Balance Sought for Pan Am Games Small Tour & Need to Move to Grand Prix for Olympic Qualifying

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GUADALAJARA, Mexico, Oct. 22–Faced with an edict to raise team dressage qualifying for future Olympic Games to Grand Prix from the current small tour at the Pan American Games, national federations are seeking to balance growth of the sport in Latin America against a tiny number of Big Tour horses.

Latin American nations are floating unique ideas to maintain dressage qualifying at the Pan American Games, with 42 nations competing in the second largest sporting event in the world after the Olympics. All 28 Olympic sports and some of regional significance are contested at the Pan Ams and many equestrian organization receive funding from national Olympic committees based on participation and results in the continental championships.

Many nations would prefer not to see a separate qualifying competition created that might be open to all countries eligible to compete at the Pan Ams but realistically would be limited to a handful of nations with enough international quality Grand Prix horses. Qualification for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 must be at Grand Prix level.

Representatives from national federations, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and the Pan American Sports Organization met here this week after the dressage team Prix St. Georges competition as a qualifier for London next year and which attracted a record 47 entries from 15 nations. Three of the six members from the FEI Dressage Committee, Margit Otto-Crepin of France, Thomas Baur of Germany and Anne Gribbons of the U.S., attended the meeting.

Riders from nations with a large number of Grand Prix horses–Canada and the U.S., primarily–appear to favor keeping the Pan Ams at small tour as a stepping stone while many Latin Americans prefer creating a new format within the Pan Ams and thus retain the Games as the Olympic qualifier.

As almost one-fourth of the 133 national federations affiliated with the FEI, the sport’s worldwide governing body, are in the Americas the decision will have enormous ramifications for dressage in the Olympics.

Until this meeting, a widespread belief was that to maintain and even grow participation in dressage, the Pan American Games would likely remain at small tour and a separate Grand Prix competition would be staged as the Olympic qualifier

Test qualifying events were discussed for 2013 and 2014 ahead of the actual qualifying competition in 2015. The next Pan American Games are scheduled for Toronto in 2015

Organizers of the newly created Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, offered their new show grounds for qualifying competitions if requested by Pan Am nations. Wellington has become the primary hub of dressage in the Western Hemisphere in winter with riders from about 20 nations drawn to the calendar of 11 CDIs over three months.

However, Colombia’s Maria Ines Garcia, who competed on her nation’s team, proposed a format of teams made up of both Grand Prix and Prix St. Georges/Intermediaire horses with different values applied to each level. It is not known whether this could be refined to enable teams with enough Grand Prix horses to qualify for subsequent Olympics, but the idea created positive response from several Latin American representatives.

Colombia’s situation represents the dilemma of many nations in the Western Hemisphere. The country won team bronze and qualified at these Games for London, but has only two Grand Prix horses–one belonging to Marco Bernal who lives in Wellington, Florida, and the other ridden by Constanza Jaramillo, the mare Wakana that was bought this summer and had been competed big tour by Ulla Salzgeber but dropped back to small tour. The two other team members are considering leasing Grand Prix mounts.

The difficulty of the decision to be made, probably at the 2012 FEI General Assembly, was summed up by Great Britain’s Stephen Clarke, who was president of the ground jury at these Pan Ams and has been appointed to that post at next year’s Olympics in London.

“The question is very complicated,” he said. “We can easily see that if the competition is at Grand Prix it would not have the support of all the countries we have today and that would be a sad thing because we are seeing dressage at a very high level and that’s the most important thing.

“Whatever we see we want to see it at a really high level as it does a lot to promote our sport.”

Marco Bernal, who has competed at the World Equestrian Games and World Cup Final at Grand Prix as well as multiple Pan Ams and other regional championships at small tour, admitted to the difficulty of the decision.

“There is a big difference between the two levels,” he said. “When the right moment comes we will make the decision that is right for all of us.”

Steffen Peters of the United States who won both team and individual gold at these Pan Ams, his first, said in a joking way, “Personally I have to say I like this level. it’s a great level. All this trotting in place and changes of lead is very difficult. I would like to see the Pan Ams stay at this level.”

Tom Dvorak who led his Canadian team to their third successive Pan Am silver medal, described the quality of the horses as “top notch.” But between the small tour and the Grand Prix “is the Alps.”

“It is such a big jump,” he said. “I agree with Steffen and would like to see it continue at small tour.”

Lilo Fore of the United States who was a judge at these Games said she agreed the event should stay at small tour. “The Pan Ams give the horses and riders a wonderful experience. It also gives many more countries the chance to go out in the big wide world and show off their horses.”