After scoring Team Gold Sunday afternoon, the U.S. Dressage riders went to task again, this time in the first half of the Individual Final. Riding the Intermediaire I test, all four U.S. riders kept the level of their Game high, and continued to thrive in the main arena at the Guadalajara Country Club. They swept the top three places, and head to the freestyle on Wednesday in Medal position.
Read about the Team Gold medal effort here: http://usefnetwork.com/news/7751/2011/10/16/gold_for_us_dressage_team_at_2011.aspx
Steffen Peters (San Diego, CA) topped the scoreboard again on Weltino's Magic, this time scoring 78.079% in another valiant effort. Heather Blitz (Wellington, FL) is second on Paragon with a score of 77.184% and Marisa Festerling went one better than in the Team competition, finishing third on Big Tyme on a score of 74.316%. Cesar Parra (Whitehouse Station, NJ) rounded out the U.S. effort with a sixth place finish on Grandioso on a score of 72.000%.
Weltino's Magic continues to rise to the occasion for Peters, despite one mistake early in the test, Peters was pleased with Jen and Bruce Hlavacek's 9-year-old Wesphalian gelding. Weltino's Magic nearly broke to canter in the first trot extension across the diagonal.
They regained their composure and won on the strength of their pirouettes and canter work. "I don't think it was quite as good as the Prix St Georges," said Peters after his test. "We had one little fumble in the first extension, I just pushed him a little too hard but the rest was really clean. He had really, really good pirouettes again and the walk was as good as yesterday. So one little fumble but overall I'm very happy."
Peters leads the way heading into the Freestyle on Wednsday. The combined average of the two tests will determine the individual medalists. Peters' know his teammates are closing the gap behind him. "The race is getting really, really tight which is wonderful and great for the sport," he said. "Magic has a really good freestyle and so far every time it has worked out. The pressure is on for Wednesday and cruising through it won't do it. I am going to have to take some risk and get on the gas pedal."
Blitz and Festerling will be making sure Peters brings his best game if he wants to secure his first Individual Pan American Gold medal. Blitz was pleased with the maturity her 8-year-old Danish gelding showed in his first championship. They had a mistake in the rein back and in the beginning of the canter work, but Paragon's effortless movement and Blitz's confidence in him carried them through the test.
"Well, I have to say I was a little stressed in the ring," said Blitz. "Somewhere between the warm up and when I got to the ring for my performance something happened where I got a little bit on the wrong wave length from him. It's hard to describe. But he really took care of me in there; he knows his job well enough now. We had a couple of glitches but he filled in in a lot of places. Considering what happened in the canter he regrouped for the pirouettes - so that went well. He had great extensions again in the trot and canter and the tempi changes always kind of bring me back up if I make little errors. I am thrilled with the score and thrilled with the horse."
Paragon is quickly making a name for himself and Blitz is looking forward to one more chance to show him off in Mexico. "I'm looking forward to the freestyle," said Blitz. "It's nice to have a little day off, do some gymnastics - keep him a little happy. I love this freestyle - which is big for me to say because usually I don't like riding them but mine goes so well with him and he likes it and the crowd likes it so I am looking forward to it."
Big Tyme was the last horse in the ring today with Festerling but he absolutely thrived in the atmosphere. Festerling had more horse than she expected to contend with but the pair made no mistakes in their Team debut and Festerling rode like a seasoned veteran. "He was incredible," said Festerling about her 10-year-old Belgian gelding. "I thought maybe he would be a little tired, but he was up for it. He had so much energy I was trying to keep him back a little because he was just giving me everything he had. I'm ecstatic. I think it was one of the very best rides I've ever had on him and it happened here so that's even better."
Festerling can't wait for Wednesday and her shot at an Individual medal. "We are going to do our freestyle to The Beatles," said Festerling. "It's really fun and very expressive. I love riding it, it highlights a lot of his really strong things. I can't wait to go in there and do it again."
Cesar Parra rode to sixth place in his fourth Pan American Games (the first representing the United States. He and Grandioso didn't have their best perforamance in the Intermediaire I Test but Parra couldn't be disappointed. Michael and Sarah Davis' 10-year-old Westphalian gelding scored 72.000% on the strength of his trot work.
"I just am totally overwhelmed with being here and representing my new country," said Parra. "I get goose bumps just saying it. This is my fourth Pan American Games and I got my first medal in 1999, so I feel like a grandpa here. But obviously this is a new beginning. I love being here." Parra struggled during some of the test to stay in sync with Grandioso.
"Sometimes he takes a little advantage of me in the ring," said Parra. "But overall he is a very good boy. He is a wonderful horse and is world class. All the judges love him. I'm very, very happy with the score here, a 72 percent. You have to earn it, you have to ride. I'm very happy, especially to not let down my team. That is very exciting. I'm so happy and so blessed. I'm trying to enjoy the journey sometimes we are so focused on the score. I'm representing my country, I'm living the dream."
The top 15 riders go forward to the Freestyle, but only three riders from any one country may advance.
Follow the U.S. Team at the Pan American Games (photos, blogs and wall-to-wall coverage): http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/2011PanAmGames/
Photos: Steffen Peters and Weltino's Magic; Heather Blitz and Paragon; Marisa Festerling and Big Tyme . Photo Credit: www.stockimageservices.com