Ecuador’s Julio Mendoza Loor is not a man to hide his emotions, and his smile was a mile wide when he was crowned individual Dressage champion at the Pan American Games in Quillota, Chile.
This was his country’s first Dressage gold medal in the 72-year history of the Games, and partnering the lovely Dutch-bred gelding Jewel’s Goldstrike, he produced a fabulous Freestyle performance for a mark of 87.230 that proved impossible to beat when third-last to go.
“I can’t believe it – history for Ecuador, and I got my spot for the Olympics today, so it’s really exciting!” said Mendoza Loor.
There were two individual slots at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games on offer to NOCs in the region, and Loor has claimed one for Ecuador, while the other goes to Chile after Svenja Grimm and Doctor Rossi finished eighth.
Brazil’s João Marcari Oliva and Feel Good VO followed Mendoza Loor into the ring and put a hefty 86.160 on the board to take their second silver medal of the week. Team gold medallist, USA’s Anna Marek with Fire Fly, snatched bronze when last of the 19 starters, her 81.305 giving her the edge over team-mate and defending individual champion Sarah Tubman with First Apple.
The Americans were strong all day, Codi Harrison and Katholt’s Bossco taking the lead on 79.230 before the final group of five took their turn.
Tubman led the way in that group and put the first over-80% score on the board with 81.155, remaining at the head of affairs when the popular Brazilian partnership of Renderson Silva de Oliveira and Fogoso Campline followed with a well-earned 80.095.
Mendoza Loor blew the competition wide open when dancing his way to over 87% in a test brimming with confidence and class. In the Grand Prix there had been costly mistakes, but he put things right to win the Grand Prix Special. It was plain sailing all the way to the biggest result of his career.
“My plan was to go mistake-free, and I did it!” he said.
He knew he was doing a good test and that he needed to keep his nerve, “especially after my last pirouette/piaffe, straight from pirouette to piaffe, which is really complicated, he was really ready for it. After that I had to hold in my tears because I just wanted to cry!” he added.
Goldstrike is known as Goldie at home, and he’s a treasured member of the Mendoza Loor family. “I got him from a friend five years ago, and the first time I rode him, I was laughing because he wanted to be a little bit cheeky, and I said, ‘Come on baby, bring it on!’ I love his character and we’ve become best friends,” he explained.
The Dutch Warmblood gelding lives a natural life, full of freedom. “He lives outside 24/7; he has his own stall with his name on it, but he loves his field. For me, if that’s where he is happiest, then that’s where he has to live,” said the newly-crowned gold medallist.
Pleased and proud
Brazil’s Marcari Oliva said he was pleased and proud of his second silver medal of the week. “For my horse and my team and for my other friends who were competing with me – this silver is also for them,” he pointed out.
“My horse was listening to me; he felt fresh; he also wanted to win the medal like me. I chose the music because the first part is called Feeling Good and that’s also the name of horse, so I felt it was a match and I liked the music, and everything went right!” he explained.
It wasn’t easy to change from his top ride, Escorial, who he competed at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 and the FEI Dressage World Championship 2022 in Herning (DEN), and who was withdrawn in favour of the Westphalian stallion he rode this week. “I have more experience with Escorial; he’s older and my first choice was him. But the other horse (Feel Good VO) gave me the same or maybe more; he was really into it and he gave his best, and we got the silver medal. We will never know what would have happened if I had the other horse (Escorial), but this horse did the best he could do,” he pointed out.
Quite a week
USA’s Marek said she came to the Pan Americans “not expecting a whole lot in terms of an individual medal,” so with a bronze individual to add to the team gold, it has been quite a week.
“You spend so much time at training camp and there’s all the anticipation coming here, and I worked all year to make the team and I was hoping for months that I made the team. Then you come and prepare, and that first ride, never having done a major championship before, where you’re not just riding for yourself and the owner but for the team and the country… the feeling I had after the Grand Prix without even knowing the score – it felt like a great ride for Fire Fly and like no other feeling I’ve ever had in my life!” said the rider who was born in Michigan but who has been living in Ocala, Florida for the last 14 years.
She is obviously a woman of many talents. She and her husband have a 20-acre farm and also keep training horses and clients at another farm close by. Describing her lifestyle, she explained, “I coach, I ride, I teach, I’m a mom, I clean my house, I feed horses….”
She was completely taken aback about making it onto the podium. She was back at the stables when she heard the news.
“Standing in the box and finding out that I was bronze here today, I freaked out! I almost made my horse take off! My coach Anne Gribbons told me before going in, ‘You’re not riding for the team anymore; you have nothing to lose, so just go for it!’ But I had to follow those two (Mendoza Loor and Marcari Oliva, who were standing nearby), so you’ve got to do something right!” she said.
Meanwhile, new Pan American Games individual champion Julio Mendoza Loor was still singing the praises of the horse that has carried him to the most significant moment in his career.
“I can’t express how grateful I am to this horse (Jewel’s Goldstrike). He gave me everything and more than I deserve, and I’m always going to be grateful to him. He’s always going to be at home in the field – I love him!” he said.
by Louise Parkes