July 12, 2007 -- The U.S dressage riders and horses have settled into the newly-constructed National Equestrian Center at the Deodoro Sports Complex located on a military base outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Pan American Games competitions starts Saturday.
"It is an excellent facility by anyone's quality standards; Brazil did a wonderful job on it," said Jim Wolf, executive director of high performance for the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) and Chef de Mission for the U.S. Equestrian Team in Rio.
This will be the first appearance for all of the U.S. dressage riders on a U.S. Equestrian Team. "This is a team of fresh faces, which is exciting for all of us, and it is a great opportunity for them to get international experience," said Gil Merrick, USEF managing director of dressage. "All of these riders are ecstatic that they made our Pan Am team and get the chance to ride here in Brazil. Our medal hopes are high for both team and individual medals."
"They are all very good riders with the ability to get excellent scores from the judges," said U.S dressage coach Klaus Balkenhol. "With this being their first time at an international competition, nerves might be a factor the first day, but that's part of gaining experience."
"The footing is really good in all the practice areas and the main arena," said team member Chris Hickey of Colora, Md., who will be riding the 9-year-old gelding Regent, owned by Brenna Kucinski, whom he describes as "the best horse I've ever had." "He's doing just fine, and it's exciting to be here, it is an excellent venue." By winning the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Intermediare I Dressage Championship in June, which was also the selection trial for the Pan Am team, Hickey and Regent scored a spot on the U.S team.
"The barns are beautiful," said Susan Dutta of Wellington, Fla., the alternate for the U.S team on Pik-L, the 14-year-old Hanoverian stallion owned by Horses Unlimited. "The stalls are quite nice, and there are big, generous wash racks. It's a pleasure to be in them for all of us, especially for the horses."
After the long flight from Miami, the horses seem to be enjoying the pleasant Brazilian climate. With Rio located below the equator, it is winter, but the sun is hot at midday when it is near 80 degrees with the heat tempered by a stiff breeze.
"Zeul is acting very fresh, so it's pretty clear he likes this weather," said Katherine Poulin-Neff of Newbury, Ohio. Her mount, the diminutive but bold-moving Brilliant Too, nicknamed Zeul, is an 11-year-old gelding owned by her mother, Sharon Poulin. This pair placed third in the selection trial in June. Poulin-Neff's sister, Gwen, is her groom at these games. Poulin-Neff has been coached throughout her career by her mother and father, Michael.
Lauren Sammis of South Orange, N.J., second in the selection trial, said her mount, 8-year-old gelding Sagacious HF owned by Hyperion Farm, also made the trip in fine shape and is ready to go when the Prix St. George team competition starts on Saturday.
The first horse inspection for the dressage competition takes place on Friday at 8 a.m., and the draw for order of go will be at 9:00 a.m. Two sessions of competition will be held this Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day for the team medal, which is contested in at the Prix St. George level. Team medals will be awarded on Sunday afternoon.
On Monday the Intermediare I qualifier will be held to determine which riders will move on to the final Intermediare I freestyle competition that will determine the individual medals.
The time in Rio de Janeiro is one hour ahead of Eastern Time in the U.S.