When Steffen Peters entered the arena for the Individual Finals on Legolas 92 at the 2015 Pan American Games on July 14th, he was focused. After producing a Grand Prix Special that was good but not great just two days before, he was determined to do whatever it would take to win that Gold Medal. And that is just what he did by performing a faultless test in front of an excited crowd for the Grand Prix Freestyle. For Steffen it was about riding strong for the piaffe/passage tour and extremely careful for the tempi changes and then focusing on every moment in between. He knew just one mistake could lose him the Gold Medal. For all the riders who made it into the Final day of competiton of Dressage at The Pan American Games, it was about giving it all, and they did, to music. Check out the image gallery!
Two riders later for teammate Laura Graves the plan was different. She wanted to keep Verdades calm knowing that in the past it is the crowd that pumps him up. But that electric crowd never came and that extra touch of brilliance was what she needed to beat Steffen’s score of 80.075.
Her horse has such brilliant movements overall that she was still able to show off a wonderful test but one that did not quite meet what she was expecting. Yet Verdades managed to show off enough pizzazz with some difficult moves like tempi changes on a circle and 90 degree piaffes, that their test was good enough for a Silver Medal when her score of 79.825 squeaked just ahead of Bronze Medal Canadian rider Christopher Von Martels riding Zilverstar to a total of 79.500.
Their medals confirmed the US team had met the challenge by bringing home two Golds and one Silver and securing their ticket to Rio. The two individual medals were truly the icing on the cake.
By the time Steffen and Laura took to the arena the sun was shining but earlier that same day the sky was overcast and every once in a while Mother Nature sprinkled some raindrops on the Caledon Equestrian Center.
With high hopes each of the 21 qualified riders entered the arena ready to showcase their horse but most of all to have fun doing this.
The freestyle is a chance for the riders to incorporate the movements using music and a test choreographed to their horse. In doing so, as long as the required movements were all performed they could also put an extra emphasis on their horse’s strengths. If their horse was especially good in flying changes that’s what they might do more of or pirouettes or tempi changes or for grand prix, piaffe and passage.
On the other side, if there was a weakness they could also downplay that as well. What was most evident in all the freestyle rides was the feeling that the riders were out there enjoying themselves. Sure the score was important but having this chance to perform to cool music that fit each horse like a glove and with a test that was of their own creation just added that dimension of fun not only for the riders but for the crowd.
The sound system at the Caledon Equestrian Center was without a doubt superb and the conversation around the arena was lively and energized with responsive cheers after each ride.
There was a total of three sections. The first group consisted of 9 riders, the second 8 and the final round was just the four grand prix finalists. While all of the members of the U.S. Gold Medal team were able to perform only three were actually competing. Sabine Schut-Kery was first to go but only as the test ride on Sanceo. In a way, it was nice that she had a chance to showcase her ride. As a first timer at such a high level event, it helped to educate and give her and her stallion the necessary experience they need to continue on the path they are now following. She was the only U.S. rider visible in that first group.
While all the rides showcased the horse’s abilities, it was the final rider in the first group that took over the lead. Brazilian Joao Paulo Dos Santos rode his Lusitano stallion Veleiro Do Top to a score of 72.950 after a solid performance. What impressed those watching most was when Dos Santos went down the final centerline one-handed starting off with a pirouette into tempi changes and finishing close to the three judges booths at C with a very precise halt followed by joy in every shape and form. First it was a long hug, then fists in the air, which continued as he departed from the arena.
In second (at this point) was the fourth rider to go, Esther Mortimer Jones, riding her Hanoverian gelding Adajio for Guatemala. Their ride earned them a score of 71.450. Her music started big and bold for her entry into the arena. Her ride was lovely and again her happiness after the ride was evident. As she left the arena she hugged the gatekeeper and then trotted over to the corner of the arena to say a quick hi to a couple of other people.
At this point Maria Manfredi, who had gone just before Dos Santos, stood third with a score of 70.725. The petite Argentinian rider was on her Argentinian bred horse Bandurria Kacero, whose bold movements earned him some high marks despite three tiny bobbles; a slight bobble down the centerline, another when he broke for a stride or two out of the trot in the corner of the arena near F and the final one at the transition from the walk to the canter where he anticipated the next movement. After an exuberant finish with hugs and punches the horse spooked and whirled just before they left the arena. Perhaps it was simply because he wanted his chance to be recognized. Maria could have cared less as she was still focused on having completed a wonderful ride.
First to go for the second group of riders was Brazilian Joao Marcari Oliva, who after a smooth soft ride took over the lead with a score of 73.275 on his Lusitano stallion Xama Dos Pinhaus. Right behind them was teammate and Brazilian Leandro Da Silva who moved ahead of Marcari with their score of 73.300. Leandro was riding the Oldenburg gelding Di Caprio.
Mexican rider Jesus Palacios was next with yet another nice ride. It was hard to fault these rides. Even though he had a slight bobble turning down the centerline for the first time, his dance to the music from the theme song Aquarius gave him a powerful ride. These last few rides were so powerful that it was more about the score by the judges and the level of where the horse is now at in their training then it was about mistakes.
When our first U.S. rider entered the arena Kim Herslow, she and her Hanoverian gelding appeared relaxed and ready to showcase their talents. Other than one tiny bobble coming out of a pirouette there were no other obvious mistakes and overall they did a great job. At the end of her ride Kim leaned over Rosmarin and had a mini conversation with him. Their score of 73.175 put them in third behind the two Brazilian rides. This indeed was no small accomplishment for a rider who was competing at this level for the first time.
It wasn’t until Canadian rider Christopher Von Martels entered the arena that things started to heat up. His expressive ride with beautiful flying changes and sweeping movements were well rewarded with the highest score of the day, 79.5 to take over the lead by over 6 points.
Teammate Brittany Fraser was also anticipated to do well and other than a couple of simple bobbles in the canter and tempis, they did not disappoint. They ended their ride with a wonderful diagonal extended trot which continued down the centerline, which was followed by wonderful cheers from the crowd. Their elegant performance was also rewarded by a good score of 76.800. This now moved Canada into the top two positions.
Those were two tough rides to follow for Chilean Virginia Yurur who did a good job riding a very precise ride, except for her final halt which could have been a bit more square. They totaled 71.175 for their efforts.
The final session of the day was led off by the one Canadian not able to compete in the Individual Finals but like Sabine their medal performance was rewarded by them being able to do a test ride for the crowd.
Now it was down to the nitty gritty with four grand prix riders starting off with Canadian Belinda Trussell riding her gelding Anton. The pressure was surely on for this pair who started out with what sounded like African music. They started off their ride with some wonderful piaffe and passage with a 90 degree turn in the piaffe (at one point just before the walk for less than a second the rhythm got a little hurried). She did have a bobble in her two tempis for just one stride. She went straight from the piaffe into a slightly delayed halt. There final score was 76.800.
Finger biting was happening as the next rider, Steffen and Legolas 92 entered the arena. Special movements like a double pirouette and incredible piaffe and passage added that extra brilliance that they needed. What was really fun was when the music started with the words, “Hey I’m Legolas let’s dance.” It was a brilliant ride that Steffen was clearly over the top about and deservedly so.
Next to go was Mexican Bernadette Pujals riding Heslegaards Rolex. While they had a nice test, they did have a couple of bobbles throughout the ride and they finished on a score of 70.800. With Laura Graves entering next with a ride that was beautiful but not as brilliant as it could have been.
But as Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover later commented that you just never know. You can have your horse as well prepared as you want but then the happenings of the day often dictate the outcome.
Fortunately for the U.S. riders the outcome was pretty incredible and for the riders, the support staff, the USEF, the USET and the owners, this was truly an incredible few days.
Now we move on to Eventing. For more about these Pan American Games go to their website at www.Toronto2015.com.