There was a whole new buzz around the Escuela de Equitación Regimiento Granaderos equestrian venue in Quillota, Chile today with horses coming forward for the first veterinary inspection and then going to arena familiarisation ahead of tomorrow's opening dressage phase of Eventing at the Pan American Games 2023.
All equines got the nod of approval, and a total of 34 combinations from nine countries - Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay and USA - will come before Ground Jury members Sandy Phillips (GBR), Robert Stevenson (USA) and Marina Sciocchetti Campello (ITA) when the action gets underway, with USA's Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire first through the gate at 11.00am local time.
There are eight nations fielding teams, and following yesterday's draw the order-of-go will be: 1, USA; 2, Brazil; 3, Uruguay; 4, Mexico; 5, Chile; 6, Colombia; 7, Argentina; 8, Canada.
At the last Pan Americans in Lima, Peru in 2019 the USA took team and individual gold along with individual silver while Brazil's Carlos Parro took individual bronze. Parro is back in the Brazilian side again this year, but the US line-up is completely different.
There are two qualifying spots for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games on offer this week. The Americans have already booked their place, so the countries in contention for those two coveted slots are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay.
The dynamic of the PanAms is unique, and everyone knows the favourites when it comes to medal potential. But these Games are about participation above all else, and already enjoying his fourth Pan American adventure in the sport of Eventing is the inimitable Colombian Juan Carlos Tafur Eisenmayer.
An architect by trade, he has designed everything from sporting venues to housing projects, office buildings and hardware stores in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia and elsewhere. However the real loves of his life are his horses and his competition riding.
"I don't know how I find the time to do it, but it happens!", says the man from Bogotá who will trot into the arena tomorrow afternoon with his much-loved 14-year-old Blue Moon.
Together with his wife he runs a sporthorse breeding enterprise, and he is understandably proud that the mare is a home-bred Holsteiner. With his original top ride, aptly named Quinto because he was the fifth son in a precious breeding line going back to the legendary Irish jumping stallion King of Diamonds, he says that he had a chance of making Olympic qualification earlier in his riding career but family life got in the way.
"Now it's easier for me to develop the sport more intensively", says the distinguished looking gentleman who clearly hasn't lost sight of his ambitions as he turns 70 this year.
His father was instrumental in establishing the Bacata Equestrian Club in 1953. "That is 70 years old in November this year, and I was born 20 days later!", says Juan Carlos. Juan Carlos' early life centred around the club which has nurtured generations of Colombian equestrians, including his nephew Roberto Terán Tafur who represented the country in Jumping at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Rene Lopez who is on the Colombian Jumping team next week in Quillota.
Juan Carlos is also a Jumping course designer, working in South Africa, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Venezuela and Canada and creating the tracks for the US Young Riders championship on three occasions.
He has seen many changes in the sport over the years, and has been impressed by the increased professionalism he is seeing this week at the Pan American Games, but he says some of the nations in the region have a lot of ground to make up to be truly competitive.
"The standard of horsemanship is much higher but we still have too many differences between Europe and the US and what we are doing in South America. That is because here it is difficult to travel and bring people together, it's so difficult to move horses around and so expensive", he points out. The topography doesn't help, negotiating the Andes mountains for instance is not a small challenge.
But he's a great believer in positivity.
""I try to encourage people by saying if I can do it then you have to try! Be focused, try to progress, anything is possible - although I'm not sure about a medal!"
Juan Carlos Tafur Eisenmayer COL
he adds with a laugh.
His first Pan American Games were in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011, "and then Toronto in 2015 where I had a wonderful time. I was first to go cross-country and completed it with Quinto. It's great to be able to accomplish things that you feel are difficult but then you just go for it and it turns out fantastic!", he says.
He explains the cycle of progress that athletes in the region go through.
"We start with the Bolivarian Games, then the Central American and Caribbean Games and then the Pan American Games, and that can take you to the Olympics. I've had three team and one individual bronze medal in Bolivarian Games with Quinto and in the Central American Games I won one silver team medal. I feel very honoured to have done this", he explains.
Needless to say the cross-country phase of Eventing is his favourite part. "Blue Moon loves it. We walked the course yesterday - it's tough, we've never had these mountains and hills so she will be a little surprised but we will enjoy it!", he says. He is filled with praise for the facilities at the venue, loves the stables which have been upgraded for the Games but with great respect for the integrity of the old buildings, and says the organisation is exceptional.
"It's the first time for me to be able to go in the arena for Jumping familiarisation and again today we had familiarisation for Dressage, and we could go hacking for the last few days which is so good for the horses. We had a bit of galloping too, not seeing the (cross-country) fences but the horses loved it, and there is a very nice grazing area also so they are much more happy and relaxed. It's a really friendly environment for everyone!", he says.
He says riding keeps him fit, and Blue Moon is the perfect partner for him right now.
"When you have a horse that's light, capable, willing and careful it's fantastic. I work for my horses and they are everything to me!"
Juan Carlos Tafur Eisenmayer COL
He is joined on the Colombian team this week by Lucero Desrochers S - "a professional rider and coach, she is from Cali in Colombia", Andres Felipe Gomez Sanabria - "a young man studying medicine" and Mauricio Benmudez - "a lawyer who just bought an Irish horse!"
Together they will be flying the Colombian flag high, and with enormous pride.
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