Aug. 2, 2019, Lima, PER – Canadian Eventing Team athletes, Dana Cooke of Merritt, BC, Colleen Loach of Dunham, QC, Jessica Phoenix of Cannington, ON and Karl Slezak of Tottenham, ON are holding second place after completing the dressage phase on Aug. 2 at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games in Peru.

Canada is currently on a score of 81.3, while the United States leads with 76.4 and Brazil holds third (85.9).With the top two teams being given a berth to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and none of the FEI Group D (North America) or Group E (Central and South America) nations yet qualified, competition is fierce and the stakes are high.

As the first of three phases in the sport of eventing, the dressage test required athletes to perform a test showcasing a variety of movements, including extensions and collections at all three gaits, half-passes, shoulder-in, and a canter serpentine that incorporates counter-canter. With scores converted to penalties, the athletes aim to have the lowest score possible, with the best three individual scores being combined to create the team score.

Loach, 36, turned heads and achieved high scores to become the top Canadian on the leaderboard, finishing the day in fourth individually after contributing an impressive score of 26.2 to the team. Tamra Smith of the United States is leading on 22.8 with Mai Baum. Fellow American, Boyd Martin is second aboard Tsetserleg with 25.6, and Brazil’s Marcelo Tosi and Starbucks have 26.0 for third.

A staple of the Canadian Eventing Team, Loach helped earn team bronze at the Toronto Pan Am Games in 2015, and also represented the maple leaf at the Rio 2016 Olympics and 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). While typically seen at Games with her long-time partner, Qorry Blue D’Argouges, Loach’s horse in Lima is FE Golden Eye (Goldfever x Contendro I), who – at just seven years old – is the youngest allowed to compete in eventing at the Games. Despite his relative inexperience at this level, the Hanoverian gelding was right on cue with Loach, executing the test like a pro and being highly rewarded by the judges, particularly for the trot work, half-passes and canter serpentines.

“I’m very pleased and really proud of my horse,” said Loach who purchased FE Golden Eye as a four-year-old in partnership with Amanda Bernhard, and has since brought him along from pre-novice to CCI 3*. “He’s very talented and he has a great mind. He’s a really special horse. I looked at him and fell in love with him.”

Canadian Eventing Team Sitting Second in the Tokyo Race after Dressage at Lima 2019 Pan Am Games

Colleen Loach and FE Golden Eye
Photo Credit: © Cealy Tetley – www.tetleyphoto.com

Looking ahead to the fan-favourite cross-country phase on Aug. 3, Loach commented, “I think it’s a beautiful track. It’s a good course, and challenging enough. He’s a smaller horse and he turns easily, so I think he’s a good horse for this track because it’s a little bit twisty. They did a great job with it, but it definitely takes a rideable horse.”

Coming in just behind Loach in fifth individually on a score of 27.4 was team anchor and two-time Olympian, Phoenix, 35, and her veteran partner Pavarotti (Pavarotti van de Helle x Foxiland), a 17-year-old Westphalian gelding. Together, this power duo are competing in their third Pan Am Games, having already won individual gold and team silver from Guadalajara, MEX in 2011, and individual silver and team bronze in front of the home crowd in Toronto in 2015.

“Pavarotti was amazing; it’s always so much fun to compete for Canada on that horse,” said Phoenix, who also competed with Pavarotti at WEG 2014 and 2018. “He’s such an experienced competitor and he didn’t let me down today.”

She added, “Start to finish, whenever you enter an arena like that and you go around those white boards, it’s just an emotional experience. You’re just so proud to be there, and you know how much hard work you’ve put into it. To be there on a horse that you have so much history with is just awesome.”

Phoenix also spoke to the team goals, stating, “The best thing about this competition is it’s not a dressage show, for sure. There is so much to be done out on cross-country. We have an incredibly talented group of cross-country horses, so as a nation, I think we’re pretty excited to get out there and get at it tomorrow. We want to be team gold. That’s our goal this weekend; that’s what Canada came to do is make that podium and win the gold medal as a team.”

Canadian Eventing Team Sitting Second in the Tokyo Race after Dressage at Lima 2019 Pan Am Games

Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti
Photo Credit: © Cealy Tetley – www.tetleyphoto.com

Slezak, 37, had Canada off and running as the lead-off rider aboard Fernhill Wishes (Chacoa x Gildawn Diamond) – a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding he co-owns with Kirk Hoppner and has been bringing along up through the levels since 2015. In a fairy-tale start to his major games debut, Slezak piloted Fernhill Wishes to their best-ever dressage score of 27.7 penalties and a current individual placing of sixth.

“He was fantastic, he definitely just keeps getting better and better,” he said of Fernhill Wishes, who was to be his partner for the iconic CCI 4* Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in April until Slezak’s broken wrist prevented the trip. “I’m very excited, I think there’s still more to come; we’re putting it all together. We really focused on the quality today. There were a few little blips in accuracy, but I was really pleased with it.”

Speaking to his Pan Am debut, he added, “It’s great, I’m just trying to soak it all in. We’ve got a great team. They are all super supportive and we’ve had a lot of fun in the last couple weeks. I love my team.”

Canadian Eventing Team Sitting Second in the Tokyo Race after Dressage at Lima 2019 Pan Am Games

Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes
Photo Credit: © Cealy Tetley – www.tetleyphoto.com

Rounding out the Canadian Eventing Team was Cooke, 31, aboard the distinctive grey and white nine-year-old Württemberger mare, Mississippi (Cassini II x Legaat), owned by the FE Mississippi Syndicate LLC. Also making their major games debut, the pair executed a solid test, scoring 32.8 to finish out the day in 13th individually.

“Honestly, I think she felt better than she has all week,” said Cooke, who originally took Mississippi on as a sales horse but quickly realized her potential and kept her in the stable at Kingfisher Park in North Carolina where she is the Director of Equestrian Activities and campaigns upwards of five horses. “She felt like she was moving pretty well. There were a few inconsistencies in the contact that I think cost me a few points, but she was good and pretty responsive through most (of the test).”

Speaking to her journey to Lima, Cooke said, “It’s honestly always been a dream to ride at a major games. I groomed for Rebecca Howard at the Pan Am Games in 2011 and then the 2012 Olympics, so I was close and got to see a little bit of (the experience), but I wanted to be a rider, so it’s really a dream come true.” 

Canadian Eventing Team Sitting Second in the Tokyo Race after Dressage at Lima 2019 Pan Am Games

Dana Cooke and Mississippi
Photo Credit: © Cealy Tetley – www.tetleyphoto.com

Following cross-country, eventing will wrap up with the jumping phase on Aug. 4, where both the team and individual medals will be handed out to those with the lowest cumulative scores across all three phases.

For more information on equestrian events at the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games, including the full schedule of equestrian competition, entries and results, please visit www.lima2019.pe/en. Live scoring for equestrian can be found here.

To follow the CET’s #RideToLima through results coverage, behind-the-scenes content and breaking news, visit www.equestrian.ca/events-results/games/ridetolima and be sure to check out EC’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for unique content, including a daily photo album.

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