Canada’s Rebecca Howard from Marlborough, GBR made a huge jump on the leaderboard, moving up into 15th place individually, following the cross-country phase of eventing on Aug. 8 at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, BRA.
In the team standings, Howard, 37, along with Colleen Loach, 33, from Dunham, QC, Jessica Phoenix, 32, from Cannington, ON and Kathryn Robinson, 31, from Kettering, UK, moved up one spot from their dressage placing into 11th on a team total of 331.10 heading into the final show jumping phase on Aug. 9. Cross-country also resulted in a shakeup at the top of the leaderboard, with Australia provisionally in the lead on a team score of 150.30, New Zealand in second (154.80) and France holding third (161.00).
Howard put in a pivotal performance for Canada in the cross-country phase, designed by Pierre Michelet of France (FEI 4*) and featuring 33 obstacles and 45 jumping efforts over a 5,840m track. Partnered with Riddle Master (Rodero x Eyes to Rule), a 15-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding owned by Blithe Hill Farm, she added no jumping penalties and just 12.40 time penalties on the challenging course. This brought her two-phase score to 61.80, and allowed her to leap up the individual standings, from 41st to 15th.
“I’m thrilled, and thrilled with my horse,” Howard commented after completing the course, which saw just three athletes go double-clear. A total of 44 horse-rider combinations out of the starting field of 65 incurred time penalties, 20 added jumping penalties, and 17 were eliminated. “It’s just a huge sense of relief coming in and having gone clear jumping.”
“I took two long routes, and that put us in a bit slower,” Howard continued. “I wanted to come home and not add any jumping penalties to our team score. I really felt like I should be able to do that. I’m sitting on an experienced horse that has done enough. So it’s basically just a sense of relief that we were able to do that.”
Howard had plenty of praise for her long-time partner, Riddle Master who also joined her at the London 2012 Olympic Games. “He’s an experienced horse and he’s just a genuine, great jumper so he’s a pleasure to be on out there. Even if we were a bit off coming into some of the combinations, his genuine knowledge and want to do the job got us out. He tries his guts out to get through the flags every time.”
Phoenix, 32, who was the first athlete of the Games to set out on the cross-country course, also made a move up in the individual standings, jumping nine spots into 41st. Riding A Little Romance (A Fine Romance x Donaufurst), an 11-year-old Thoroughbred/Trakehner mare owned by Donald Leschied, she crossed the finish line with 40 jumping penalties for two refusals and 35.60 time penalties, making 127.60 her two-phase score heading into the final day of competition.
“To go first out of the box at the Olympics is amazing and I’m glad I could be here on A Little Romance to do it,” said Phoenix, who is making her second consecutive Olympic appearance in Rio.
Speaking of the challenges Phoenix encountered on course, she said, “(A Little Romance) was just a little bit shy coming out into this venue. She’s never really seen anything this big. So, definitely, I had to really get behind her and get going. And then, honestly, she dug down and gave it her all and I couldn’t be more proud of A Little Romance today.”
Continuing the Canadian trend, Loach moved 12 spots up in the standings into 45th place individually aboard Qorry Blue d’Argouges, a 12-year-old Selle Francais gelding sired by Mr. Blue and owned by London 2012 Olympian, Peter Barry. Two refusals resulted in 40 jumping penalties and 45.20 time penalties for the duo, who will carry forward a score of 141.70.
“I made a mistake at jump nine and missed my line for the skinny, so that was unfortunate,” explained Loach, whose Olympic debut in Rio also represented her first time competing over a 4* level cross-country course with Qorry Blue d’Argouges. “The second run-out, a camera was buzzing on the lines right beside his head and distracting him.”
“After I had my second stop, I was like, ‘Colleen, you cannot have another stop, you have to finish for your team.’” That was my main goal, to finish, to put the rest out of my mind and ride like I know I can ride,” continued Loach. “My horse is awesome and I’m happy I finished for my team. He’s a super horse and a really good horse on cross-country.”
Unfortunately Robinson and Let It Bee, her 15-year-old Westphalian gelding, were eliminated late in the course after reaching the maximum three refusals allowed on cross-country.
“I’m disappointed. I was a bit too cautious and a bit backwards,” explained Robinson. “I was just worried; a couple people had fallen on the turns and he is a big horse. I rode a bit overprotective, but we came back in one piece and we’ll move on to another competition.”
Eventing competition at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will come to a close on Aug. 9 with the show jumping phase, followed by individual and team medal ceremonies. Next up for equestrian sport at the Games will be dressage, which gets underway with the Team Grand Prix on Aug. 10 and 11.