True Equestrian: Spotlight on the Rio Olympics Equestrian Team

Lucy Davis of Los Angeles, CA. [Photo courtesy of]

By Lauren Mueller | Reporter

The Olympics are upon us. Around the world, people are tuning their TV sets to watch everything from gymnastics to swimming and more. But what is often overlooked by the general public is the United States Equestrian Team.

This year, Team USA has a full roster, with 86 members on the team – and that’s only the humans. The four-legged team is traveling to Rio as well, and some riders have more than one horse to accommodate.

There are eight equestrian events in the Olympics this year: show jumping, dressage, eventing, para-dressage, combined driving, reining, vaulting and endurance. The official Team USA Equestrian page describes each event.

Show Jumping is described as “one of the most popular and perhaps most recognizable equestrian events.” There are 23 riders competing in this event in the Olympics this year. Hailing from California are Lucy Davis (Los Angeles), Audrey Coulter (San Francisco) and Karl Cook (Woodside).

Lucy Davis rides Barron, and in 2013 she and her mount won top honors in the Grand Prix of Lausanne, also becoming the youngest rider to win a Global Champions Tour Grand Prix at the age of 20. Davis graduated from Stanford University in June of 2015 with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with a specialization in architectural design.

Audrey Coulter is from a family of show jumpers, and often competes alongside older sister Saer. In 2010, Coulter won a Team Silver at the North American Junior Championships and placed fourth in the Randolph College/USEF National Junior Jumper Individual Championship. Coulter graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in economics and a minor in chemistry.

Karl Cook is the only male competitor from California. He has a long list of accomplishments beginning in 2009, including several Grand Prix victories aboard multiple horses. His 2015 mounts included Basimodo, Farrari and Tembla. He consistently takes marks in the Top 5 in Amateur-Owner divisions, and shines during the Desert Circuits.

According to Team USA’s site, “the specific purpose of dressage is to develop a horse’s natural athletic ability and maximize its suppleness and attentiveness, all the while fostering ultimate harmony between horse and rider.”

Thirteen equestrians will show in Dressage for Team USA. Those showing from California are Guenter Seidel (Cardiff), Kasey Perry-Glass (Orangevale), Sabine Schut-Kery (Thousand Oaks) and Steffen Peters (San Diego).

Guenter Seidel moved to the United States in 1985, making his mark on U.S. Dressage. He has competed in the Olympics three times prior to this: the 1996 Atlanta games, the 2000 Sydney games and the 2004 Athens games. Seidel was also a part of the silver-medal winning U.S. Team at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Spain. In 2006, Seidel also helped the U.S. win a Team Bronze medal at the FEI World Equestrian Games with a performance that made him the highest scoring American rider on the first day of competition.

Kasey Perry-Glass began riding Western at the age of 5, and joined the United States Pony Club at eight years of age. She switched her focus to Dressage when she began attending CSU Sacramento. Her top two horses this year are Goerklintgaards Dublet and Trøstruplund’s Scarlet.

Sabine Schut-Kery became a U.S. Citizen in 2007, after moving to the United States in 1998 and working for several years as a trainer in Proud Meadows, Texas. Her mount is a dark bay named Sanceo.

Steffen Peters competed with Guenter Seidel at the 1996 Atlanta games, where he won his first Olympic medal – a team bronze. He also competed at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games. Though he had a stunning record with Dutch Warmblood gelding Ravel, Peters’ current mount is Legolas 92.

Called “somewhat comparable to a human triathlon,” eventing was a discipline historically developed to “test the skills required of the working military mount – athleticism, agility, bravery, speed and endurance.” Competing in this event from California is Tamra Smith (Temecula).

Smith is an ICP Level 4 Certified Instructor who has over 25 years of eventing experience. In 2014, she rode mare Twizted Syster to second place in The Event at Rebecca Farm CC12, along with other two-star level placings. She competed at the Fresno County Horse Park in 2015 and placed fifth on the mare and first on another mount.

Para-Dressage is just like its counterpart Dressage, except this event is focused on providing “educational and competitive opportunities for athletes with physical disabilities. In competition, each athlete is classified according to their functional ability.” From California is Susan Treabess (Winters).

Treabess was born without her left hand. Despite this, she has ridden horses for her entire life. In 2008, Treabess began to ride the KWPN mare Moneypenny. The team swept their divisions at the 2010 Dressage Affaire FEI CPED13, winning the overall high point award. In 2014, Treabess finished fifth in the USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championship with PRE stallion Kamiakin.

Combined Driving may be one of the most thrilling Olympic Equestrian sports to watch, reminiscent of what Chariot races must have been like in Ancient Rome. Only, these events are individual, so only one cart is on the course at a time. The event is designed to “test a horse’s or team’s speed, stamina, obedience and athleticism in three distinct and demanding phases.” Competing from California are Scott Dancer (Woodside) and wife Kathrin.

Scott Dancer began his combined driving career as a navigator for his wife, but began his own career in 2009. In 2013, he aided the U.S. Team to a fourth-place finish at the FEI World Driving Championships for Pairs. He spent 2015 training and competing in Europe before returning to CAIO Riesenbeck and helping the U.S. Team claim a fifth place finish.

Kathrin Dancer is considered a member of Woodside’s local driving Dynasty. The daughter of Karl Poppenberg, driving has always been a part of her life. She competed in Conty, France in 2011 on the U.S. Team, helping to bring home a tenth-place finish. She then finished her season with a second-place finish at the Shady Oaks CDE. Dancer took a hiatus from the sport, but returned in 2015, campaigning through Europe before returning to CAIO Riesenbeck to take home a fifth-place team finish with her husband.

Reining Competitions are Western events, as opposed to the other events which are mostly English. These competitions are designed to show off the skills and athletic abilities of a working ranch horse. America’s Horse, the Quarter Horse, is the most prominent breed in this competition. Traveling from California to compete is Andrea Fappani (San Marcos).

Andrea Fappani was born in Italy, but moved to the United States in the 1990s. In 2006, he reached National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Million Dollar status. He is the youngest rider and the first European ever to do so. He was also the first European rider to win the NRHA Futurity Open Championship in 2001 with RR Star. Fappani rode the well-known stallion Spooks Gotta Gun to victory at the 2008 Reining by the Bay competition. The 6-year-old stallion is one of the very few deaf horses to compete in reining.

Vaulting is often described as gymnastics on horseback. It requires a great deal of strength to perform on the part of those doing the vaulting, and a well-trained mount to accept humans leaping from the ground to its back. The entire vaulting team this year is from California. The seven vaulters are: Patrick Stevens (Martinez), Kristian Roberts (Moss Beach) sisters Cassidy and Kimberly Palmer (Half Moon Bay), Elizabeth Ioannou (Saratoga), Mary McCormick (Woodside) and Mary Garrett (Mountain View).

Patrick Stevens one of only two male members of the United States vaulting team. In 2007, he was the USEF/AVA National Vaulting Champion in the Men’s Silver division. In 2014, he had back-to-back, second-place finishes at Garrod’s Spring Classic and Woodside Vaulters Spring Fest. Stevens then earned the Reserve Champion title in the Men’s Gold division at the USEF/AVA National Vaulting Championship.

Kristian Roberts is the other male on the vaulting team for this year’s Olympics. He began vaulting at age 13, connecting with the Palmer family and joining the Half Moon Bay Vaulting Club. In 2008, Roberts was the Men’s Silver Overall Champion at the USEF/AVA National Vaulting Championship. In October of 2010, Roberts represented the U.S. for the first time at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. In 2014, he won his third consecutive Men’s Gold Championship title.

Cassidy and Kimberly Palmer teamed up in 2010 and worked their way up the FEI pas-de-deux rankings in a speedy manner, making them one of vaulting’s most exciting duos. Their most notable win was when they won the FEI World Cup Vaulting 2013/2014 leg at the Stuttgart German Masters. In 2014, they represented the U.S. at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The sisters won five out of six pas-de-deux competitions in 2015, including a World Cup Final qualifying competition in Paris and at the Nations Cup competition in Verden.

Elizabeth Ioannou is the youngest member of the vaulting team at just 18 years of age. She competes both as an individual and as a member of the Mt. Eden A team. She is now joining Team USA. In 2014, she competed at the USEF/AVA National Vaulting Championship and placed third in the Women’s Gold Championship. She is a freshman at UCLA.

Mary McCormick is one of America’s most decorated vaulters, having been named USEF Vaulter of the Year in 2009 and 2011. She represented the U.S. at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games and at the 2008 FEI World Vaulting Championship.

Mary Garrett won a gold medal alongside her FACE teammates At the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. Garrett claimed her first win of 2014 at the CVI Chilliwack in Canada in the CVI3* Individual Female division.

Endurance is the final Olympic Equestrian event, and it is exactly what it sounds like. This competition is designed to test a horse’s fitness and stamina, along with a rider’s horsemanship skills over long distances. While a horse’s condition is important in every Equestrian event, it is perhaps most important in Endurance Competition. However, no California natives will be competing in the Endurance event at the Rio Olympics.

All told, there are 23 show jumpers, 13 dressage competitors, 16 eventers, six para-dressage competitors, eight combined drivers, six reiners, seven vaulters and seven endurance riders competing in this year’s Rio Olympics. Of those 86, 19 hail from California. That’s 22 percent of the riders this year, nearly a quarter of the team.