USA Pan Am European Squad Ending Qualification Shows
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
With the Big Tour half of the United States team for the Pan American Games pretty much decided, the Small Tour combinations perform their final selection show in Austria this weekend after an European tour that has won overwhelming endorsement from the riders.
Steffen Peters on Legolas and Laura Graves on Verdades, both in the Top 10 in the world, have been the leading Grand Prix combinations that will likely make up half the team in the unique mixed level Pan Ams squad that is vital as only nation can qualify this year through the sports extravaganza held once every four years.
The battle among the Americans is for the two Small Tour team spots in which Kimberly Herslow of Stockton, New Jersey on Rosmarin came on this European tour a month ago as the clear leader and solidified the lead in their sole competition so far, the Munich Pferd International where the pair took both the Prix St. Georges and the Intermediate 1.
Not enough separates Sabine Schut-Kery of Thousand Oaks, California on Sanceo and Olivia LaGoy-Weltz of Middleburg, Virginia on Lonoir to determine until after this weekend’s competitions at the picturesque Achleiten, Austria CDI which pair will be given the nod by selectors.
On the basis of the Grand Prix records, the United States is heavily favored over Canada which held its final Pan Am qualifier last weekend with strong Small Tour results from Brittany Fraser on All In, Diane Creech on Robbie W and Chris von Martels on Zilverstar with Belinda Trussell on Anton the stand out performer at Big Tour followed by World Games team mates Megan Lane on Caravella.
Unlike Canada that staged its final three qualifiers at home including one at the Pan Am Games venue, the United States chose to send its short listed squad of seven riders and eight horses to give them exposure in Europe in what Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover explained was looking beyond the Pan Ams to next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The team building effort by all accounts has been so overwhelmingly successful that it not has won kudos from the Americans in the group but has been viewed positively–sometimes enviously–by riders from other countries as seen at Munich and Aachen, both major shows in Germany.
In addition to Robert Dover who was given credit for raising the money to send a large number of combinations to Europe, Akiko Yamazaki the owner of both Legolas and Rosamunde that Steffen rides, has provided support that has helped the American squad develop momentum,
Robert Dover, who went home to Wellington, Florida, for a few days after the Munich show, admitted he missed being with the team that was based at the Gut Ising resort owned by the family of Sylvia Gugler, who competes in dressage under the American flag as well as training and competing jumping horses for her husband’s successful horse sales business on both sides of the Atlantic.
From breakfast to working sessions with horses, watching videos and critiquing each other’s rides to dinner and occasional barbecues as well as shows in Munich, Aachen and Achleiten and an in-house competition the six-time Olympian relished the team spirit.
Steffen Peters, a veteran of three Olympics and the national Grand Prix champion, described the “fun group” as a “huge success.”
He was reluctant to compare it with other teams he has ridden on, but said that the grooms took care of the horses at 6 a.m. then joined the riders for breakfast where there was “a lot of laughing without caffeine.”
“Gut Essing has been absolutely amazing for horses and riders,” he said. “We had what was supposed to be a barbecue one night that turned into a wonderful party.”
As the only member of the Pan Am squad to show at the Aachen CDI5*, he said, “I became so used to competing with the team it was kind of sad to leave the rest of them behind. It has been such a good group. The whole atmosphere has been absolutely amazing.”
“There’s so much momentum in American dressage,” he said. “Huge credit goes to Akiko. The whole world knows how enthusiastic she is..”
Kim Herslow became a convert to the European foray.
“I was initially very concerned about all the travel for my horse which was making me nervous when we spoke about it in Florida,” she said. “The great news is he traveled really well and likes being here in Europe. He is in a great place in his training right now after a break when we got back home from Florida before leaving for Europe.
“His training here has been a buildup of creating more expression and using himself more like a Grand Prix horse. That will be our next step, obviously, if we make the team.
“I have to say we have a really terrific group of horses and riders here and we all support each other and get along really well. We have done some fun things together separate from riding, we had a party for ourselves after the Munchen show which was great fun and lets us get to know each other on more personal levels. I feel like we have made great friendships and everyone is having a great experience.
“We are all supportive of each other regardless of the outcome. Again, it has been a great group of people who all care about their horses and want the best for each other. There will be ups and downs and that is expected but it’s not affecting the overall energy of the group.”
Although it is unusual for Small Tour horses to compete in Europe, Kimberly said, “I would do it again in a heartbeat!”
She is grateful for having a team to take care of her farm so she can continue to follow her dream.
Correction: An earlier version misspelled the name of the base for the U.S. team. It is Gut Ising.