By Liz Halliday
During the first week of October, the U.S. eventing team gathered at Loch Moy Farm in Maryland for the mandatory final outing ahead of the 2023 Pan American Games. The event offered a unique and invaluable preparation for the upcoming Games, held in Santiago, Chile, and while competition certainly ran through the veins of the event, the primary focus was not to necessarily win but to ensure that both horse and rider were well prepared for the grand stage of the Pan Am Games. I definitely think the outing was a useful step toward finding success at the Games and gave each member of the team, and the alternates, a chance to compete and spend time together in one space.
We started on Friday morning riding through the 4*B dressage test in front of two experienced judges. I was riding both Miks Master C, my horse named to the Pan Am team, and also Cooley Nutcracker, who was my direct reserve horse. While I did think that some of the judging was a bit mixed between the two judges, it was still a great opportunity to run through the test that we would do in Santiago and to review their comments. This was all about refining the performance and addressing any areas that needed improvement ahead of the Pan Am Games. Both of my horses were feeling very fresh and fit, but I was still pleased with how they both performed and was grateful for the chance to practice the test.
It was a busy day for me as I had two other horses competing in the Advanced combined test, so we had a quick turnaround before the show jumping later that morning. The jumping track was up to height and quite a tight course with a difficult time to make. There was also cross-country going on right next to the arena, so it made for some very fresh, excited horses! Both Miks Master C and Cooley Nutcracker jumped excellent, clear rounds with a couple of planned time faults as I purposefully decided to focus on polite, controlled rounds. I was trying to think about the big picture and what we were trying to achieve with this competition, and I felt that both horses needed to have settled and organized performances to be better prepared for their big future competitions.
The cross-country phase was scheduled for the next morning and the weather had certainly taken a turn. We went from warm, sunny weather the day before to a wet, windy, cold Saturday. The course that Ian Stark had designed for us was not particularly big and challenging, but it was very twisty and would take some focus to give the horses a great ride in the inclement weather. I went out of the start box on both horses with a plan to have very organized rounds and to check in on the controls and adjustability. Both horses are very bold, keen cross-country rides and it was good for them to have quieter rounds without as much pressure to be fast. I was pleased with them both, and I felt that there were some good footwork questions on the course and that it was an overall useful experience for them.
The focus for every team member was definitely on honing technique, making necessary adjustments and having a meticulous plan for a successful cross-country performance at the Pan Am Games. I was very pleased to see that the other team riders and the alternates had excellent cross-country rounds and their horses finished in good form, despite being a bit wet and soggy!
The Pan American Games mandatory outing was more than just another competition—it was a steppingstone toward a successful performance in Santiago and a chance for all of the team members and staff to work together at one venue. The primary goal was to prepare both horse and rider for success rather than push hard to win the class—the real achievement and victory was in the preparation it afforded. Team USA used this experience to pinpoint areas for improvement, and to solidify their readiness to represent the country at a senior championship three weeks later. I know that we all left the mandatory outing ready to fight hard for medals in Chile.
Liz and Miks Master C at the Loch Moy Farm in Maryland.
Photo by US Equestrian