The Canadian Eventing Team is in second position with a score of 133.70, close behind the United States with 133.00, following the opening day of eventing competition in the TORONTO 2015 Pan American Games held July 17 at the OLG Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park in Caledon, ON.
Colleen Loach of Dunham, QC, defending Pan Am champion Jessica Phoenix of Cannington, ON, Waylon Roberts of Port Perry, ON, and Kathryn Robinson of Kettering, GBR, performed their dressage tests as the first of three phases comprising eventing competition. Cross-country takes place on July 18 while show jumping, after which both team and individual medals will be awarded, will be held Sunday afternoon, July 19.
The United States currently heads the leaderboard with a score of 133.00, Canada is in close second with 133.70, and Brazil is in third with 136.70 before the gap opens widely to fourth place, currently occupied by Guatemala with 170.10. Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela make up the total of 11 nations contesting the team medals.
Individually, Robinson leads the way for Canada, sitting in second position with a score of 39.80 behind Ruy Fonseca of Brazil riding Tom Bombadill Too with 38.90. Marilyn Little of the United States lies third with 40.30 riding RF Scandalous.
In her major games debut, Robinson produced a forward, balanced dressage test riding Let It Bee, her 14-year-old dark bay German-bred gelding.
“He was so good, I couldn’t fault him; he’s the horse of a lifetime,” said Robinson, 29, of the horse she purchased as a seven-year-old. “He was pretty raw when I got him, he hadn’t done anything. We’ve been learning together, which has been lovely. He wants to work with you and do his best. This is our first team competition; it is a great honour to be here.”
While her mother maintains a home in Bracebridge, ON, Robinson is based in Kettering, Northamptonshire in England. She and Let it Bee are looking to have a successful outing in their first North American event.
“I’m so thrilled to be here, and hopefully it will carry on being good!” said Robinson. She praised Let It Bee for the opportunity, noting, “He’s awesome! I am so lucky to have found him. He’s taken me to places that I’ve never imagined going. I owe it all to him, really.”
Phoenix also has a long partnership with her mount, Pavarotti. The pair won the individual gold medal and led Canada to team silver at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, MEX. Four years later, they are back to defend their title.
“It’s incredible to see, in four years, the work and the time that has gone into Pavarotti,” said Phoenix of the 13-year-old bay Westphalian gelding (Pavarotti van de Helle x Foxiland) owned by Don J. Good. “He feels so much more developed and so much stronger through his topline. He really enjoys his job, and I can honestly say he enjoys it as much now as he did four years ago, which is awesome.”
A veteran of Olympic, World Equestrian, and Pan American Games competition, Phoenix, 31, was also quick to recognize the hard work that happens behind the scenes, saying, “A huge thank you to all of our coaches and sponsors and family and friends for everything that they have done to get us here. The coaching and the support staff we have are second to none. It’s really exiting to be here with the team that we are with. We have a lot of awesome horses and riders and our grooms are phenomenal.”
Looking forward to Saturday’s cross-country phase, Phoenix remarked, “Cross-country looks like it should be a blast! The jumps are beautifully constructed, and I think the course flows really well. Everyone is really excited to get out there.”
In her major games debut, Loach scored 51.80 in dressage to place her tenth in the standings with Qorry Blue d’Argouges, an 11-year-old grey selle francais gelding sired by Mr. Blue and owned by Peter Barry.
“I was really happy with him, I don’t think we could have done much better for where we are now; this is my first big experience,” said Loach, 32, who has been partnered with Qorry Blue d’Argouges for two years. “He was super. He handled the atmosphere really well. It’s a very nice feeling to be competing in front of a home crowd. I feel very proud to be Canadian and to be representing Canada.”
Of her thoughts on Saturday’s cross-country course, Loach, who plans to take all of the direct routes, shared, “I think it looks great, I’m really excited to get out there. For sure you have to be on your game, there are some questions out there. I think the water would be a good question, but it all looks very doable, and nicely presented and kind for the horses.”
Riding Bill Owen, an 11-year-old bay Canadian Sport Horse gelding sired by Money Talks, Roberts received a score of 65.10 to place him 34th in the individual standings. Roberts owns Bill Owen in partnership with his mother, 1984 Canadian Olympian Kelly Plitz.
“I thought Bill Owen did a really good job of staying with me,” said Roberts, who won a team silver medal as part of the Canadian effort at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “As soon as he went in that arena, he was looking up into the stands the whole time. We’ve had some really good work all week and he’s been coming along really well, but I think the atmosphere in there was a lot for him and he got very expressive. The nerves may have got the better of Bill Owen today.”
Roberts, who has also represented Canada internationally in show jumping competition, was thrilled to be competing at the OLG Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park.
“It feels like home,” said Roberts, 26, who competed at the 2002 FEI Children’s Show Jumping Final, also held in Brazil. “I’ve been competing here at Caledon since I was 11 years old. It really is like coming home. It is amazing what the Pan Ams have been able to do with the place, and the legacy it is going to leave is going to be wonderful.”
The second phase of competition, cross-country, begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 18, at the nearby Pan Am Cross-Country Center at Will O’Wind Farm in Mono, ON. Athletes then return to the OLG Caledon Equestrian Park in Caledon, ON, for the third and final phase of competition on Sunday, July 19. Team and individual medal ceremonies will be held at the close of competition.
While one qualifying spot for the 2016 Olympic Games is available through the TORONTO 2015 Pan American Games, the Canadian Eventing Team has already qualified for Rio based on its performance at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. As the host nation, Brazil is also guaranteed a starting spot.