I\’d forgotten the beauty of Hispaniola\’the island that Christopher Columbus discovered in 1492\’until I flew over it on my way to the Dominican Republic for the Pan Am Games. I\’d only been to Haiti, which occupies the western half of the island, some years ago.
Santo Domingo is a very large, sprawling metropolis, with a population in the millions. They also have millions of vehicles that interact in an amazing, chaotic precision. I still don\’t know how it works, because traffic laws as we know them don\’t seem to exist.
The Palmarejo Equestrian Center, once it\’s finished, will be magnificent. Still, the stabling is excellent, the warm-up rings spacious, the footing good, and the main arena really quite beautiful. They even have a large covered arena, which we couldn\’t use because it wasn\’t finished. It all functioned well and made for a really attractive competition.
All in all, it was a very nice Pan Am Games, and the cheerful and friendly Dominican people deserve to be proud. It\’s nice to see smaller countries like the Dominican Republic do as good a job (or better) than the larger countries.
Fortunately, I didn\’t get there in time for the veterinary inspection on Monday, because Chris Kappler\’s Royal Kaliber played up, got loose, jumped a 16-foot-wide wall and ditch, and then, luckily, was caught with only a scratch or two. What a nightmare!
On Tuesday, the training day, we got our first view of the jumps Juan Carlos Taxur of Colombia had built. And he showed he\’s a master craftsman builder, right there with Steve Stephens and Frank Rothenberger. The colors of the fences fit right in with the tropical atmosphere, and his variety of walls with delicate blocks especially impressed me.
On Wednesday, the competition really started, with the speed leg. It was a very important moment for U.S. show jumping because it was our last chance to qualify for the Olympic Games a year from now in Athens. Frank Chapot, our chef d\’equipe, has had a lot on his shoulders because he\’s had to deal with the “me” syndrome that is so common in America today. But emotion simply couldn\’t come into play with so much at stake.
In the speed leg, each knockdown is converted into 4 seconds added to the time taken, and our riders usually underestimate the speed they need to be competitive in this class at championships.
But this time we hit right on the mark. Margie Engle was second on Perin, Lauren Hough was third on Windy City, Beezie Madden was fifth on Conquest, and Chris was ninth on Royal Kaliber. This excellent showing gave us an important edge for the Nations Cup, which decides the team competition.
Javier Fernandez designed an excellent speed course. He provided some striding options, lots of forced inside rollbacks, a backward liverpool, a big water jump, and three double combinations. It was an extremely careful, delicate course, and it was not easy.
My only criticism is that the water jump was quite bland and shallow. Horses jump deeper, more impressive water jumps better, and that\’s why this water jump really took its toll throughout the competition.
Javier did another beautiful job for the Nations Cup on Thursday. It was just big enough, and it didn\’t stand anyone on their heads. Javier built interesting striding options, a double and a triple combination, and put the big water off a turn\’all with a tight time allowed.
We thought after the first round that we couldn\’t be beaten, but you know show jumping! Mexico, which seemed a distant second, came back very strong in the second round while we had some unexpected rails.
But Chris pulled out a double-clear effort to seal Mexico\’s (and our) fate. And now we had qualified for the Olympics with our first Pan Am gold team medal since 1983.
I take my hat off to Eduardo and Yvonne Muniz. They are the young, attractive “movers and shakers” in the Dominican Republic, and I\’ve gotten to know them a bit in the winter when they come to Palm Beach (Fla.). They really put this whole thing to-gether, including a spectacular party on Thursday evening.
Unfortunately, our bus got lost for an hour and a half on the way to the party. At one point we were stuck in a cul-de-sac with men in combat fatigues who were carrying machine guns. It wasn\’t a very good feeling, especially on the way to a party.
Traditionally, the last day\’s individual final has the biggest courses, and this was no exception.
Javier included a one-stride oxer-oxer combination followed by a bending line to a narrow fence. He also had an interesting line to the water jump. And he had a very tricky last line with a vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination. The first course was big, extremely careful and technically tough.
The second course is, traditionally, always shorter than the first, but even a bit bigger. And it\’s mostly single fences to confirm the winners. Javier did that here, but it was no “gimme” course. One could still have two fences down in a heartbeat.
Mark Watring and his lovely gray Sapphire made their only mistake on this course, but they\’d been magnificent throughout, so Chris and Margie couldn\’t take the gold medal away from him and settled for the silver and bronze.
But the most important thing was that our team had won the medal we needed to qualify for Athens.
As we all know, Murphy\’s Laws are written around horses\’and anything that can go wrong usually does. But we dodged the bullet, and under Frank\’s watchful eye we got it done.