By US Equestrian Communications Department
The U.S. Jumping Team completed its mission today at Santiago 2023, earning their long-awaited qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and securing team gold with a final team total of 12.37. Canada finished with team silver on 17.62, and Brazil in third on 20.32. The final round of individual competition will begin at 11:00 a.m. GMT-3/10:00 a.m. ET on Friday, November 3, with two final rounds determining individual medals to close out equestrian competition for the 2023 Pan American Games.
“I think there’s a huge sense of relief with the team’s finish today. We really brought this down to the wire in terms of qualification and the team produced today, especially with three clears in the first round and four in the second,” said Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland. “I don’t think people have talked about how competitive the Pan American Games has become and it’s very stiff competition for all of the teams. For us, this gold is just the icing on top because our priority was to secure our qualification, so now the team can enjoy this moment, but we have to immediately start shifting our focus and planning to Paris.”
All four team members knew coming into today’s competition that qualification was on the line and a subpar performance would leave them looking from the outside in at next year’s Olympic Games. With team veterans McLain Ward (Brewster, N.Y.) and Contagious, cared for by Virg Casterman, first in the team order, the pair were quick to set the tone for the day, delivering a first-round clear around Marena Azevedo’s (BRA) beautifully built track. The pair stopped the timers in 73.96 seconds, to add nothing to their competitive score from yesterday of 3.34.
Karl Cook (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) and Caracole de la Roque, cared for by Tessa Falanga, rode the first half of the course well, before three rails fell in the final line, adding twelve faults to their total, putting pressure on Farrington and Kraut to keep the team on a competitive score heading into the second round. Farrington (Wellington, Fla.) and Landon, cared for by Denise Moriarty were cool and calm as the third pair in the rotation, improving on their ride from yesterday to jump clear and inside the time, notching another much needed zero-fault score for the U.S.
Aboard St. Bride Farm’s Dorado 212, cared for by Margo Thomas, Laura Kraut (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) delivered for the team once again, a position the pair has become familiar with, showing the talent and consistency of the 2013 Oldenburg gelding. The duo’s clear round kept the U.S. on its team total of 12.37, heading into the second round, just behind Brazil on 12.35.
Ward and Contagious, a 2009 Zweibrücker gelding owned by Beechwood Stables LLC, showed the strength of their partnership, producing another clear round and finishing their day again adding nothing to their individual score and capturing the top spot on the individual leaderboard.
“Everyone knows that our main goal in coming here was to secure our qualification, but also to win a medal as a team, and represent our country well,” said Ward. “I thought the team rallied well and we pulled it off in pretty good style today, but the fact that it took so long for us to qualify needs to bring to our attention that we can’t rest on a good week here and that we have work to be done to be prepared for Paris to compete against the world’s best and find that motivation from this result.”
As the drop score from the first round, Cook proved that he and the 2012 Selle Français mare owned by Signe Ostby, could push the team to further security, producing an efficient clear round to give the team a breath of air before Farrington and Kraut later in the order.
“We’ve had a challenging two days and there were some challenges we haven’t yet faced together as a partnership, so it was a lot of reflection and working with Eric [Navet], talking with Robert [Ridland] and the other riders – it feels like a catastrophe – but just making little tweaks and not change everything but feeling okay to adjust the plan, while having belief that we could produce for the team,” said Cook of his comeback second-round effort.
The impressive track, filled with beautifully crafted jumps, started to take a toll on combinations, with rails falling and scores quickly rotating through the final round. Farrington and Landon, a 2013 Zangersheide gelding owned by Haity McNerney, were unfazed, producing a third straight clear round for the team to ultimately secure the team’s Paris 2024 berth. Even with Landon’s relative greenness at the level, Farrington noted that he stepped up beautifully to the task and showed his ability to produce consistently for the team.
“I’m thrilled with his performance today. We really needed clear rounds today or we weren’t going to qualify, and it was as simple as that,” said Farrington. “He’s an inexperienced horse for this level of competition and showed his greenness a bit yesterday, but he really rallied back today over a much more difficult course, so thrilled with the performance, great progress for my horse, and happy we got Team USA into the Olympics.”
With the pressure of Olympic qualification finally removed, Kraut and Dorado 212 turned their sights to the team’s overall standings, with the gold-medal within in reach. The pair were brilliant again, riding a perfect round and showcasing the immense scope of Dorado 212. They finished their round with another clear effort inside the time, notching the team’s fourth consecutive clear second-round score, which left the final medal positions up to the results of the remaining teams. Ultimately, Brazil’s anchor combination added eight faults to their total as the final ride of the day, clinching team gold for the U.S.
“This day was extremely nerve-wracking, but we had a very good first round performance, but you still know that it can all go away with the second round and two mediocre rounds could have lost it for us, but I was so relieved when the three before me went clear – I almost enjoyed riding the last round,” smiled Kraut.
Three of the four U.S. combinations currently sit inside the top ten in the individual standings, with Ward and Contagious atop the overall leaderboard on 3.34 penalties, Kraut and Dorado 212 in second on 3.39 penalties, and Farrington and Landon in eighth on 5.64 penalties.