USA and Canada Shine Bright on Dancing Day

Victory gallop for 2019 Pan American Games dressage individual gold medalists Sarah Lockman and First Apple of the USA; bronze medalists Jennifer Baumert and Handsome in the background Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

USA’s Sarah Lockman keeps her lock on the lead for individual Pan Am Games gold; teammate Jennifer Baumert wins bronze

By Kim MacMillan

Music drifted across the sand at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games equestrian venue yesterday as 18 dressage riders and their talented horses danced through their freestyles in the cool Peruvian winter air. Contesting the individual medals, horse-and-rider pairs from Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the United States, and Venezuela performed for the judges and an appreciative crowd.

As the first group of seven FEI Small Tour (Intermediate I Freestyle) competitors took their turns in the arena, in the warm-up area the atmosphere had shifted from the strategic team decisions of the previous few days to plans for individual expression.

The draw order for the dressage freestyle had put the three US riders to advance to the freestyle (Nora Batchelder on Faro SQF, Jennifer Baumert on Handsome, and Sarah Lockman on First Apple) one after the other in the second group of seven I-I competitors. They were immediately followed by Canadian riders Tina Irwin on Laurencio and Lindsay Kellock on Floratina. The final group of four riders were Big Tour (Grand Prix Freestyle) competitors, and this group included Naïma Moreira-Laliberté from Canada on Statesman.

Second to go after the first arena-drag break was Lockman, the 30-year-old Californian, on Gerry Ibanez’s nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion, First Apple (Vivaldi x TCN Partout). The pair had earned the high score each day of competition leading up to the freestyle, and they had no intention of breaking that streak.  

Earlier this week Lockman had promised fun music and a lively routine, and her freestyle did not disappoint. They trotted in to Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” did walk work to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” moved into canter to Sia’s “Cheap Thrills,” did a transition through a quote from “We Live” by the Killers, and ended with a return to “Good Feeling.” The crowd-pleasing test also pleased the judges, who awarded the US pair a score of 79.980%. It was their second personal-best score this week and put them solidly in gold-medal position.

“It was really a rush!” Lockman said afterward. “I came into this just wanting to score the best that I could, and a silent goal was to have a personal best. I think I put that pressure on myself no matter what competition it is. From the warm-up to the very final halt and salute, that horse was 100 percent with me. I was just so happy to see that we were rewarded for such a great performance. He steps up every day. He knows when it’s go time and really perks up and makes everybody watch him. He really loves his job.”

The USA’s Nora Batchelder on Faro SQF trotted to fifth place in the individual freestyle medal final at the 2019 Pan Am Games
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

Then it was US teammate Nora Batchelder’s turn with the US-bred Hanoverian gelding Faro SQF (Fidertanz 2 x Rotspon), co-owned by the rider and her cousin Andrea Whitcomb. Batchelder’s  freestyle featured violin covers of pop songs by Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and others, with the musical mix chosen by the rider.

“I actually put the music together for Faro’s sister, Fifi,” Batchelder said afterward. “I’ve designed others. I just pull out my computer and use GarageBand.”

Batchelder and “Faro’s” smooth, flowing, and enjoyable test earned a score of 73.630%, which for a while had them in silver-medal position. They ended up placing fifth in the freestyle medal final.

“He was good, very good,” Batchelder said of her horse. “We haven’t actually done this freestyle in competition before, so for a first time…I thought we hit all of the music marks pretty well, and I was happy about that. Like always, I thought our canter was stronger than our trot. I was really happy with our pirouettes today. We’ve been working hard on those, and I think they are better.”

The USA’s Jennifer Baumert on Handsome won individual Pan Am Games dressage bronze
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

Strains of Sia’s “Titanium” grabbed the audience next as the final US competitor, Jennifer Baumert on Betsy Juliano’s 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Handsome (Hochadel x Weltmeyer), took the stage. They cantered to “Turning Point” by Lisa van Hal/Atom Music Audio. They had the crowd with them every step of the way, and their freestyle earned a score of 75.755%, which earned them the individual bronze medal.

“I love my music!” said Baumert after their test. “Last night I listened to my music and watched videos a lot to try to get ready. But I also actually tried to spend time not thinking about it because I didn’t want to overthink it, so I spent a little down time with my family, too.

“Overall I was really pleased [with my test],” Baumert continued. “There were no major mistakes, and he is so electric here! In other venues he is a little bit quieter, so it is a little different ride, so we have to make an adjustment really quickly. I can’t complain for having the energy, though.”

Immediately following Baumert was Canadian team gold medalist Tina Irwin on Laurencio, the 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Laurentio x Donnerhall) that she co-owns with her husband and coach, Jaimey Irwin. Their exciting test had a high degree of difficulty, including two-tempis during their entry and four canter pirouettes in unique locations of the arena. Their music included “Life Is Life,” a piece that Irwin said she loves for the two-tempis; friends Wendy Watson and Lewis Manning at Zapp Productions in Toronto designed the freestyle, Irwin said. Then, as they cantered down center line for the final halt, Laurencio decided to include a series of one-tempi changes that, although impressive, are not allowed at the I-I level. Even with the mandatory deduction, the freestyle still garnered a score of 77.780% for the individual silver medal.

Individual silver medalist Tina Irwin from Canada riding Laurencio
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

“I was super happy with my ride until my horse decided to give a preview to Tokyo [the 2020 Olympics] and threw in a bunch of one-tempis,” Irwin said afterward with a smile. “That was not really planned, but what can you do. It cost me some marks, I’m sure, but I was really happy with the rest of the freestyle. I loved the pirouettes; they are nice to ride on him. He was great!”

Fellow Canadian Lindsay Kellock ended up in seventh place (73.550%) aboard Chloe Gasiorowski’s 11-year-old Hanoverian mare, Floratina (Fidertanz 2 x Rubin Royal). Their nice test had one bobble, when Floratina kicked out during the two-tempis across the diagonal.

2019 Lima Pan American Games individual dressage medalists Tina Irwin of Canada (silver), Sarah Lockman of the USA (gold) and Jennifer Baumert of the USA (bronze)
(Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

The four Grand Prix Freestyles included a strong performance by Canada’s rising star, 21-year-old Naïma Moreira-Laliberté of Quebec, who finished sixth on 73.565% with the 12-year-old Hanoverian stallion Statesman (by Sandro Hit). Her lovely ride had an exciting moment when Statesman bolted in the extended canter on the diagonal toward K, but she got him back under control in the corner and finished her difficult test without further incident.

“He has that in him,” Moreira-Laliberté said afterward, “but I just didn’t think that at this point in the competition he would be feeling so fresh. It was either a misunderstanding or he took off, and unfortunately that is very, very costly. But, a good recovery and I’m really pleased with the beginning of the test. He can piaffe really well. The music is by a French composer, Jacques Trupin, who created it just for him.”

Another standout Grand Prix Freestyle, by Yvonne Losos de Muňiz from the Dominican Republic, was good enough for fourth place. Losos de Muňiz, a 2003 and 2007 Pan American Games bronze medalist and a 2016 Rio Olympics competitor, rode the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Aquamarjin (United x Gribaldi) to a score of 74.530%. She and her husband have a barn in the Dominican Republic, but she also spends a fair amount of time training and competing in Europe and the US, so hers is a familiar face to many American dressage enthusiasts.

The US Cheering Squad

In the stands in Lima was fellow 2019 US teammate Endel Ots, whose mount, Lucky Strike, was unfortunately injured before leaving for Peru. The Team USA entourage—horse owners, riders’ family members, coaches, grooms, team veterinarians, physical therapists, and US Equestrian staff members—were of course also on hand. And with the Pan Am Games eventing competition kicking off August 1, the US eventing-team members (Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp, Boyd Martin, Doug Payne, Tamra Smith, and Lynn Symansky) and their chef d’equipe, Erik Duvander, came out to support their fellow athletes.

Another on-site cheerleader was Scott Hassler, the former USEF national dressage young-horse coach, who was in Lima primarily to coach student Sarah Lockman.

“She has so much passion,” Hassler said of Lockman. “She loves the sport. She has the desire, and she’s is so committed and so correct. It’s not about fancy. It’s not about the wow factor. It’s about doing the right thing for every horse that’s under her.”

Betsy Juliano, who owns Handsome and sponsors Jennifer Baumert, among other high-performance dressage competitors, said that she enjoys being a part of what the sport does for our country.

“I particularly love the team competitions because of the relationships that develop and the strength that the riders get from each other,” Juliano said.

Gerry Ibanez, owner of US gold-medal horse First Apple (center), with Scott Hassler, coach of rider Sarah Lockman (right), in Lima
(Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography)

Gerry Ibanez, who owns Pan Am Games gold-medal horse First Apple, noted that “it takes a team to get here.” A native of Mexico who’s lived in California since the age of 10, Ibanez said he’s been a client of Lockman’s for several years and her sponsor for the last year and a half. As a young man he rode cutting horses, but he’d been out of the saddle for more than 20 years when he decided to return to riding after his son was grown, he said. He purchased a Friesian dressage horse and asked Lockman to give him lessons. He still has that horse, and he and Lockman have taken it to Prix St. Georges so far, he said.

“Sarah has worked so hard for a lot of years,” Ibanez said. “We couldn’t be happier.”

US Equestrian national dressage chef d’equipe and technical advisor Debbie McDonald was visibly emotional about her team’s success. All through the Games she sent the riders inspirational quotes each evening. The pre-freestyle quote read: “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”

“It’s pretty amazing and pretty overwhelming,” McDonald said of the American riders’ performance. “As somebody who knows how their lives are going to change from this, it means so much for me. For those two girls [Lockman and Baumert] to walk away with medals on their necks, it’s life-changing.”

Next up at the Lima equestrian venue is eventing (August 1-4). Jumping will close out the 2019 Pan Am Games equestrian competition, August 4-9. The US dressage riders, horses, and staff members are now heading home for some rest and relaxation before looking to the next project.

Everyone at the USDF sends out hearty congratulations to our US dressage team on a job well done, and best wishes for safe travels home!

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