Pony Power Prevails at 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—Going into the third and final day of the eventing portion of the XV Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the top three riders (all member of Team USA) were separated by less than two points. With all the remaining U.S. horses passing the final horse inspection, the U.S. support team had a busy afternoon on Sunday, July 22, with five of the remaining 21 horses representing the U.S. The Gold medal won by the team is only the beginning of the story.
When it was all, Theodore O’Connor, a.k.a. the “super pony,” came out on top and proved to his bigger competition that he was the best of them all today. The powerful pony looked awfully small when he cantered into the main arena at Deodoro, but he belied his 14.1 hands under jockey Karen O’Connor and brought the American supporters to their feet in taking home two Gold medals to their home in Virginia.
“It’s a fairytale,” said O’Connor. “The team around me and all the instruction I’ve gotten…it’s a big team effort.”
Spring-heeled, 11-year-old “Teddy,” as he is known to all of his friends, has a huge fan club everywhere he goes. He had one rail down, the second part of the two-stride combination at fence six, but both pony and rider maintained their composure and finished without further penalty and a score of 52.7.
“He’s such a wonderful horse,” O’Connor said. “A lot of people have put a lot of faith in him, and he has developed into a real top athlete regardless of his size.”
Bred by P. Wynn Norman, who still has some ownership in him as part of the Theodore O’Connor Syndicate, the Thoroughbred/Arabian/Shetland cross has rewritten history with his prolific performance.
Stephen Bradley and Charlotte Harris’ From laid the groundwork for the U.S. team, after an unfortunate mistake in the water jump on the cross-country left them out of individual medal contention, Bradley’s experience around the Jorge Guilherme’s show jumping track would be a safety net if any of the other three team riders had a disaster.
The 14-year-old Russian Thoroughbred gelding looked somewhat weary from his efforts on Saturday and had three rails down to finish in 13th place.
“He definitely felt tired,” said Bradley. “He was struggling a little bit in the warm-up, so I knew we were in trouble when we went into the show jumping. He still tried really hard, and I was really proud of him even if it wasn’t meant to be this weekend.”
Regardless of his individual result, this weekend’s team effort makes Bradley a back-to-back Gold medalist, adding this medal to his 2003 hardware on his bookshelf at home.
“Any time you represent your country it’s an honor, especially with this group of people that I got to be on the team with,” he said. “The whole group has been so supportive and so cohesive during the hard and the good. The idea of being on two back-to-back Pan Am teams is an honor in itself.”
Gina Miles and the giant, McKinlaigh, had the fastest time of the day during cross-country, where the pair virtually stepped it. The 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse was in a tie for fourth with Canadian Kyle Carter, but Carter was closer to the optimum time on the cross-country. It ended up not making a difference after Carter had two rails down and two time faults with Madison Park. Riding as part of the team, Miles guided McKinlaigh around the track as if the track was half the size.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” said Miles of her horse’s show jumping effort. “But now he’s stronger and more rideable. He had rails at Intermediate because he just wasn’t strong enough. I do level seven show jumping with him now, and he jumps clean.”
Owned by Thomas Schulz and Laura Coats, McKinlaigh jumped a beautiful clean round and won the Individual Bronze medal. They finished on their dressage score of 56.3, the only combination of the entire competition to do so.
Riding as an individual, the reigning Individual Gold m