Run faster, jump higher: Equestrian event showcases US team

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              Boyd Martin rides Ringo Star as they slash though water during the cross country competition at the MARS Great Meadow International equestrian event in The Plains, Va., Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Just after Boyd Martin, Lynn Symansky and Doug Payne won gold at the Pan American Games and qualified the U.S. eventing team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they and other top eventers were in Virginia for another international competition, the MARS Great Meadow International. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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THE PLAINS, Va. (AP) — Gallop, jump, gallop, repeat.

Just after Boyd Martin, Lynn Symansky and Doug Payne won gold at the Pan American Games and qualified the U.S. eventing team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they and other top eventers were in Virginia for another international competition.

The first phase of the three-day event, the dressage, is rather formal. Riders in tailcoats and horses with braided manes perform a dance of sorts inside a rectangular arena known affectionately as the “sandbox.”

The heart of the competition is the cross-country, a gallop through open fields and over solid obstacles that has horses splashing into water one minute and going airborne over the side of a hill the next. The goal is to jump all of the obstacles without horse or rider falling and to do so within the time allowed. Few succeed.

Next up is the show jumping, when the horses need to prove they still have enough stamina to jump a course of fences that knock down oh-so-easily when rubbed.

Martin, a two-time Olympian, Symansky and Payne were joined at Mars Great Meadow International last weekend by others who ride for the U.S. team, including Phillip Dutton, a veteran of six Olympics who took individual bronze in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and William Coleman, who competed at the London Olympics in 2012.

Symansky won the toughest, or four-star, division on Under Suspection after a cross-country run that was just 5 seconds over the optimal time of 6½ minutes.

But if the cross-country course was daunting, tell that to those who took part in a separate competition to see how high their horses could jump while riding bareback. Yikes.