On a day that bubbled with excitement, the U.S. Dressage Team took gold at the 2023 Pan American Games on Monday, Team Brazil made history when slotting into silver medal position and the defending champions from Canada took bronze in Quillota, Chile.
It was the ninth Pan Ams dressage team title for the U.S. as the squad of Christian Simonson (Son Of A Lady), Anna Marek (Fire Fly), Codi Harrison (Katholt’s Bossco) and Sarah Tubman (First Apple) finished on a tally of 450.67. Brazil completed on 443.343 and Canada posted a score of 431.937.
Because the U.S. is already qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, it was the Brazilians and Canadians who claimed the two qualifying spots on offer. The hosts from Chile finished fourth on 423.672.
“Firstly, I’m just proud. The team spirit is unbelievable, and it really has carried them through,” U.S. Chef d’Equipe George Williams said. “Each one of them, in the end, rode better today. There were a few bobbles in some of the tests, but the actual riding was better, so I was happy with that. They came back strong, and I really feel like the team camaraderie helped carry them to this result.”
The tests on Oct. 23 were the Intermediaire 1 for small tour and Grand Prix Special for large tour combinations. The day’s highest score was posted by North Carolina-based Ecuadorian individual Julio Mendoza Loor and Jewel’s Goldstrike, who topped the Special with 78.61. Sunday’s Grand Prix-winning partnership of João Victor Marcari Oliva and Feel Good VO slotted into a very close second for Brazil with a score of 78.61%, and defending individual champion Tubman finished third with First Apple on 76.87%.
Four years ago the American pair were competing at small tour level, and this time around they showed just how much they have developed their partnership when stepping up to the large tour challenge so successfully.
The Americans came out for Monday’s team final with all guns blazing. Simonson, 21, got them off to the perfect start when taking a strong lead in the Intermediaire l by posting a personal best of 74.97 percent, which would leave him best in the small tour competition and individually fourth at the end of the day. That was backed up by 74.48% from Marek and Fire Fly, and 71.95% from Harrison riding Katholt’s Bossco before Tubman put the icing on the cake with her 76.87%.
Amazing Week For The US
“It’s been such an amazing week,” said Florida-based Tubman, 35. “It’s one thing to stand up there and have the national anthem played because of your performances, and it’s completely different to do it next to three friends.”
Success today was particularly emotional for Tubman as she remembered her former sponsor, Gerry Ibañez, who passed away not long after she won the individual medal at the last Pan Americans in Lima, Peru, four years ago.
Harrison, who hails from Kansas but now also lives in Florida, said, “You dream of making it into a championship like this, and for it to come real is the best feeling.”
Simonson’s 12-year-old Danish Warmblood (Soreldo—Western Lady, Welt Hit II) was formerly competed by Spanish Olympian and prolific producer of young dressage horses Severo Jurado Lopez, and by Danish Olympian and World Championship team gold medalist Carina Cassøe Krüth.
The pair were poised and accurate, impressing the judges and earning a 9 in their canter pirouette and showcasing the massive movement of the gelding owned by Christina Morgan and Cliff Simonson.
“He and I just have really good communication together,” Simonson said. “Even on a day when he’s a little tired or maybe not wanting to give 110 percent, he either will let me dig deep, or he’ll dig in and fight for me. It’s the epitome of the best feeling riding—just that feeling knowing they’ll fight for you in the ring.
“The team atmosphere has just been incredible,” he added. “We have so much synergy, and it’s an amazing group of riders to be with.”
The first combination for the U.S. in the large tour rotation saw Marek, of Dunnellon, Florida, and Fire Fly open with the Grand Prix Special for the team. Marek and Fire Fly, a 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Briar Junior—Arieka, 00 Seven) owned by Janet Smile, worked through an early bobble in their test in the half pass, to recover with a beautiful second half, earning a 73.48%. Marek mentioned that the strength of their growing relationship allowed her to guide them both back to focus and still produce a very strong score for the team.
“I’m thrilled with our test and how he went,” she said. “I was really proud that when we made a big bobble, we both recovered from it like it was nothing. As I was half-passing across, I kind of got down and then reminded myself that we have an entire test to go and just took a deep breath and said, ‘Alright buddy, let’s go.’ ”
“He’s really a sensitive horse, and that’s why I love him,” she continued. “We’ve built a lot of trust together and trying to press when I can and back off that we come here and we’re not nervous and I know he’s going to be there for me, and I can support him when he’s scared he trusts me when I tell him we can do it.”
A few small miscommunications kept Harrison and Katholt’s Bossco from scoring to their potential, but the pair recovered well to earn a 71.95%, with Harrison showing their determination and fighting for every mark throughout the test to keep their score competitive. Katholt’s Bossco is a special horse for Harrison, having trained the now 16-year-old Danish gelding (Blue Hors Don Schufro—Katholt’s Farceur, Michellino) herself through the levels from a young horse all the way to Grand Prix.
“The first part of the trot tour felt like it was some of the best work we’ve ever had,” Harrison said. “We had a few little miscommunications, which was unfortunate, but overall, the feeling was so good. He really grew into the atmosphere today, and it’s amazing to be able to say that he was my Young Rider horse.
“We really didn’t have any intentions on making him a Grand Prix horse, and along the way we realized he’s a much better Grand Prix horse, and I feel so lucky that I have a horse who let me teach him the ropes and I learned from him and together we fulfilled a dream by making a U.S. team,” she added.
As the final combination in for Team USA with medals on the line, Tubman and First Apple, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion (Vivaldi—Oogappel, T.C.N. Partout) owned by Summit Farms, produced another spectacular test, earning a 76.87% to help push the team to the top of the podium. The pair, who are the most seasoned partnership in the group, showed their experience, helping to guide the team to a consecutive team-podium at the Pan American Games.
“We’re just so fortunate to have each other as a team. This is a very young team to represent the U.S., and we really brought it,” Tubman said. “ ‘Apple’ was fantastic today, and he really gave me everything in there. It’s another personal best for us, and I’m just so proud of the way he’s continued to rise to the occasion for me.”
‘The Most Special Day Of My Life’
The Brazilians had a lot to celebrate Monday as well. Not only have they been impressive so far, with the relatively inexperienced Paulo Cesar Dos Santos (Fidel Da Sasa JE) and Renderson Silva De Oliveira (Fogoso Campline) showing extraordinary potential in their first year at Grand Prix level, but this foursome have also earned Brazil’s first-ever Pan American dressage team silver medals along with that coveted Olympic slot. There was an enormous sense of achievement for them, and a sense that this is only the first step on a new journey ahead.
“This is the most special day of my life, a really important moment in my career!” said Dos Santos. “It’s been a really hard year for me, but I was confident that I would be here with a very strong team and we would be able to get our objective—the silver medal and also the qualification for the Olympic Games. I want to thank this amazing team—we are all warriors here together—and all the people back in Brazil, my family and my friends who are cheering for me. They push us to be here in this great moment, and I want to share this moment with them as well!”
João Victor Marcari Oliva said of his fellow team members, “They are not just partners in competition they are friends in life.”
His horse, Feel Good, is special to him because he’s had him since he was 18 months old, and they have grown up together.
“He’s been with me a very long time, and today he gave me everything we trained for over this last nine and a half years together. I’m so happy with him, and he deserves a sacks of carrots now,” said the 27-year-old rider.
Manuel Rodrigues Tavares de Almeida Neto, who got married just a few weeks ago, took six years off from the sport between 2016 and 2023, and he said that this has been a dream year.
“I got this mare in April, the first German horse I was riding”, said the 30-year-old athlete who is more attuned to the Lusitano horses so closely associated with his successful equestrian family. “It was quite a challenge, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.
“For Brazil this result puts us in a spot we’ve never been before,” he added, “and in the next years I think there is much more to come so we can start dreaming and planning to make history at the Olympics as well—not this one [Paris 2024] but the next one.”
The top 23 combinations, including all three Grand Prix combination for the U.S., have qualified for Wednesday’s freestyle to determine individual medals.
See complete results here.