Team USA heads into the critical cross-country phase in high spirits and on solid standing after the dressage phase at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. All four team riders representing the United States finished inside of the top 10, with Tamra Smith leading the way on Mai Baum in first place, and Boyd Martin just behind her in second aboard Tsetserleg. Doug Payne and Starr Witness sit in seventh, and Lynn Symansky with RF Cool Play are in ninth. With 42 competitors and 10 nations in the mix and all nations vying for Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification, the pressure is on and all riders have brought their A-game.
It was Symansky who was chosen by Chef d’Equipe Erik Duvander to be the pathfinder in this opening phase. RF Cool Play (Condors Champion x Roxana), an 11-year-old German Sport Horse gelding owned by The Donner Syndicate, schooled well in Wednesday’s ring familiarization session, but Symansky felt more nerves from him during her test. But their score of 29.2 held throughout the day to stay inside the top ten.
“We did what we could this morning, he came out a little more holding, but he’s never naughty – he tries so hard, almost to a fault sometimes when he gets in there and holds his breath,” she said. “I could feel how nervous he was in there, and he still stays listening to me, that’s what’s so important about these partnerships, getting in there and feeling how much you can push and where you maybe have to sacrifice a few points for the overall picture.”
While Symansky is a veteran of the World Equestrian Games and previous Pan American Games, California-based Smith is in Peru as a championship rookie. But you wouldn’t have known that to look at them, as she and Mai Baum (Loredano x Ramira) rode the best test of the day to be in ideal position going into cross-country. She scored eights and nines in her final canter serpentine, earning her a total 22.8 penalties that stood alone in first place, with Martin’s 25.6 score the only other that could come close.
“I feel like I’m on one of the best horses,” Smith said of the 13-year-old German Sport Horse gelding owned by Alexandra and Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell. “Towards the end [of the test] when I was almost done – that was my favorite part! When I came around to canter and I was getting ready to trot I was like, ‘Oh, that was a great test.’ So I started smiling then.”
Smith is confident going into Saturday’s cross-country test, the track is technical and has many twists and turns, doubling back on itself twice. But with five-minute intervals between horses and only two horses allowed out on course at a time, riders will be able to focus on the job at hand, and for Smith, her confidence lies in her plan.
“The first minute and a half [of the course] is super intense,” she explained. “But he’s brave and we have a great partnership, and he’s got quick feet so even if it doesn’t go to plan he can react and I can react and that’s what you want in a cross-country horse. I’m really looking forward to being out there – I’m tired of that black [dressage] saddle!”
Payne is also a championship rookie and he had a lot of energy to manage in his talented partner Starr Witness (Chello III x Carmen), an 8-year-old KWPN mare owned by Laurie H. Mc Ree, Catherine Winter, and Payne.
“She’s one hell of an athlete and really spectacular,” he described. “There were a couple of moments that she started to get a bit distracted or wanted to look, but I was really, really happy and proud of her. I would say it was a big win for her, a big step in the right direction. There’s a lot more to do for sure tomorrow but I can’t wait.”
Martin, who rode at the end of the day, has gone from strength to strength this season with Christine Turner's 12-year-old Trakehner gelding, Tsetserleg (Windfall x Thabana).
“In every test you might wish you had one movement this and one movement that, but I’m really happy with it overall,” he said. Martin is already looking on to Saturday’s crucial phase, and as the anchor rider will take into account the overall team position and ride for a strong finish.
“What it comes down to is you have to ride really really well for about eight and a half minutes. I’m having a slightly different mindset than usual in that I’m taking a little more time to make sure I have a clear round rather than being reckless,” he added.
Team Canada is the next best powerhouse, breathing down the USA’s neck after dressage; Colleen Loach, Jessica Phoenix and Karl Slezak are fourth through sixth place after dressage.
Brazil’s Marcelo Tosi scored a 26.0 with Starbucks to earn third place, and Team Brazil will be riding to win as well.
Cross-country at the Pan American Games begins at 11:00 a.m. local time on Saturday, August 3, 2019. Live scoring is available at this link.
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There are a number of ways to incur penalties on cross-country, from refusals and run-outs to exceeding the optimum time, and they sometimes vary depending on the level of competition. Make sure you're up to date with all the different ways to earn penalties on cross-country before you next step out of the startbox.