The USA East squad, with 18 riders and on its home turf in Fair Hill, Md., was unquestionably the team to beat in the North American Endurance Championships, but riders from the West will be taking the gold medals home.
Karen Kroon of Cheyenne, Wyo., galloped Rokket across the finish line on the Fair Hill steeplechase track at about 8:25 last night to win the individual gold medal, and the four riders from the Pacific South team rode in steadily over the next few hours to claim the team gold. The race started, with 62 riders, at 5 a.m.
It was the Pac South team’s first medal ever in the North American Championships, and the riders said they weren’t disappointed that they did it with the help of the East team’s loss of Danielle McGunigal at the start of loop 5.
“We hope this will help encourage other riders in our area to do FEI rides and do the North Americans,” said Nicole Chappell Wiere, who led the team’s charge by riding Rebel Fire Bask to ninth place individually. Her mount won the best condition award this morning.
Carolyn Hock and Heather Reynolds, the individual gold medalist in the 2001 North American Championships, finished 16th and 17th to provide the other two scores.
Kroon rode for the last 60 miles with Dominique Freeman of Great Britain, mounted on Jayel Super, the horse Stagg Newman rode to second in the 2001 North American Championships and a top-10 finish in 2003. Newman asked Freeman to rode the bay gelding since an abscess this spring had prevented him from qualifying for the USA East team. But they didn’t race to the finish because Freeman said she’d been told not to race. She couldn’t win a medal anyway since, although she’s lived in California for 40 years, she’s not a North American citizen.
Eighteen minutes later, Sandra Conner and Betty Baker cantered in 10 seconds apart to claim the individual silver and bronze medals. Connor rode Elegant Pride, owned by ride chairman Lana Wright, and Baker rode Synematic.
Twelve minutes later, former World Champion Valerie Kanavy galloped home fifth, 8 seconds ahead of the top-placed Canadian, Ruth Sturley, on RBF Super Sport.
Kroon is a veterinarian in the U.S. Air Force who returned from spending four months in Iraq in May. “Rokket pretty much had a vacation while I was gone, but, since he lives outside, he didn’t lose too much condition,” said Kroon 47.
Kroon is a graduate H-A Pony Clubber from the Platte Valley Pony Club in Colorado. She’s been competing in endurance riding since 1976. Her winning time was 11:45.30.
“I came here with the expectation of doing as well as I could. He’s shown me a couple of times that he has the ability,” said Kroon.