Adamstown, Md.—Oct. 7— Each of the five U.S. Eventing Team riders had different plans when they headed to the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm for the Pan Am Games mandatory outing this weekend.
Whether it was fine-tuning their dressage warm up, staying a bit slower in show jumping to gain some control, or getting a fitness run in on cross-country and going for the time, they all agreed it was the perfect final prep before heading to Santiago, Chile, in two weeks.
While Sharon White and Claus 63 topped the leaderboard on a score of 41.9, the weekend was more about dotting Is and crossing Ts according to Caroline Pamukcu, who will be making her senior team debut on Molly Hoff and Sherrie Martin’s 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding HSH Blake (Tolan R x Doughiska Lass). They completed cross-country with 12 time penalties in second place.
“My plan [was] to just give him a nice run and make sure my warm up is all set and that I’m happy with my pre-rides,” she said. “We also checked some other boxes like making sure the tack is legal, the logo wear is legal; all those little things you don’t think about going to a team event.”
Pamukcu is excited to take “Blake,” a horse she’s brought up from a 5-year-old and through the USEA’s Young Event Horse program, to Chile and hopes it will help his development.
“There’s not enough words or emotions,” she said. “It’s been a lifetime goal of mine [to be named to a team], and it’s just extra special that my family came out—they’re all based around Frederick, Maryland. It’s great they came out to support me and see Blake in action.
Pamukcu is used to riding multiple horses at events, but she’s relishing the one-on-one time spent with Blake this weekend, and so is he. “We nickname him Princess,” she said with a laugh. “He loves being the center of attention, so this weekend is kind of funny. We’re all staying in a camper this weekend—Kelly Hutchinson, my business partner, Lee Maher my groom and head rider, and Deniz [my husband] and I with my dog Troy, then we pull a two-horse trailer behind it. Blake is so happy. Every time we get to a gas station, we all get out and pet Blake and give him a treat.”
Sharon White has worked her whole career with hopes of making a team, and she’ll be heading to Chile with her own Claus 63, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Catoo x Tina II).
“It’s so very special for me,” she said. “It’s been a lifetime goal, many decades of working towards this, and I’m just so thrilled and so proud of Claus. He’s a wonderful horse, and he deserves this shot. He just oozes class and athleticism, and he wants to do it, and I’m just really proud of him.”
White went into the weekend hoping for a “peaceful” dressage test and a more relaxed show jumping round.
“He loves show jumping,” she said. “I was trying to help him relax because he tries 120 percent each and every time, so if he can just realize that 100 percent is plenty—just a good, confident ride to take the edge off and make sure he’s fit and ready to go. It’s so fun to see all the horses, they all look amazing. It’s good for us to see where we’re at.”
On cross-country, they were the quickest pair over Ian Stark’s course with 7.2 time penalties. “Just keep it as easy and simple as possible for him, no pressure,” she said of her plan today. “The whole goal was to give them a good prep that left them confident but was similar to the twists and turns that are in Chile, and I think he accomplished that really well.”
White said the mental part of preparing for a championship is a big factor.
“I think this is such a good opportunity for him and me to learn,” she said. “Technically, it should not be difficult for him at all. It just becomes the pressure of the situation—probably more for me than him, but he has to deal with the fact that I’m going to be more intense as a competitor. Of course, you’re going to get more intense at the championships—they matter a lot, and learning to deal with that and deal with it well is a big part of this game.”
She appreciated that the team was named so early so she could get a chance to practice under some pressure this summer.
“Maybe if you’ve been on a ton of teams, that doesn’t matter but I haven’t, so it matters to me!” she said. “So I was very grateful that they named it early so I could get myself right when it’s time to go.”
Liz Halliday’s had a banner year with Ocala Horse Properties and Deborah Palmer’s Miks Master C, an 11-year-old U.S.-bred Swedish Warmblood gelding (Mighty Magic x Qui Luma CBF). They finished third in the gelding’s first five-star at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, earned a team silver medal at Aachen (Germany) and won the $60,000 Adequan USEA Advanced Final at the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds, so she’s hoping the three-star level cross-country at the Pan Ams will give “Mikki” a championship feel without the pressure.
“It’s been my goal to represent the country in every games that we have,” she said. “[This weekend] I feel like it’s just about having the horse fit and ready and feeling like you’ve ticked all the boxes so that when you get there you’re not feeling like you left anything behind. That’s always been my plan for all of the big three-day events we do, then you can just get to the show and do your best job and let them be their best. I think he’s in a very good place right now. He’s very fit and finds getting fit very easy. He’s a relentless galloper. He’s ready to go all the time. He’s in a good place in his body and his mind. I feel like our prep has been perfect.”
Halliday also rode the Nutcracker Syndicate’s Cooley Nutcracker, a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tolant R x Ballyshan Cleopatra), who’s her direct reserve horse. If he isn’t called up, “Bali” will head to the Galway Downs CCI4*-L (Temecula, California) at the end of the month.
“I wanted to do the best test that I could,” she said of her dressage. “They were both very fresh but did a good job. My plan in the show jumping was to keep them quite organized. I didn’t want to chase the time, and I wanted the horses to be listening to me, especially Mikki. I wanted him to come away thinking, wait and be polite. I had time faults on both of them, which I’m totally fine with today. I ran Mikki fast [on cross--country] at the AEC. I always planned to run him easier here to make sure when I say, ‘whoa,’ he listens.”
On cross-country, she and Mikki picked up 22 time penalties to finish in third. Bali added 28 time penalties to finish seventh.
“I needed to just keep Mikki really polite and organized," she said. "He’s had a lot of fast runs, and I wanted to keep him in the box. Not great weather, but the ground held up well. I was happy with that. He was very polite.”
Sydney Elliott has ridden on Nations Cup teams before, but this will be her first major international championship. She’s riding QC Diamantaire, a 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Diarado x Latana) owned by Carol Stephens.
“We have such history together,” she said. “We’ve been together since he was 5. We’re like an old married couple. I know his bad habits, he knows mine, and all the good qualities and everything in between.”
Her plan was to iron out her warm ups. She’s been working with Bettina Hoy on the flat and with U.S. Team Chef d’Equipe Bobby Costello in the show jumping.
“I’ve been working with Bettina Hoy quite a bit since Luhmühlen [CCI5*-L in Germany] just to get some points on the board for dressage, because it’s there,” she said. “It’s been a big thing to add her in every week. Bobby Costello’s been helping me in the show jumping, and so far, it’s been really good. [It] was a disappointment having two down. He was so good jumping at Stable View [Aiken, South Carolina] last weekend, so I think maybe we’ll just fine tune a couple of points in the warm up, and hopefully that will be the trick. It’s always so different running after cross-country, so just to keep that in mind that he won’t have fresh legs coming into Sunday after the cross-country at the Pan Ams, so we’ll have to adjust again, but I think we have a plan going forward even though it didn’t go to plan today.”
Elliott is looking forward to tackling Pierre Le Gouptil’s cross-country course in Chile, especially because he’s also the course designer for the Paris Olympic Games next year.
Loch Moy’s twisty track, designed by Ian Stark, was a good practice for all the Pan Am-bound pairs. She and ‘Q’ added 18.4 time penalties to finish in eighth.
“Ian’s done such a good job,” she said. “It’s beautiful with the mountains in the background. [QC Diamantaire] turns on a dime. I’ve run Pierre’s course at Lignières in France. It was big, brushy, ditchy—you just have to be very bold. We studied the European [Championships] quite a bit. You’ve just got to attack it. I think for Q, you have to attack it with some technicality there, because it’s not just a free-for-all and fly at everything. You have to be bold and accurate, which I think is hard to put together for a lot of people and horses.”
Tamie Smith came from her California base with Kynan, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Envoy x Danieta) owned by the Kynan Syndicate LLC. The pair are the traveling reserves.
Smith’s had Kynan for about a year and a half after Matt Flynn sourced him and started his eventing career in the U.S.
She calls the gelding “Mr. Business” in the ring, although he did have a spook at the banners in dressage on Friday. “He was pretty electric in the dressage arena,” she said.
She said the jumping is easy for him, and they put in a solid clear show jumping round. He’s careful, but he doesn’t overjump,” she said. “He had a really good round. My goal was just to have it smooth and be within the time, and he felt really good.”
Smith said that if she doesn’t get to compete in Chile, she’ll look for a fall CCI4*-L for Kynan, who hasn’t done one yet.
“Everybody who made the team, I’m really excited for him,” she said. “I remember in 2019 making my first team and what that felt like. We’re just here being a team player and being part of the whole process. I thought the Pan American Games would be a good step in his training, and we’ll just see whether that happens, and if that doesn’t, we’ll figure out what we can do for a long format.
“This weekend is really a training round for the horses,” she continued. “I think everybody feels like they did what they needed to do. For me and my horse in short formats and horse trials, I always tend to be slow [on cross-country] because he’s a hot-blood horse, and in order for him to not be strong at the long formats, I just have to take my time.”
Smith and Kynan finished sixth with 20 time penalties.
The team will do their final gallop on Oct. 17 before heading to the Mars Maryland 5 Star on Oct. 18. They’ll ride through their dressage tests in the main arena before the first horse inspection for the five-star, then they’ll ship out later that week.
Costello was pleased with everyone’s performances this weekend and thinks Stark’s cross-country course prepared them for what they’ll see in Chile. While he hasn’t been to the site, the intel he’s received is that it’s mostly flat with one hill.
“I think there’s more terrain here, but I think what Ian has set up is perfect because even though it looks open and gallopy, he’s set a technical, windy course, which is perfect for what I’m sure we’ll come up against in Chile,” he said. “There’s a lot of rollback turns and a few places where you circle around to a combination.”
He instructed riders to do whatever way they’d normally prepare their horses for a big competition, whether that was to take their time or run their horse a little quicker.
While the U.S. doesn’t need the Pan Ams to qualify for Paris (they earned qualification with a team silver medal at the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship in Italy), Costello wants to go in with the attitude to win and an eye on the details.
“I told them the other day that the last couple of medals we’ve had at Aachen and Pratoni, we’ve missed the gold by such a slim amount, so I want everybody to go away from the competition [this weekend] thinking about every single tiny detail,” he said. “It’s often not big things that need to change, it’s not having a second over the time or not halting one length past C—little, tiny things that if everybody’s aware can add up and save you at the end of the competition.
“I would want them to feel as much pressure as though we’re going to get qualification,” he added. “There’s no doubt we should absolutely go and win—that’s what we’re competing against—our own expectations. I’m plenty stressed out because that’s just how I roll! A little bit of insecurity keeps everybody really motivated.”
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United States Eventing Association (USEA) members at the USEA Annual Meeting & Convention were in for a treat on Friday as the U.S. Eventing Team was on hand to discuss their accomplishments this year at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
“Test the best without hurting the rest,” said show jumping course designer Chris Barnard as he and fellow designer Marc Donovan led a lively discussion for nearly 50 participants at the Show Jumping Seminar on the first day of the USEA Annual Meeting & Convention.
This afternoon, USEA President Louise “Lou” Leslie welcomed U.S. Eventing Association (USEA) Board of Governors members, USEA staff, and USEA Annual Meeting & Convention attendees to the first of two Board meetings which will take place during this year’s Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, with the teaser that 2024 is going to be full of initiatives for more opportunities to access the eventing experience, some of which attendees might get first wind of during this year’s gathering. The 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention takes place Dec. 7-10 at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel.
Welcome to the Show Me state and to Area IV USEA members! The 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention kicks of tomorrow and features four full days of educational seminars, committee meetings, and social gatherings all with one aim—to bring the eventing community together to continue to improve upon and celebrate the sport that we all love. This year’s Convention takes place in St. Louis, Missouri, at the Marriott St. Louis Grand in downtown St. Louis from Dec. 7-10, and we have rounded up everything you need to know to make the most of your time in the heartland.