The equestrian team that will represent the United States at the Pan American Games-- which begin tomorrow in Winnipeg and run through Aug. 8--features many Northern Virginia-based riders, including several members of the show jumping and three-day event squads. Equestrian competition begins Monday.
Because Virginia is the epicenter of the eventing community, the final selection trial was held at Great Meadow in The Plains. The three-day event squad has been participating in an ongoing training session in Middleburg with Capt. Mark Phillips, who will be keeping a close eye on the horses and riders until they ship to Canada on Saturday.
Among those selected: local horsewoman Abigail Lufkin-- who is coming off a successful completion at the World Equestrian Games last year in Italy--and her horse, Jacob Two-Two. This is the 28-year-old Lufkin's second time competing in the Pan American Games and 11-year-old Jacob Two-Two's first--but his extensive experience and natural talent should result in a superb showing.
Jacob Two-Two, known simply as "Jake," is a Canadian Thoroughbred gelding Lufkin has been riding for nearly two years. Bred in Canada to become a racehorse, Jake was basically turned out in a field until he was 8. Through some interesting twists of fate, the horse ended up in Lufkin's stable, after starting an eventing career in Idaho.
"From what I understand," Lufkin said, "Jake was like a wild monkey when he first started to compete, and I feel like I'm just starting to tame him."
Jake is a wisp of a horse, not what most people would call the ultimate eventing machine. The obedience of dressage is the most difficult phase of eventing for Jake, but he is fast and fearless on the cross-country and very careful not to touch a rail in the show jumping. His exceptional and unusual jumping ability has put him in a class by himself.
He and Lufkin were able to create an instant partnership-- as she also is tiny, talented and a fierce competitor--and she hopes that chemistry will help produce a performance good enough for a medal these next couple of weeks.
(There will be four horses chosen for an effective team and two riders competing as individuals.)
"I would very much like Jake to be put on the team," Lufkin said, "where I think he will put in a strong performance and hopefully contribute to a team gold medal."
The three-day team is a mixed bag of horse and rider combinations. Middleburg's David O'Connor and his horse, Giltedge, are very experienced, while some less-experienced riders never have competed internationally. That said, the Winnipeg trip will help them prepare mentally and physically for next year's Olympic Games.
The last time the United States won the Pan Am Games was in 1987, but Lufkin for one feels the equestrian team has an extremely good chance of getting gold at the Games.
Said Lufkin: "The right group of sound, competitive horses and the right mix of experience amongst the riders are all working in our favor."