal­grave, On­tario, about an hour north of Toronto, the host city of the XVII Pan Am Games. It would turn out to be a mile­stone event on sev­eral lev­els, in­clud­ing a blended for­mat com­bin­ing Small Tour with Big Tour horses and riders com­pet­ing for one set of medals for the frst time in the history of in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onship dres­sage. The United States dres­sage team ar­rived in Toronto with a pur­pose that would achieve two goals: a gold team medal would main­tain the U.S. team’s two-decade-long win­ning streak, but even more im­por­tantly, it would se­cure a team spot for the USA at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Vet­er­ans and New­com­ers

It was thanks, in part, to the his­toric mixed-level for­mat that the U.S. team in­cluded a com­bi­na­tion of ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers and frst-timers. Team an­chor St­ef­fen Peters was de­fend­ing his in­di­vid­ual Pan Am gold medal from Guadala­jara four years ago, where he won de­ci­sively with Weltino’s Magic. His part­ner at the 2015 Pan Am Games was Le­go­las 92, Four Winds Farm’s 13-year-old West­falian geld­ing. Laura Graves and Ver­dades were the sec­ond Grand Prix level com­bi­na­tion on the team. Just a year ago, Graves was a frst-time team mem­ber her­self, but she was re­garded as a rel­a­tive old hand on this team, since both of the Small Tour com­bi­na­tions were the true new­com­ers to the U.S. team at a ma­jor games. Kim­berly Her­slow and Ros­marin, a pair that had demon­strated con­sis­tency in de­liv­er­ing high scores at the Prix St. Ge­orges and In­ter­me­di­ate I level, would turn out to be in­valu­able in con­tribut­ing the high­est team re­sult of the en­tire com­pe­ti­tion. The fourth team mem­bers were Sabine Schut-Kery and Alice Womble’s 9-year-old Hanove­rian stal­lion, Sanceo, another pair that had proven them­selves through­out the team qual­if­ers.

Go­ing into the team cham­pi­onship, the U.S. could see a clear path to gold with the only po­ten­tial bar­rier com­ing from the host coun­try’s young but tal­ented team. By the sec­ond day’s In­ter­me­di­ate I and Grand Prix Spe­cial class, the score­board was pep­pered with scores above 75 per­cent from both coun­tries. Two first-timers to the Cana­dian team, Brit­tany Fraser rid­ing All In and Chris von Mar­tels with Zil­ver­star, had posted the high­est scores of their ca­reers. They led Grand Prix team­mates Belinda Trus­sell on An­ton and Me­gan Lane on Caravella to a team sil­ver medal that came much closer to chal­leng­ing the Amer­i­cans for gold than any­one had an­tic­i­pated, com­ing within six points of the U.S. team.

An even closer bat­tle for bronze took place be­tween Brazil and Mexico. Strong per­for­mances from Brazil’s top three in­di­vid­u­als kept next year’s Olympic hosts just two points ahead of Mexico, a team with only three mem­bers and no drop score. Mexico was one of only four coun­tries along with the U.S., Canada and Ar­gentina to field a team with at least one Grand Prix com­bi­na­tion. Six more en­tirely Small Tour teams—from Colom­bia, Gu­atemala, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Chile—brought the to­tal num­ber of teams to 10, with an ad­di­tional six na­tions rep­re­sented by in­di­vid­u­als. The mixed for­mat that put Small Tour and Big Tour com­peti­tors in the same class was or­ga­nized with all the Small Tour com­bi­na­tions go­ing be­fore the Grand Prix com­peti­tors.

Freestyle Come­back

While his three team­mates all en­joyed im­proved re­sults from the frst to the sec­ond team round, Peters suf­fered dis­ap­point­ment in the Grand Prix Spe­cial test. Trou­ble started early when Le­go­las broke in the frst tran­si­tion from pas­sage to ex-

tended trot. “He felt quite un­com­fort­able in his back and very tight,” Peters said af­ter­ward. “I know that causes prob­lems in the tempi changes. Thank God for my test yesterday and for my team­mates, who brought us along.”

Peters’ Grand Prix Spe­cial score was the low­est posted by any U.S. team mem­ber that day, but the 1.5 per­cent bonus that each Grand Prix level com­peti­tor re­ceived in the team re­sults meant that his score with the bonus was still among the top three scores for the over­all team score.

The freestyles took place af­ter a rest day that fol­lowed the team com­pe­ti­tion. The in­di­vid­ual medals were de­cided com­pletely on the re­sults of the freestyle, which started with a clean slate for the top half of the field in both the Small and Big Tour. But be­fore the freestyle could even get un­der way, there were 24 hours of con­fu­sion as well as protests from two Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, re­gard­ing the num­ber of ath­letes per na­tion who would be al­lowed to start in the freestyle. In the ab­sence of any in­for­ma­tion in the Pan Am Games Tech­ni­cal Man­ual for Eques­trian re­gard­ing the num­ber of ath­letes per na­tion el­i­gi­ble to ad­vance to the in­di­vid­ual fi­nal, it was de­cided that all four ath­letes could ad­vance if they were qual­i­fied in the rank­ings. The ini­tial draw in­cluded Schut-Kery with Sanceo and Canada’s fourth-ranked in­di­vid­ual, Me­gan Lane and Caravella. A sec­ond draw was held a full day later af­ter meet­ings and con­sul­ta­tions with the Pan Am Games gov­ern­ing body, the Pan Amer­i­can Sports Or­ga­ni­za­tion (PASO), which con­cluded that only three ath­letes may pro­ceed to an in­di­vid­ual fi­nal—a for­mula that has long been in place at the Olympics, WEG and the Pan Am Games, and is stan­dard for other sports at ma­jor Games. This de­ci­sion ex­cluded Schut-Kery and Lane from the freestyle.

“The or­ga­ni­za­tion did not come through with re­gard to know­ing if it was three or four riders who would go for­ward to the fi­nal,” said U.S. dres­sage team chef d’equipe Robert Dover. “It was very hard on two riders in par­tic­u­lar, but also their team­mates, spon­sors, own­ers and train­ers. It was hard on the sport in gen­eral.”

As con­so­la­tion for the rider's last­minute ex­clu­sion, the Pan Am Games or­ga­niz­ers in­vited Schut-Kery to per­form her In­ter­me­di­ate I freestyle as a test ride be­fore the first com­peti­tor and Lane to per­form a test freestyle ride be­fore the first Grand Prix freestyle.

The first Amer­i­cans to com­pete in the freestyle were Her­slow and Ros­marin, who were not able to con­tinue the flaw­less trend they had es­tab­lished in the team com­pe­ti­tion. Small is­sues in the tempi changes were com­pounded by a more costly mis­take in one of the pirou­ettes. Her­slow would fin­ish the day in eighth place. Peters, third from last to go, demon­strated what an ex­pe­ri­enced and con­sum­mate com­peti­tor he is. Gone were the mis­takes of the Grand Prix Spe­cial. Le­go­las per­formed much more to the stan­dard that the world has come to ex­pect of him, de­liv­er­ing what would stand as the gold-medal-win­ning test.

Graves and Ver­dades were the last pair down cen­ter­line. The 14-year-old geld­ing had shown signs of nerves in the at­mos­phere of the Pan Am arena through­out the three days, but by the sec­ond half of their freestyle they had found their groove. Graves’ dif­fi­cult chore­og­ra­phy kept her just a third of a point ahead of Canada’s bronze-medal­win­ning Small Tour com­bi­na­tion, von Mar­tels and Zil­ver­star.

Her­slow’s High

Com­pet­ing for the frst time on the U.S. dres­sage team at a ma­jor Games in­evitably brings a cer­tain amount of pres­sure. Add to that the ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity of en­sur­ing that the team earns the only re­main­ing team berth for the 2016 Olympics, and you have what Her­slow ex­pe­ri­enced in Toronto. “It’s in­cred­i­ble to come here, the frst time on a ma­jor Games team, and it’s ba­si­cally do or die to win gold,” she said.

Ros­marin, a 10-year-old Hanove­rian geld­ing owned by Kiroli En­ter­prises LLC, proved that he can be counted on to pro­duce top re­sults un­der pres­sure. “We call him “The Mail­man,” be­cause he al­ways de­liv­ers,” said Her­slow. “He gave me so much this week, the most he’s ever given me in the ring.”

Her­slow was not nearly as dis­ap­point-

ed in her freestyle re­sult as she was ex­cited about how greatly Ros­marin had con­trib­uted in the team tests. She said find­ing her­self the over­all leader fol­low­ing the team com­pe­ti­tion was the high­light of her team de­but. “Be­ing on the podium was awe­some, but when Robert brought my tests to me back at the ho­tel and showed me the pa­per that had me ranked first, I lit­er­ally hit the floor. I was blown away. For my horse to have peaked at this time, it doesn’t get any bet­ter than that.”

Another high­light of the Pan Am ex­pe­ri­ence for Her­slow came from be­ing on a team with the likes of Peters and Graves. “And to ac­tu­ally beat their scores is in­cred­i­ble,” she added. Her­slow had trav­eled to Europe with her team­mates in the lead-up to the Pan Am Games. She said the mileage she gained there was in­valu­able. “It was such an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Europe. This is such an in­cred­i­ble team I’m on—the per­son­al­i­ties, the horses—and ev­ery­body’s there for you and sup­port­ing you.”

Hav­ing now been bit­ten by the team bug, Her­slow hopes to de­but Ros­marin at Grand Prix in the com­ing months. “I’m not the type of rider to say, ‘I’m go­ing to do it by this sea­son.’ I’ll let my horse tell me when he’s ready for it. I want to be sure he can go out and put in his best per­for­mance.”

Step­ping­stone for the Amer­i­cas

The Pan Am Games dres­sage com­pe­ti­tion has his­tor­i­cally been a con­test be­tween two na­tions—the U.S. and Canada—for gold and sil­ver. But for most of Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, the Pan Am Games are a kind of Olympic Games in them­selves. Dres­sage is de­vel­op­ing quickly in the Amer­i­cas, but few coun­tries have the pool of horse­power or re­sources to feld teams with even one Grand Prix combi- na­tion. The long-term goal, as en­vi­sioned by the FEI, is for the Pan Am Games to be at Grand Prix level. In the mean­time, send­ing a team to com­pete at the Small Tour level is an ul­ti­mate achieve­ment for riders from coun­tries like Gu­atemala, Venezuela and Costa Rica.

The three-mem­ber team from Costa Rica that com­peted at these Pan Am Games is a par­tic­u­larly spe­cial case. The Eger­strom fam­ily—Michelle, Cris­to­bal and Ami—was the only Pan Am Games eques­trian team en­tirely com­posed of one fam­ily, though it’s not the first time for this mother, fa­ther and

daugh­ter trio to be on a team to­gether. At the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadala­jara, Ami (at the age of 18) com­peted along­side her par­ents as three mem­bers of Costa Rica’s four-mem­ber team. The Eger­stroms also qual­i­fied Costa Rica for the 2015 Pan Am Games as a three-mem­ber team at the Cen­tral and Caribbean Games in Ver­acruz, Mexico last Novem­ber.

“Com­pet­ing on a team with both my par­ents is a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Ami Eger­strom. “My dad has the ex­pe­ri­ence of many games be­fore him and my mom is great emo­tional sup­port. My dad is our main trainer, but some­times it’s hard to sep­a­rate dad from coach. I know that as a dad he has high ex­pec­ta­tions of me and he pushes me to do my best.” Eger­strom said she has mixed feel­ings about be­ing called “Team Eger­strom.”

“It is fun to be iden­ti­fied as a fam­ily team and it def­i­nitely makes me proud that we are a fam­ily team. How­ever, at the end of the day, we are Team Costa Rica first. The fam­ily sce­nario is ac­ci­den­tal. No one else could make it to Toronto with us, and it would have been nice to have a fourth team­mate.”

For Costa Rica, whose team fin­ished ninth in Toronto, the Pan Am Games are vi­tal to de­vel­op­ing dres­sage in that coun­try. “We work re­ally hard to make it to the Games,” said Eger­strom, “and we know we need to work harder still to make a team that is ac­tu­ally com­pet­i­tive against other Latin Amer­i­can teams.” If the Pan Am Games were to be held en­tirely at the Grand Prix level, Eger­strom said Costa Rica would be among a num­ber of na­tions that would not have been able to send a team. “Most of us couldn’t even pro­duce one Grand Prix level team mem­ber for these Games. Nev­er­the­less, I am sure a num­ber of coun­tries that didn’t pro­duce one sin­gle Grand Prix ride will be try­ing to do so for the next Games if this for­mat con­tin­ues.”

Eger­strom is one of a num­ber of peo­ple to have con­cluded that the mixed for­mat of the Pan Am Games is a prob­lem­atic for­mula. “I agree that Latin Amer­ica should be en­cour­aged to de­velop at the

It is fun to be iden­ti­fied as a fam­ily team. How­ever, at the end of the day, we are Team Costa Rica first.

Grand Prix level, but I don’t think the Games are the place for it.”

To Be or Not To Be Grand Prix?

The Pan Am Games have long been crit­i­cized for be­ing an Olympic qual­ifer be­cause the com­pe­ti­tion is not held at the same level as at the Olympic Games. It took sev­eral years for the for­mat in Toronto to be fnal­ized. Apart from a cou­ple of trial runs at the Global Dres­sage Fes­ti­val’s Na­tions Cup, the mixed-level con­cept saw its real frst test in Toronto. Teams that wanted to vie for the one Rio team berth were re­quired to have at least one Grand Prix level com­bi­na­tion in Toronto. Coun­tries that in­cluded Grand Prix com­bi­na­tions on their teams (two Grand Prix mem­bers was the max­i­mum al­lowed) were given in­cen­tive in the form of a 1.5 per­cent bonus per rider per test in the team com­pe­ti­tion. As it turns out, the medal re­sults in Toronto were not af­fected by this bonus. Each of the medal-win­ning teams would have won the medals they re­ceived with­out it.

In the in­di­vid­ual com­pe­ti­tion, medals were given out for the first time to com­peti­tors at dif­fer­ent lev­els. Gold and sil­ver were won by Grand Prix com­bi­na­tions, and bronze went to a Small Tour pair. The scores, just a half point apart from gold to bronze, would sug­gest that the play­ing field was re­mark­ably level in spite of the dif­fer­ent lev­els. Dover be­lieves the experiment was a suc­cess.

“It was ab­so­lutely in the right di­rec­tion that we went with this com­pro­mise to see how it worked,” he said. “It worked ef­fec­tively and now what’s im­por­tant is the next way for­ward.” Dover be­lieves that at the next Pan Am Games the teams should be re­quired to have at least three Grand Prix horses, though he rec­og­nizes that the FEI has not yet reached that de­ci­sion. “We also want to see no fewer than two teams from the Pan Am Games taken for Olympic berths,” he said in ref­er­ence to the FEI’s 2013 de­ci­sion to re­duce the num­ber of Olympic-team qual­i­fi­ca­tions at the Pan Am Games by half, from two to one. As it stands now, Canada has to try to qual­ify three in­di­vid­u­als and form a com­pos­ite team for Rio next year.

The next Pan Am Games will take place in Lima, Peru. The FEI plans to eval­u­ate the out­come of Toronto’s mixed dres­sage team experiment and to make rec­om­men­da­tions for 2019. Given the suc­cess of Toronto, it is likely that Peru will see more horses, rather than fewer at the Grand Prix level.

In­di­vid­ual medal­ists (from left) Laura Graves, sil­ver; St­ef­fen Peters, gold; and Canada’s Chris von Mar­tels, bronze Cheer­ing the vic­tory (from left) U.S. team ve­teri­nar­ian Rick Mitchell, Deb­bie McDon­ald, Robert Dover and Sa­man­tha Garfinkel.

Laura Graves and Ver­dades

St­ef­fen Peters and Le­go­las 92

The U.S. dres­sage team won team gold, se­cur­ing its trip to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. From left: Kim Her­slow, St­ef­fen Peters, Sabine Schut-Kery and Laura Graves

About the Cover: Felicitas von Neu­mann-Cosel and Ton­ico do Top Photo by Corinne Fox­ley

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