USA Pan Am Games Dressage ‘Dream Team’ Reports to Final Training Camp

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Marisa Festerling and Big Tyme. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The U.S. dressage “Dream Team,” looking to claim an unprecedented fourth straight Pan American Games gold medal, reported to training camp in New Jersey on Sunday, two weeks ahead of the start of equestrian competition at the event held once every four years as the official qualifier for nations for the Olympics.

The U.S. is the only country in the Americas to have already claimed a berth for London in 2012–it did so at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky last year–so the other 11 teams competing at the Pan Ams in Guadalajara, Mexico, will be vying for the two places reserved for North, Central and South America.

The U.S. team comprises two American-born women, one a mother, a German-born man who is the only American to consistently rank within the top 10 in the world for the past three years and one man who is the only member with Pan Am Games experience, for his native Colombia. It is:

Steffen Peters, 46, of San Diego, California, on Weltino’s Magic, 9, Westfalen, (Weltino x Viva);

Heather Blitz, 42, of Wellington, Florida, on Paragon, 8, Danish Warmblood (Don Schufro x Pari Lord) ;

Cesar Parra, 48, of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, on Grandioso, 10, Westfalen (Grosso Z x Hauptstutbuch Popocatepal), and

Marisa Festerling, 34, of Moorpark, California, on Big Tyme, 10, Belgian Warmblood (Saros x Elvira).

Reserves are Endel Ots of Wellington and Toscano and Shawna Harding of Aiken, South Carolina, on Rigo.

The horses Weltino’s Magic, Grandioso and Big Tyme competed in the U.S. Young Horse Championships as youngsters. Big Tyme also competed at the World Breeding Championships in Verden, Germany, while Weltino’s Magic swept the small tour at Aachen, Germany earlier this year.

Steffen Peters and Weltino's Magic. © 2011 Ken Braddck/dressage-news.com

Anne Gribbons, the U.S. Technical Adviser, essentially team leader, described the squad as a “Dream Team” that may be the best ever fielded for any world or regional championships.

The United States has won the last three Pan Am team gold medals, as it did from 1975 to 1983, matching a three-peat by Chile in the first three Games beginning with the inaugural championship 60 years ago. The U.S. team has also won team gold and individual gold and silver, the most that can be awarded to a single country, on three previous occasions.

Dressage competition begins on Sunday, Oct. 16 with the team competition. Individual competition starts Monday, Oct. 17 and ends Wednsday, Oct. 19.

Dressage-news.com will provide on the spot coverage from Mexico, as it does for all major dressage competitions around the globe.

The commitments of time and money to the Pan Ams for three of the four team riders has been enormous, with riders based in California and Florida placing their businesses and home lives on hold for two months while another Californian shuttled between the east and west coasts of the country. The trials to select the team for the regional championship at Prix St. Georges/Intermediaire began in Gladstone, New Jersey, in early September with a break of three weeks before the start of training camp at 16 Hands Farm in Long Valley, New Jersey.

Marisa Festerling stayed in New Jersey with her three-year-old daughter, Ella, while Marie Meyers, her trainer and business partner in California, made two trips east to coach Marisa.

“It has been a long time to wait,” said the California native of the period from the end of the selection trials to training camp which she and the horse she calls “Frank,” were based at the farm of 1990 WEG team member, Betsy Steiner. Three fund raisers in California “made all the difference” in being able to afford the commitment required.

“I am eager to get the show on the road. I’m excited to experience the whole process–training camp, the whole U.S. team experience, going to Mexico.

“I am ready to go.”

Her daughter will go home to her husband in California.

Paragon ridden by Heather Bitz. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The all-American couple of Heather Blitz and Paragon–she helped the horse stand when he was born and before growing into an 18-hand (183cm) chestnut–said that while they have been based at the farm of now-retired international four-in-hand driver Tucker Johnson in New Jersey, Paragon has been “training at a level that’s even more than what I need for the Games.

“This has been a very long wait between the trials and when we leave for Mexico. That has been the least desirable part.”

Heather’s main goal for Paragon is London next year. She has competed the horse once at Grand Prix, at a national competition in Florida in July.

Steffen Peters commuted between the east and west coasts, riding Ravel and other horses in California during the week and flying to New Jersey to work Weltino’s Magic in New Jersey on weekends. The nine-year-old gelding was ridden by one of his assistants, Dawn White O’Conner, during the week.

“Dawn did a great job with Magic during the week,” he said. “He felt great on the weekends when I rode him.

“It was a lot of traveling for me, but no traveling for Magic. So far, the plan worked out great.”

Although Magic was the top scoring horse in the selection trials and could expect to win an individual medal in Mexico, Steffen said that winning gold with the team was hs primary misson.

Cesar Parra and Grandioso. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com