Guadalajara, Mexico - The U.S. Eventing Team got their competition off to a strong start in the dressage phase at the 2011 Pan American Games, cruising to the lead by more than nine points. The top three riders' scores from each team count, so the United States goes forward to Saturday's cross country on a score of 138.6 penalties.
Canada is second on a combined total of 147.4 and Brazil sits third on 162.7. Canadian Jessica Phoenix leads the pack individually with a score of 43.9 on Pavarotti - but the U.S. has four riders in the top five and all five riders in the top 10.
Best for the U.S. was Schoensgreen Hanni and Michael Pollard (Dalton, GA) who made a lovely impression in the ring at Club Hippica, and put forward a very credible effort to score 44.5. Owned by Pollard's wife Nathalie, the 8-year-old German Sport Horse mare didn't make any mistakes for Pollard and they cruised into second place. "I was really pleased," said Pollard. "She presented exactly what we've been working on with no major mistakes - maybe a couple of things I would like to do a little bit better, but I thought all in all she did a good test today. She's a horse that can do the other phases as well, so it should be a good weekend."
Schoensgreen Hanni is relaxed and confident; something that Pollard says makes her very reliable in the first phase. "I think that where she got a lot of points is that she was fairly consistent and steady and she stayed very relaxed," said Pollard. "Overall there were no mistakes so there was nothing to take away from - she's a lovely horse. But certainly in the future I would hope for a little bit more expression for some of the movements."
Pollard is looking forward to tackling his first Mexican CCI tomorrow at the Santa Sofia Country Club. "The course looks good," he said. "It has a lot of fences that are challenging and its long and its hilly so I think it will be a good test for the horses. If your horse goes well it should come away going better."
Pollard is the CEO of Cavalor North America, and combines that with managing and competing a string of horses with Nathalie - who is pregnant with the couple's fourth child.
Hannah Burnett (The Plains, VA) was next in on Jacqueline Mars' homebred Harbour Pilot, and they performed up to expectation, scoring 45.3. The 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding was unfazed by the environment, and despite making a small mistake in the canter, put in his usual steadfast effort.
They sit in second place after the first phase. "He was pretty good, he was really rideable in there," said Burnett. "After my first turn on the haunches he got a little wiggly and then in the medium canter coming back he switched leads behind. But otherwise he was really steady, I could ride him forward and he was really responsive and really good."
Harbour Pilot excels at the walk pirouettes (turn on the haunches) and with a valuable coefficient for the two in this test, it was a great time to capitalize on his skills. "He's the best horse ever to do the turn on the haunches on, so I was really happy to be able to show those off," said Burnett.
Team veteran Buck Davidson (Ocala, FL) did his job as the lead-off rider for the U.S. team, securing a good score and instilling confidence in his teammates. He rode an accurate, steady effort on Sharon Will's homebred Absolute Liberty to set the stage for the squad. Marred only by one mistake in the first counter canter - Davidson felt he got the best from the 8-year-old Thoroughbred x Oldenburg cross mare.
"She did as well as she can do," said Davidson. "I obviously made a mistake in the counter canter - which is disappointing. I will have to see what I did wrong. She hasn't been doing that. I was really proud of her, she is what is she is at this point but she did better today than she has done before." They scored 48.9 good enough for fourth place individually.
Shannon Lilley (Moorpark, CA) was the final rider of the day for the U.S. Team and she rode a very good test on The Lilley Group's Ballingowan Pizzaz. The 9-year-old Chestnut gelding did not make any mistakes, and he coped with the atmosphere as well as Lilley coped with the pressure of her first team appearance.
"In the warm up he started out well then he got a little tense in the middle and he hides from the contact," said Lilley. "But then he got it and he worked through that. He did everything I asked in the ring. The first shoulder in was a little bit sticky for the first couple of strides and then he came out of it really well. Everything else, I thought was really rideable and he stayed the same throughout the test. He puffed up a little bit when he went around but then he relaxed in the ring."
Lilley and Ballingowan Pizazz scored 49.3 which puts them into fifth place, and despite being pleased with the effort, she was hoping the score might be a little bit higher. "I was really pleased with him," said Lilley. "I can't fault him, but I am a tiny bit disappointed in the score."
Lynn Symansky (Middleburg, VA) got a late call up for the 2011 Pan American Games after Jonathan Holling's horse, Downtown Harrison, was withdrawn for veterinary reasons. She didn't disappoint those who had faith in her 8-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, Donner despite the fact that he found the lively atmosphere a bit much to handle. "He was a bit tense," said Symansky. "I honestly tried to squeeze every little point out if it that I could because he lost it for a bit in the warm-up. I was happy we held it together in the ring. I was afraid to push it too much but as the test went on I was actually able to ride on him a little bit more."
Symansky coaxed a score of 52.2 out of Donner - a former racehorse that she has produced from the novice level. This left the pair in 10th place individually out of the 49 starters.
View photos of the cross country course here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150367808380419.377018.94418090418&type=1
Follow the U.S. Team at the Pan American Games (photos, blogs and wall-to-wall coverage): http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/2011PanAmGames/
Photo: Michael Pollard and Schoensgreen Hanni Lead the U.S. Eventers (Photo: Shannon Brinkman)