There is a perpetual gray haze that seems to be permanently installed over the city of Lima, Peru. This is fitting, as it mirrored the state of my brain on the first day I arrived at the 2019 Pan American Games.
All of you who are sweating it out above the equator in these midsummer months will easily forget that in the other half of the world, it is actually winter. And if, like me, you forgot to tote your parka along on this trip, it’s been a chilly few days. It will be a chilly few weeks, as I am here for the duration of three equestrian disciplines: dressage, three-day eventing, and show jumping.
While some of the three-day event horses were rumored to be delayed in Colombia while on their way to the Games, getting to South America from the USA is easier than one would think. Despite the universal looks of horror I received when announcing I was flying here on the budget carrier Spirit Airlines, the flight was smooth and comfortable. Other Pan Ams-bound athletes were on my flight from Fort Lauderdale, including an American boxer with the Olympic seal tattooed on her shoulder. It was an early reminder that my destination would not be just another horse show.
The Pan American Games are a multi-sport championships that encompass the summer Olympic sports. Held every four years in the pre-Olympic year, they serve as Olympic qualifiers for countries still seeking that ticket. Lima is a massive city, the capital of Peru, and has all the hustle and bustle that one would expect from a metropolis. The cacophony of barking dogs, televisions with the volume turned up to 11. . . actually, that is just the background noise at my Airbnb.
“When (Canada) won there was a celebration matched only by that of Brazil, who earned team bronze.”
Refreshingly, the equestrian events of these Pan Am Games are held inside the walled sanctuary of the Escuela de Equitación del Ejército, Lima’s Army Equitation School. A good rule of thumb when traveling anywhere in Central or South America is: the bigger the gate, the wealthier the occupant. Some of the houses surrounding the equitation school even have their own private security guards outside their gates. Behind massive metal gates which prove once again that our press credentials are magic passes, beautiful gardens and well-kept buildings give way to a main arena that is in top form for this competition. So far, we have seen two days of dressage, with the freestyle concluding the dressage competition on Wednesday.
Photographing dressage while slightly jetlagged is not totally ideal, but the pure joy of some of the riders, and several twists and turns kept it interesting. On day one we saw a total of three riders rung out and excused by the judge for soundness issues – that was definitely a first! Then American rider Nora Batchelder’s billet broke during her warm up, and she was forced to ride her test with the loose buckle flapping. Canada went neck and neck with the USA for team gold – when they won there was a celebration matched only by that of Brazil, who earned team bronze. Both Canada and Brazil qualified for Tokyo 2020 with their results (the USA is already qualified), so I can understand their excitement.
Once the dressage individual medals are handed out, we will turn our attention to three-day eventing, and not a moment too soon. I’m ready for a slightly faster paced competition – sorry, dressage riders. Although I will say that I have been enjoying the many, many Lusitano and Iberian breeds competing in the dressage. They are just so fun to watch.
Now all we need is for the sun to break through the perpetual fog. . . . I haven’t taken off my jacket since I got here. Fingers crossed, and stay tuned.