It was a double-medal day for Team USA at Deodoro Stadium as Maryland’s Christopher Hickey aboard Regent won the coveted Gold medal on a two-day averaged score of 70.725% after performing his freestyle before an appreciative crowd. New Jersey’s Lauren Sammis
, who had led the scores at the end of the Team competition, finished in Silver-medal position (69.925%) after delivering an entertaining freestyle aboard Sagacious HF. The Bronze medal was won by the Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos de Muniz aboard Bernstein las Marismas with an average of 69.500%.
Fifteen combinations were invited to contest the Individual medals on Wednesday at Brazil’s National Equestrian Center located 45 minutes outside of downtown Rio de Janeiro. It was a cloud-covered event with cool temperatures. However, the action in the arena warmed the fans of dressage from across the Americas who came to cheer on their countries. Today’s final was decided by an average score taken from the Intermediaire I score posted on Monday and today’s Intermediaire I freestyle score.
The top three riders were a repeat of those that sat in the top three spots after the first Individual competition. Following today’s freestyle, Sammis was able to edge out her Dominican competition and raise a spot and perform alchemy to change what could have been a Bronze into Silver. She was aided by her freestyle score—71.300%—compared to her competition’s 69.700%.
But, it was Hickey, the 38-year-old rider who has competed in a multitude of disciplines as well as dressage, who outperformed his competition to bring home Gold. His mount, the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Regent, is owned by Brenna Kucinski,
All throughout, the rider rode his tests boldly and with confidence…and it paid off. In a very complicated freestyle set to pulsating techno beats followed by undulating ambient percussion, one mistake could have caused a horrible domino effect, and Hickey was careful to keep things in balance and on par with the performances he has put in over his Pan Am debut.
“When I make one little mistake, especially in the canter, which I did today, it can go down the drain very quickly because things come up so fast,” he said. A mistake in his tempis was a place where things could have gone very wrong. “I intended to re-ride the three-tempis. I came into the three-tempis between the pirouettes, and my brain was saying three-tempis and my legs did two-tempis. I did a few and then thought, ‘Oh my God, these are twos! They are supposed to be threes! It was too late to do anything about it. It’s a complicated freestyle that has well-calculated risks.”
Of all the freestyles performed today, Hickey’s music was truly a standout and a very good match for his mount.
“My music is very powerful and was done by a friend of mine, Anne Guptill of Equestrian Arts Production, and my partner, Richard, picked most of the music out,” said Hickey. “My horse is a strong, big-moving horse, and he can be very expressive when he picks himself up decides to show off. I think that music really works well for him…with a different kind of horse, it would not be as successful of freestyle, I think. When that horse hears that music, and that music helps me, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Hickey will leave South America to travel to Germany. He will meet up with his five-year-old horse that has been chosen to be in the Young Horse World Championship in Verden, Germany.
Sammis, aboard the eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Sagacious HF (owned by Hyperion Farm) couldn’t have been happier with her medal bid.
“I have a young horse,” said Sammis. “For me, this is only the beginning of his career…he’s brilliant.”
She acknowledged that to get to a Pan Am medal-winning moment, it takes more than the efforts of just one person, plus a long journey for anyone willing to set out on it.
“It takes an enormous team to make one horse go down that centerline,” she said. “You have six minutes in the arena, and you have months and years of training. It’s a real commitment, so I would like to thank everybody who has helped me along the way. The experience in Brazil has been just a magical time. The people have been just so generous and helpful. It’s just been wonderful.”
Turning her attention to her performance’s strong points, Sammis said, “It was probably my pirouettes, but also I think that a strong point was that this horse was able to go into this environment and really try his best. Movement aside, his temperament is unbeatable. But, I have to say that the pirouettes didn’t hurt!”
Throughout the competition, each of the American riders showed grace and gratitude, not only for their hosts and dealing with other competitors, but for each other. Sammis noted that for this group of riders it was a first experience in being part of an international team.
“The type of support you have from other team members has just been amazing…to go in and not feel like you are only riding for yourself, but you are riding for everybody else. It’s rare in this sport that you are cheering your competitors on, hoping they do better and better! It’s a great feeling,” she said.
Hickey added, “I was lucky enough to compete on the North American Young Riders Championships two times, and that was a wonderful beginning. This is all of that and 10 times more. The biggest thing I’ve learned from this experience is respect. I have so much respect for people who have been in my shoes in past years. And, I know what was put in to get here.”
Bronze medalist Losos de Muniz who has been named the person in charge of her country’s dressage and jumping programs, said, “I think the competition was a very exciting competition right to the end. We started out and kept each other on our toes, which was fun. It wasn’t clear-cut from the beginning. I think we were all, right to the end, waiting to see [what happened], and I think that is the most fun in a competition.”
The third American competing today was Ohio’s Katherine Poulin-Neff and her mother’s gelding, the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Thoroughbred cross, Brilliant Too.
Coming into the deciding day for the Individual medal in dressage, she stood at sixth place, and that is where she would finish her debut effort on the international stage. Her Intermediaire I score of 66.350% was combined with her freestyle’s 69.000% (seventh place for the day) to end her work with a combined 67.675%.
President of the Ground Jury for the dressage competition, Belgium’s Mariette Whitages, said that the competition was a nail-biter from the perspective of the jury.
“It was very thrilling for the five judges who were members of the ground jury,” said Whitages. “We might as well have been reading a James Bond book. Everybody had their highlights and everybody had their boo-boos. The results really reflected what has been happening. Overall, I think that they were a very successful Pan American Games for dressage.”
A fourth member of Team USA was Wellington-resident Susan Dutta who was the team alternate rider.
“I want to thank the owners of this horse [Pik L, a 14-year-old Hanoverian stallion owned by Horses Unlimited] for giving me the opportunity to ride it,” said Dutta. “Luckily, I’ve been the reserve before, so I know the good and the bad of it. This was a young team, and none of them had done an international competition, so I was kind of a ‘guider’ and it was nice in some ways.”
Dutta didn’t go home empty-handed. The new format used at this year’s Pan American Games that has only three riders compete as opposed to four allowed for the alternate rider to also receive a team medal.
“They gave me a medal anyway,” said Dutta. “That was amazing.” Fitting considering that these important team members are required to enter the ring with up to only an hour’s notice should one of the three team members require a replacement. Staying on your toes is the name of the game when you’re an alternate, and Dutta was a fine example of keeping pace with every step of the game.
Equestrian competition continues on Friday with the dressage phase of the eventing competition at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Extensive Pan Am Coverage at Horsesdaily.com