Golden Breakthrough for Team Canada

Team Canada on the gold-medal podium. From left: Jill Irving, Tina Irwin; Lindsay Kellock, and Naïma Moreira-Laliberté. (Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

Canada ends 28-year Pan American Games dressage gold-medal drought; USA wins silver as newcomer Sarah Lockman on First Apple tops the leader board for the second time

By Kim MacMillan

Seven North American women had piloted their horses down center line in Lima 14 times over the last two days. The goal: to possess gold, much like the Incan people who had ruled this area of Peru from the 1100s to the 1500s.

Going into yesterday’s dressage team final, the US had held a slight advantage (+0.146) after the first day over their neighbors from the north. The competition between the Americans and the Canadians had been a mix of friendly, focused, and fierce. Throughout the second day of competition yesterday, both teams were silently calculating what it would take for the next rider to pull them ahead in the gold-medal hunt.

On the line for Team USA was a point of pride: the desire to continue our nation’s string of Pan American Games dressage team gold medals, unbroken since 1999. Conversely, Team Canada was hungry to break its corresponding 28-year Pan Am dressage gold-medal drought (it last brought home dressage team gold in Havana, Cuba, in 1991), and also to achieve the all-important dressage-team qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

As FEI Small Tour competitors, the US riders (Nora Batchelder on Faro SQF, Jennifer Baumert on Handsome, and Sarah Lockman on First Apple) yesterday rode the Intermediate I test. Canada fielded two Small Tour pairs (Lindsay Kellock on Floratina and Tina Irwin on Laurencio) and two FEI Big Tour pairs (Naïma Moreira-Laliberté on Statesman and Jill Irving on Degas 12), who rode the Grand Prix Special test.

The 2019 US Pan Am Games silver-medal-winning dressage team: Nora Batchelder, Sarah Lockman, and Jennifer Baumert
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

A Nail-Biting Team Final

The first two team members for Canada, Kellock and Irwin, rode early in the order yesterday, and earned similar scores in the I-I as they’d received in the previous day’s Prix St. Georges test. Kellock, 29, Toronto, Ontario, was second taking a turn around the sandbox with Chloe Gasiorowski’s 11-year-old Hanoverian mare, Floratina (Fidertanz 2 x Rubin Royal), and posted a score of 73.147%.

A professional dressage trainer and coach, Kellock has groomed at international competitions for Canadian Olympians Ashley Holzer and Jacquie Brooks, but Lima was her first major Games as a rider. Despite a bobble in the two-tempis, the I-I test “was much better [than the day before]. I’m thrilled,” said Kellock. “The little mistake was my fault. I just lost the rhythm a little bit and I was counting how many twos I was doing, so that was on me a bit. But I’m thrilled with how she went. It’s by far the best feeling I’ve ever had in the ring with her. She was really flying in her trot extensions. I just felt even more than yesterday that the trot was way more elevated today, so that was definitely a highlight.”

Irwin, 38, Stouffville, Ontario, co-owns her mount, the 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding Laurencio (Laurentio x Donnerhall), with her husband, Jaimey Irwin. Sixth to ride, the seasoned international competitor (Irwin was a member of the 2011 Canadian Pan Am Games squad in Guadalajara) earned a score of 73.853%.

Canadian team dressage gold medalists Tina Irwin and Laurencio
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

“Looking back at [the PSG] yesterday, it was very safe,” Irwin said afterward, “and I thought, ‘I’ve got to bring it if we want to win.’ I needed more energy today, so I did that. I was really happy with the energy and the expression—no risk, no gain. I had a little bobble in my half-pass, which was a coefficient (movement), so unfortunately that’ll have cost me a little bit. But you know, I don’t regret it, because I think “Go big or go home.’ So I’m happy that I did that today. My horse felt great. He’s like, ‘OK, you want more? I’ll go more!’”

Next up in the Canada-US rivalry was Batchelder, 35, of Williston, Florida, who piloted Faro SQF (Fidertanz 2 x Rotspon), co-owned by the rider and her cousin Andrea Whitcomb, to a solid score of 71.529%– consistent with the previous day’s score of 71.441%.

US team dressage silver medalists Nora Batchelder and Faro SQF
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

“The tempi changes were pretty good, and I thought the pirouettes were also very good,” Batchelder said after her I-I ride. “We warmed those up quite a bit with [US dressage national technical advisor and chef d’équipe] Debbie [McDonald], and I thought they went pretty well in the ring. I think our biggest challenge was balancing going for it [with] keeping him relaxed at the same time. I had to balance the expression and the relaxation together.”

US dressage fans had to wait until after the lunch break to see the next rider, Baumert, 47, of Wellington, Florida. Aboard Betsy Juliano’s 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding Handsome (Hochadel x Weltmeyer), she posted an I-I score of 70.380%, a little more than two percentage points lower than her PSG test.

US team dressage silver medalists Jennifer Baumert and Handsome
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

“I thought the left pirouette was really quite good, and I was excited about that,” Baumert said. The pirouettes can be difficult for us, but I was really happy with that. I actually thought, on the whole, the canter work was a lot more ridable than yesterday. Handsome is pretty experienced and has been to a lot of shows, but this is definitely the biggest for him. The venue just has a great atmosphere. It’s electric but not overwhelming. I was pretty proud of my horse. He did get a little bit more excited as my test went on, which is unusual, but it was nice. He really gave me his all.”

Last to go for Team USA was Lockman, 30, of Wildomar, California, on Gerry Ibanez’s nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion, First Apple (Vivaldi x TCN Partout). As the team anchor and with no drop score for the three-rider team (fourth US horse Lucky Strike sustained an injury prior to leaving for Lima, forcing rider Endel Ots to withdraw), Lockman knew she had to produce a medal-clinching score. She and “Apple” showed themselves more than capable of handling the pressure: They were rewarded, for the second time in this competition, with the highest score of the day in either level, this time a 75.912%.

US team dressage silver medalists Sarah Lockman and First Apple
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

“Today was another amazing day that I want to pinch myself for,” Lockman said afterward. “Apple brought out all of the stops and felt amazing. We had a pretty much mistake-free test, and I couldn’t ask for much more from him under pressure in this team situation,” said the rider, who is learning in Lima to deal with the trappings of international success, such as autograph and television-interview requests.

ESPN TV interviews the US dressage team at the 2019 Pan Am Games
(Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

The allocation of the gold and silver medals came down to the performances by Canada’s two Grand Prix-level riders. Those Pan Am Games teams that fielded Big Tour (Intermediate II and Grand Prix) competitors had a premium of 1.5% for each completed ride at that level added to the team scores at the end—which added more math demands to those calculating and recalculating the potential team scores as the day went on.

First up was Naïma Moreira-Laliberté, 21, of Outremont, Quebec, riding the 12-year-old Hanoverian stallion Statesman (by Sandro Hit), owned by KML S.á.r.l in Luxembourg. The judges rewarded their efforts in the Grand Prix Special with a score of 73.287%, which sealed the win for Canada.

Canadian team dressage gold medalists Naïma Moreira-Laliberté and Statesman
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

“It was steady and it was clean, which was the goal today for the team,” said Moreira-Laliberté. “We achieved what was the plan, so I’m really happy about that. And we won gold! It’s unreal. It’s amazing to be on a team that won gold.”

Last in the ring for Canada was Jill Irving, 56, of Moncton, New Brunswick, on her own 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Degas 12 (De Niro x Regazzoni). Their GP Special score of 67.851% ended up being that team’s drop score.

“I was a little disappointed,” Irving admitted afterward. “Degas was really, really electric in there, and it cost a few very expensive mistakes. He was a little nerved up in there, which was shocking. But, not bad for 17 and a half. He wasn’t even puffing when he was done.”

On the Podium

With a total score of 220.287, Canada topped the 2019 Lima Pan American Games dressage team podium. The USA won team silver on a team total of 217.821. Winning the team bronze medal—and its own ticket to Tokyo 2020—was Brazil (204.223). Mexico followed closely behind to finish fourth with 201.392. Colombia was fifth, and the home country of Peru finished sixth. The teams from Chile and Argentina dropped out of contention when each had a horse-and-rider combination “spun” (eliminated) on the first competition day.

The US dressage riders preserve their medal-winning moment with a team selfie
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

To 2020 and Beyond

The medals for both Canada and the USA are proof positive that these nations’ all-important “pipelines” of programs to develop future elite contenders are functioning well. All of the US dressage-team members are international Games first-timers, as are the Canadians  Kellock and Moreira-Laliberté.

Said Debbie McDonald: “There is a lot to look forward to when you look at the direction of this program, and I believe the future is very bright. The more international and championship exposure we can give our athletes, the better we become as a team. Overall, I think everyone handled the environment to the best of their ability, and they have each benefited so greatly as a group and individually from this experience.”

Next Up: Individual Freestyle Competition

The top 18 riders and horses have been selected to move on to the freestyle, which will decide the individual medals. All three US riders qualified, as did the top three Canadians (Irwin, Kellock, and Moreira-Laliberté). Irving, the fourth Canadian team member, had a high enough average score to qualify, but it is a Pan American Games rule that a maximum of three per nation may advance to the individual medal final.

Individual competitors will ride either an Intermediate I- or a Grand Prix-level freestyle, depending on their status as Small or Big Tour pairs. The freestyle competition will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, July 31, from approximately 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Central Time.

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