Guadalajara, Mexico - The five riders on the U.S. Eventing Team travelled to the Santa Sofia Country Club and impressively extended their lead at the Pan American Games. All five produced fault-free rounds over John Williams' cross country track adding nothing to their 138.6 team total from dressage. They head into Sunday's show jumping phase nearly 22 points clear of the second-placed Canadian team. Dressage Leader, Jessica Phoenix of Canada still leads the individual standings with a score of 43.9 on Pavarotti -but the U.S. occupies five of the top six positions.
The first combination on course for the U.S. squad, Buck Davidson (Ocala, FL) and Absolute Liberty, set the tone for the day by making easy work of the track, adding no penalties. Davidson, son of World and Pan American Games champion Bruce Davidson, added to his own legacy by guiding Shannon Will's 8-year-old mare to a double clear round despite riding with one stirrup on the last section of the course after his right stirrup broke. "She was amazing every place she needed to look after me she did," said Davidson. "What more could you ask of her? She did everything like it was a training level." The pair heads into Sunday's show jumping in fourth place on a score of 48.9.
Hannah Burnett and Jacqueline Mars' Harbour Pilot were next out for the U.S. after producing a third place effort in the dressage. The 25-year-old defied her age and rode with veteran composure to guide the 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding to another fault free round. Burnett (The Plains, VA) was very impressed with her horse and thankful for all those that helped her achieve the goal of representing her country.
"I just wish Ms. Mars was here to see her homebred be so amazing today. I'm so happy for the O'Connors, my groom Sara McKenna and everyone involved with him. I'm happy to be a part of it." said Burnett. "I had a bit of a bobble in the water at the bank; I went for a bit of a long one, because I wanted to go forward. He landed real steep but he popped back up and he always looks for the flags. He really enjoyed it - he was really into it." Burnett and Harbour Pilot are on a score of 45.3 in Individual Bronze medal position following the cross country.
The third American rider to tackle Williams' course was Lynn Symansky (Middleburg, VA) who rode her own Donner to a penalty-free round. Symansky was a late addition to the U.S. team, following the withdrawal of Jonathan Holling's Downtown Harrison, but she proved her mettle on Saturday. This pair moved up four places following the dressage and head to the show jumping in sixth with a score of 52.2.
Symansky had nothing but praise for the 8-year-old thoroughbred gelding she has produced herself. "He was a phenom. My ride in the in that second water was a little hairy; I got tipped forward and he jumped that house on a completely long rein," said Symansky. "He has such an amazing gallop, he was so far up on his minute markers I could ease up at the end."
By the time Michael Pollard crossed the finish flags as the fourth American rider on course, the U.S. team knew their lead following the dressage was untouchable. Pollard rode his wife Natalie's Schoensgreen Hanni to the fourth double clear round of the day for the team, this effort also maintained their second place position following the dressage, in which they scored 44.5. "She was spot on everywhere, there were a couple fences here and there that we had to just make happen. (We were) really good on the time, galloped home well, she jumped great and she was just a perfect horse to ride."
After watching the first three faultless U.S. rounds, Pollard (Dalton, GA) did not want to break the American streak. "Seeing three of my teammates clear and inside the time, you don't want to be the one that screws it up. She got tired at around minute seven, but I said no, not today - I'm not having time faults."
Shannon Lilley and the Lilley Group's 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, Ballingowan Pizazz set out as the last U.S. combination on course and matched their teammates' efforts finishing without jumping or time faults. This was only the fifth time the pair had left the start box together but they answered all questions without problem. They have a two-day total of 49.3 and lie in fifth place.
"I'm really happy, I thought the course rode really well and watching everyone go all day and there's no problems with your team - there's more pressure to also go well. But he is so hungry to do this. He's such a special horse, he wants to do it."
Lilley was not only pleased with her horse but also the execution of the American team. "The US riders looked really good, really stood out, it is a tribute to our coaching."
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Photo: Hannah Burnett and Harbour Pilot (Photo: Shannon Brinkman); Michael Pollard and Schoensgreen Hanni (Photo: Shannon Brinkman)