The Canadian Eventing Team, comprised of 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, produced three clear rounds in cross-country competition held Saturday, July 18, to move into third place in the standings.
The second of three phases of competition, cross-country was held at the Pan Am Cross-Country Center at Will O’Wind Farm in Mono, ON. The United States currently heads the leaderboard with a score of 133.00 while Brazil has moved up to second with 136.70. Canada now stands third with 159.00 after losing the score of Robinson, who was second following dressage. Ecuador is now fourth with 170.10 and Chile lies fifth with 228.50. A total of 11 nations entered the Pan Am team competition.
Individually, Phoenix is poised to defend her gold medal from the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, MEX. Sitting third with a score of 42.10, Phoenix is separated by one show jumping rail from the leaders, Ruy Fonseca of Brazil riding Tom Bombadill Too on 38.90 and Marilyn Little of the United States in second with 40.30 riding RF Scandalous.
As the last rider to compete cross-country for Canada, Phoenix had a sea of fans cheering her around the course, designed by Wayne Copping of Australia. Many rushed to the final fence to help bring her home; a loud cheer went up as she crossed the finish line with no penalties riding Pavarotti, a 13-year-old bay Westphalian gelding (Pavarotti van de Helle x Foxiland) owned by Don J. Good.
“Canadians are the most amazing fans in the world!” said Phoenix, 31. “To have the Pan Am Games in our own backyard is incredible, and to have everyone here supporting us has just been overwhelming.”
Phoenix and Pavarotti won the individual title and led Canada to team silver at the last Pan Am Games, and are back to defend their title, much to the delight of their legions of fans.
“It’s incredible!” said Phoenix of the crowd’s support. “Pavarotti felt it; he was so amazing today. He got his neck out and got into an awesome gallop. The course rode really well, forward and straight, and it was a great course for Pavarotti. Don Good owns him, and I am so thankful that I have the ride on him.”
Phoenix is now preparing for Sunday’s show jumping phase, noting, “Our main focus is on our team medal. That’s really important to us. After that, we want to produce good clean show jumping rounds tomorrow. Individual medals come at the end of it, but your first priority is always your team.”
Roberts, 26, was the pathfinder for the Canadian Eventing Team on cross-country, jumping clear and inside the time with Bill Owen, an 11-year-old bay Canadian Sport Horse gelding sired by Money Talks and owned in partnership with his mother, 1984 Canadian Olympian Kelly Plitz. Having provided the drop score in the opening phase of dressage, Roberts’ cross-country performance ended up being of the utmost importance. His dressage score of 65.10, with nothing added on cross-country, needed to be counted when Robinson was eliminated.
“This was challenging; it was a good championship test for all the horses and riders,” said Roberts, who is now in 17th position individually, having made a bold move up the leaderboard from 34th. “My horse is a little less experienced than some of the others on the team, and he answered me really well. I couldn’t have asked any more from him. I think we put in a really good double-clear round today.”
Loach was next on course for Canada, and delivered another clear round riding Qorry Blue d’Argouges, an 11-year-old grey selle francais gelding sired by Mr. Blue and owned by Peter Barry. In her major games debut, Loach remains on her dressage score of 51.80 and is in ninth position individually.
“My horse was awesome; I couldn’t have asked for better,” said Loach, 32. “It rode pretty much like it walked. There were no surprises out there.”
The cross-country competition was a sell-out event, with 5,000 tickets sold and many more accredited personnel on the grounds. Of the huge crowd that turned out to support the Canadian Team, Loach said, “It was amazing! They were yelling at every corner, every time you went by. I think my horse enjoyed it too, it gave him more energy. It is amazing to see all the support of the local people, and to have that behind you.”
Robinson, 29, who was also making her major games debut, was eliminated when both she and Let It Bee, her 14-year-old dark bay German-bred gelding, fell at the second jump on course, the Hayracks fence.
“She got a little close to fence two and, maybe because of the atmosphere and everything that is around, the horse maybe lost a little bit of concentration and he just caught a leg and put her into a bit of a spin,” explained Canadian Eventing Team Technical Advisor and chef d’equipe Clayton Fredericks, who confirmed that both horse and rider were fine. “She rolled and got back up and he got back up and they dusted themselves off and walked back to the barn.
“It is never nice to go through that – I’ve experienced it plenty of times myself – but it’s a real mental game being able to control your mind and get up and go again,” continued Fredericks, a two-time Olympian for his native Australia. “Most likely, Kathryn will have an exceptionally good next event.”
Fredericks, who has an Olympic team silver medal to his credit as well as individual silver and team bronze medals from the 2006 World Equestrian Games, said of the Canadian Team’s performance, “I am very pleased with what we’ve done. Obviously Kathryn was in a strong position being in second after the dressage. It didn’t work out for her today, but we had three other clears inside the time. You can’t take that away from anyone, and we’re still sitting in a good position.
The third and final phase of eventing competition, show jumping, begins at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, July 19, at the OLG Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park. 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.