An inviting track set by Canadian course designer Michel Vaillancourt, the individual silver medalist at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, produced a total of 30 clear rounds from the 50-horse starting field. Four of those belonged to the Canadian Show Jumping Team, who didn’t put a foot wrong in the opening phase of competition.
Local athlete Candele, 44, was the pathfinder for Canada riding Showgirl, a 15-year-old chestnut selle francais mare (Gold de Becourt x Elf III) owned by the Watermark Group. In his Pan American Games debut, Candele opened with a clear round for Canada. Although 2016 Rio Olympic qualification is hanging in the balance for Canada at these Games, Candele said pressure goes hand-in-hand with competition.
“Absolutely! Always! It has nothing to do with qualification; it is every time we go in the ring,” said Candele, who makes his home 25 minutes from the Pan Am equestrian venue. “If you don’t feel the pressure, it means you are not concentrating and not on your task. You just have to be able to control it and use it as a positive.”
Foster, 30, followed in the order, also delivering a clear round for Canada in her Pan American Games debut.
“This for sure has a bit of pressure, with the Olympic qualification and being in front of the home crowd,” said Foster, who is making her 22nd Canadian Show Jumping Team appearance. “We really do it for each other, for everybody that is on the Team, and for everyone who cheers us on and supports us all year! This means a lot to us, and we are definitely going to give it our all.”
Foster, who has been partnered with Tripple X III, a 13-year-old dark bay Anglo European stallion (Namelus R x Cantango) owned by Andy and Carlene Ziegler’s Artisan Farms LLC, for a little over a year, spoke to the importance of developing a partnership with the horse, noting, “Coming here after having a year together, you just have that much more confidence and that much more trust in your horse. I think that goes a long way in this sport.”
With three nominated horses to choose from, 2008 Olympic Champion Lamaze selected Coco Bongo, a 10-year-old bay Rheinlander stallion (Caretino x Calido) owned by Artisan Farms LLC, as his mount for these Games. Originally purchased in the spring of 2014 for student Caitlin Ziegler, Lamaze traded his grand prix mount, Powerplay, for Coco Bongo over the winter.
“I did a swap with her and gave her Powerplay, who she did a great job with, and I took over Coco Bongo to give him some more miles, but then I really hit it off with this horse,” said Lamaze of how he came to ride Coco Bongo. “I love horses that try this hard and are this careful. Coco Bongo is one that I was really comfortable bringing to the Games.”
With team silver and bronze and individual bronze medals already to his credit, Lamaze, 47, is thrilled to be competing at the OLG Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park in his fifth consecutive Pan Am Games appearance.
“Throughout my riding career, I mostly grew up here riding hunters and young horses,” said Lamaze. “I took some of my first clients to these shows and built my Torrey Pines Stable business out of these grounds, more or less, we came so many times. It was a beautiful facility then, and it’s even better now with all the new construction. The footing is fantastic.
“It is incredible to jump in front of great supporters that have supported you for a long time, and to come back home, so to speak,” he continued.
Having already made ten Olympic appearances, Millar is now setting a new record with ten Pan American Games appearances. It has been 28 years since Millar won his first gold medals – team and individual – riding Big Ben in the 1987 Pan Am Games in Indianapolis, IN. In 1999, he was again crowned the Pan American Games champion riding Ivar in front of a home crowd in Winnipeg, MB.
In 2015, Millar rides Dixson, a 12-year-old bay Belgian Warmblood gelding (Vigo d’Arsouilles x Olisco) owned by Susan and Ariel Grange.
“I always think I am going to win, and I’m shocked when I don’t,” said Millar, 68, of his chances at his tenth Pan American Games. “I think most successful athletes feel exactly the same way. You shouldn’t walk into this competition if you don’t think you have a shot to win, because then you don’t believe enough. You always have to believe.”
Of what he expects from the Canadian Show Jumping Team, Millar said, “You’ve got to love Canada’s chances. You have four horse-rider combinations that really know what they are doing and can jump anything that Mr. Vaillancourt decides to build; four riders that can handle the stress and the pressure. If we just have our normal performance, we should be right there. And if we’re brilliant, it’s going to be gold.”
A two-round Nations’ Cup competition will decide team medals on Thursday, July 23. All ten nations contesting team medals will start on an equal score of zero. The top two countries in the final team standings, excluding Brazil and the United States who are already qualified, will earn a berth for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, BRA.
The two-round final to decide individual medals, which again sees all competitors starting on an equal score of zero, takes place on Saturday, July 25.
The Canadian Show Jumping Team is led by chef d’equipe Mark Laskin, Team Manager Karen Hendry-Ouellette, Team Veterinarian Dr. Sylvie Surprenant, and Stable Manager Darren Roberts. The Canadian Show Jumping Team extends special thanks to the Grange family for hosting the Pan Am training camp at Lothlorien Farm.
For more information on equestrian events at the Pan American Games, please visit www.toronto2015.org.