By Liz Halliday
I recently had the honor of representing my country at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, with Miks Master C. It has been a goal of mine for many, many years to be on a senior team for the USA, and it was wonderful to finally get the chance to compete at a major championship. I was originally meant to have my debut at the Olympics in Tokyo, but sadly I was not able to go due to a last-minute injury to my horse. Since then, my team jackets have been bundled up at the back of a closet waiting for the day that I was allowed to put them on and represent the USA.
The weeks leading up to the games were a bit crazy. With all of the required outings, both Miks Master C and my direct reserve horse, Cooley Nutcracker, had been in five different locations over two and a half weeks. In hindsight, I really feel this wasn’t good for any of the horses, and I think they might have been better rested and prepared for the championship having spent less time on the road. Luckily, all of the team horses traveled well and still arrived in good form in Santiago.
The venue in Chile was a military base that had substantial improvements made in time for the Games. The stalls and arenas were nice, and the ground on cross-country was outstanding. We were there with a strong team of fierce women—Sydney Elliot, Sharon White, Caroline Pamukcu and myself—and excellent horses, and we all believed we could win team gold. We had a good few days to train before the event began and I think that all the horses were pretty fired up by the time they finally got to compete. Dressage day was a great start for Team USA with three riders inside the top three and Mikki and I in gold medal position. He was a little bit edgy in the first phase and had a few mistakes due to pure excitement, but I was still very proud of him and the effort that he put in for me.
The cross-county course was unique in that it was very twisty, with limited space to gallop with some slow combinations at the end. While the jumps were smaller than what our horses had mostly been doing this season, we did think that the time would be tight. I was very proud of how my teammates performed, all bringing home solid, clear rounds with two inside the time. I was last to go for the team and as I left the start box with purpose, it became clear very quickly that Mikki was very, very strong that day and that my breaks were limited. He has always been a keen, bold, big-galloping horse and has been fast around a lot of huge events this year already, but on that Saturday in Chile he was stronger than normal on a twisty track with nothing to back him off. It’s horrible knowing you’re down on the clock and not being able to do much about it, especially on such an amazing horse, but I had to make a solid round for the team a priority, minimize the risk and accept a few time faults. Mikki was, of course, still incredibly brave and honest, but he needed bigger jumps!
The whole team was ready to fight hard on the last day to stay in gold medal position with three of us holding down first, second and third place ahead of the show jumping. Ultimately, Caroline took home the individual gold medal, which was an amazing achievement! For the team, things just didn’t quite go to plan though, and with far more rails coming down among all of us than could ever be imagined, we ended up with team silver. While I am of course pleased to have earned a medal, I’m still in shock to have had three rails down on a super horse who is a talented, careful jumper and has so many clear rounds on his record. At the end of the day it was a reminder that our horses are athletes and that even the best athlete can have an off weekend, no matter how important the competition is. I’m still very pleased with Mikki and proud of all that he has achieved this year and how hard he tries for me—I feel honored to have been a part of team USA with him, and he has a big future ahead! This experience has made me ready to work even harder for more team opportunities going forward, and it was a pleasure to represent my country with this excellent group of top riders.
The USA eventing team taking home the silver medal at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
Photo by Shannon Brinkman