Jun 21, 2024

Paris-Bound Riders Reflect on Day 1 of Mandatory Outing

Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake at the Mandatory Outing at Stable View. USEA/Emily Daily photos

Aiken, S.C.—June 21—The first day of this weekend’s mandatory outing for the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team kicked off on Friday, June 21, as the team riders, including all the reserves, took part in the Advanced division at the Stable View Summer H.T. With legendary Ian Stark revving up the spectators’ team spirit as announcer, the riders are using this event as a final prep before the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

“This is a fabulous place for the mandatory final outing,” said Chef d’Equipe Bobby Costello. “It will give the horses and the athletes another chance at getting in the dressage ring. We also want them to have a really good confidence building cross-country run, and also [compete in] show jumping that's up to height and has a little bit of atmosphere.”

Each of the team members (Boyd Martin on Fedarman B, Caroline Pamukcu on HSH Blake, Will Coleman on Off The Record, and traveling reserve Liz Halliday on Cooley Nutcracker) contested the dressage and show jumping phases today, and they’re expected to run the entire cross-country track tomorrow. “I told the athletes, ‘You don't have to ride to win, but you have to compete here,’ ” Costello said. “I've seen these outings in the past that have gone completely belly up because everybody kind of tiptoes through it, because they just want to get through them, but that won't be happening. No one will be going 700-meters a minute on cross-country, but everybody's going to come out of this feeling way better about themselves and about being totally prepared if they come here to compete. That's the goal.”

Costello has been pleased with how the team horses look as they inch closer to Paris. “Knock on wood, everybody has been holding in very good shape,” he said. “Everybody came out of their spring three-days very well. They’ve all had a very thorough vet evaluation by our wonderful Dr. Susan Johns, so all those guys should be feeling very confident that they’re bringing sound horses into this.”

Looking ahead to Paris, Costello has high hopes for the venue that he’s visited twice already. “The cross-country track is going to be amazing,” he said. “The footing is absolutely gorgeous. It’s going to run up and down on either side of the Grand Canal at Versailles. There’s going to be a lot of twisty-turny, 90-degree turns, so a rideable horse is going to be preferred there, for sure. The first time people tune into it, they’re going to be blown away. There’s been computer mock-ups, but I think the real thing is going to be incredible to watch.”

The Paris course will be flat, so Costello noted that the mandatory outing didn’t really require an extremely hilly venue as a fitness test. “There’s a wonderful uphill pull about two-thirds of the way around here, and everyone’s going to really use that to their advantage,” he said. “The footing is beautiful on that section and you’ll probably see them really give the horses a good work up that hill. Everyone who’s here is located in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky, where there’s the best footing, the best gallops, and overall the best terrain for fitness work. We will absolutely be arriving there with super, super fit horses.”

Boyd Martin and Fedarman B

After the first day of competition, team veteran Martin sits in first overall in the division with Commando 3, his reserve horse, though Fedarman B, his team horse isn’t far behind in third.

“To get the best-ever dressage score and a perfectly clear show jumping round takes a lot of preparation,” he said after his two double-clear show jumping rounds. “Sometimes you can use up a bit too much energy. I wanted to come here and have a good performance but know that it’s still going to get a little bit better when we dial in and are focused for Paris.”

Tomorrow, Martin plans to give both his horses a good, solid run and make sure the accuracy fences are jumped well. “[Afterwards], we want these horses to have a really good taste in their mouth,” he said.

Since Fedarman B, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Eurocommerce Washington x Fedor) owned by the Annie Goodwin Syndicate, finished fourth in the Cosequin Lexingtong CCI4*-S at Kentucky, he’s had a short break and has focused on fitness ever since. “He doesn’t do that much jumping—he’s a phenomenal jumper,” said Martin. “He’s jumping a little bit once a week. But we’re doing a lot of galloping, about every four days.”

Although Martin has already represented the U.S. three times in the Olympics Games, the moment isn’t lost on him. “It’s a huge honor and a privilege,” he said. “It sounds glamorous and wonderful, but it’s bloody nerve-wracking and terrifying how much focus and energy that’s required to put on a performance of a lifetime.”

After hearing he’d been selected, the first person he told was his wife, Silva Martin. “We sort of had a feeling that we had a really good chance,” he said. “It was nice to hear, but it wasn’t a massive shock.” Both Silva and Nox Martin, their oldest son, will be supporting him in Paris.

Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake

Fresh off a recent win in the CCI4*-L at Tryon (Mill Spring, North Carolina), Pamukcu was feeling on top of the world with HSH Blake, a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tolan R. x Kannan) she owns with Mollie Hoff, her mother Sherrie Martin, and her husband Deniz Pamukcu.

“This morning, Bobby and I thought it would be good to go in and have a relaxed test and just breathe through each movement,” she said after her ride, which earned them a 33.3. “He was absolutely lovely to ride.”

For the jumping phases, the plan was to have a quiet, stress-free round. “We wanted to make it feel like there was no pressure, so that the next time they go to compete they remember this outing," she said.

Caroline is also using this final prep as an opportunity to double-check last-minute details. “I want to make sure all the tack works and all the saddle pads, patches, and logos, and everything are legal,” she said. “It’s one of those things that we check all the boxes and we know leading into Paris that everything is all set.”

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s course, she’s delighted to see the Stable View team has put a lot of work into the footing. “But it’s still very hot out,” she said. “It’s a hard time of year to go eventing. Most of my personal horses are actually on holiday. I’m only riding three horses right now, including 'Blake.' We’re really fortunate that this venue cares so much.”

Pamucku only recently returned from competing on the Nations Cup team at Chatsworth (England) and Millstreet (Ireland), so Blake has been focused on lots of trot sets and hacking. “He’s jumped twice since Tryon—I don’t need to be drilling him,” she explained. “Just keeping it light and easy.”

Even though she’s been on numerous teams, this is her first Olympics. “I’ve been so busy with all the Nations Cups, so it’s been a blessing to keep practicing and being on teams,” she said. “Everyone keeps asking me if I’m excited, and the answer is, yes, I am, but I’m super hyper-focused. I feel like I have a job to do.”

When she first heard she’d been named to the team, she was staying with her business partner Kelley Hutchinson and her family in Ireland because it was Sunday of Millstreet. “Then I called my parents and my owner Mollie Hoff,” she said.

Many members of her crew will be heading to Paris to support her. “Even though it’s just Mollie and my parents that own Blake, a lot of the other owners come and support me, so it’s really great that we have such a tight-knit group—they all support each other and each other’s horses," she said.

Will Coleman and Off the Record

For Coleman, who has competed in numerous team competitions including the 2012 London Olympics, leading up to this weekend’s mandatory outing felt no different than preparing for any other event. “It’d be similar to a run before Kentucky,” he said after his two double-clear show jumping rounds on Diabolo, who sits in second, and Off the Record, who is in seventh. “You make a decision on whether it’s an event where you want to try and go fast or just make sure the communication is good. That’s our approach this weekend.”

For the dressage phase today, he was interested to see how this test went: “I’d never done it before,” he said. Some show jumping classes at the recent Upperville Horse Show near his home in Virginia also gave his horses a solid confidence boost.

Heading into tomorrow, he adds that he’ll want to have a nice spin around the cross-country. “We don’t have to go hell’s bells around there, but [Off the Record] likes to go and hit it pretty hard. I don’t think I’ll be hand-braking him around, but I’ll try and look after him a bit.”

Reflecting on the upcoming Games, Coleman said that It’s a huge honor to be chosen. “In this case, we still have a number of weeks to go before we even enter the venue at Paris,” he said. “With horses, a lot of things can happen. I think it was a really competitive group—I’m really proud of everybody on that list. I’m thankful that I was one of the people chosen but any combination of riders on that list would’ve made a great team. We’re going to see what’ll happen here in the next few weeks, but if something has to change then I know there are good riders and horses behind them.”

He was quick to thank his team, including Rich and Roxanne Booth, who have been his biggest supporters in the last few years. “I told the whole group that owns Diabolo and Off the Record right away—I texted those guys first and then called Rich and Roxanne. They plan to come to Paris to support him, plus my wife, my team at home, and my parents. There’s a good number of people that’ll be there.”

Liz Halliday and Cooley Nutcracker

Halliday, who was selected as the traveling reserve with Cooley Nutcracker, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tolan R. x Cobra) owned by herself, Chris Desino, Rob Desino, Deborah Halliday, and Renee Lane, was determined to have a good run ahead of the Games with each of the three horses she has in the division. Cooley Nutcracker currently sits in fifth with a 32.8, while Miks Master C is close behind in sixth with 33.2, and Shanroe Cooley is in ninth with 36.7.

“I’ve got two going to Aachen [Germany] and my other’s the reserve, so he might not be doing anything at the Olympics,” she said after her show jumping rounds. “I always planned to treat this as a real run, but it’s all their first runs since Kentucky and Tryon.”

She admitted that Cooley Nutcracker was “a little feral today” but that he felt fresh and excited to be here. “I was a little disappointed with all my scores today,” she said, “though sometimes you have to have a scuzzy dress rehearsal to have a really good show. But all three of them jumped super, so I’m really happy with their first proper event back. We’ll run quick enough to have a good run tomorrow. I’m not planning to just go and slop around.”

As far as being named the reserve, “obviously, I’m disappointed to not be one of the three,” she said. “I’d really hoped for that. But at the end of the day, the way the Olympics works is that you have to be ready to go in at any phase. So, while I’m there, I’ll make sure I’m 100 percent ready to step in should the team need me.”

Tomorrow’s cross-country, designed by Captain Mark Phillips, begins at 10:00 am for the Advanced division, followed by a send-off reception for the Olympic riders. Stay tuned for a full report of the action, including travel plans as the team prepares for Paris.

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