Basketball icon Michael Jordan famously said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

It’s a philosophy embraced by USA’s dressage team.

Fielding one of its youngest teams on championship record in Sarah Tubman (35), Christian Simonson (21), Codi Harrison (27), and Anna Marek (34), the Americans are strong on camaraderie and team results after day one of dressage competition at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.

“It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever been on,” said Simonson.

“We took such a long time before even going to Chile—at training camp and then traveling together—that by the time we get here and we’re doing this, we’re all great friends,” added Marek. “It’s really special.”

“It’s going to be so sad to go home and not have that camaraderie, but so I’m excited just to enjoy the rest of the experience here and soak it all up,” said Harrison.

That teamwork x-factor played to their favor on Sunday. Team USA took the early lead in the first team and individual qualifier, topping the team standings on a score of 224.338. Brazil is slotted into second with 221.151 and Canada, third on 214.277.

Anchor rider Tubman and First Apple delivered the best results for Team USA, earning a personal best score of 76.065% in the Grand Prix.

“I have to tell you, every time you go into that ring, it’s like the craziest butterfly feelings, no matter how many times you’ve gone down the center line,” said Tubman, who also represented USA in the Small Tour at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

“So I’m just really proud of my horse. We’ve come a long way. It is not a small journey small tour to big tour…and, you know, I am really proud of myself because I seem to need maybe a lot of pressure to step up because this happened last time. I also had a personal best in [Lima].”

Anna Marek and Fire Fly. ©MattTurer/US Equestrian

Marek and Fire Fly led the standings early on with their score of 74.891 in the Grand Prix. Santiago 2023 is the championship debut for the pair and Marek said she’s focused on keeping her head.

“My dad reminded me that the show that I had the highest marks [was when I focused on staying smooth]. He said, ‘Your horse didn’t look like the fanciest horse out there, but it was so smooth compared to everybody else. That’s what made you stick out.’ And so, I’ve always thought about that, that it has to look easy and the ones that make it look like anybody could do it are the ones that win,” she said.

“Anytime I felt like I wanted to make a big correction, I disciplined myself not to and he relaxed, and he was just amazing in there.”

Christian Simonson and Son of a Lady. ©MattTurer/US Equestrian
Codi Harrison and Katholt’s Bossco. ©MattTurer/US Equestrian

Simonson earned a score of 73.382% in the Prix St Georges while Harrison was awarded a 73.305% for her Grand Prix. Both riders said their horses felt the atmosphere.

“He felt amazing,” said Simonson of his mount of Son of a Lady. “He was, I think, maybe a little impressed by the crowd. But then let me kind of take his hand through the rest of the test and was super special.”

“The piaffe passage tour is my favorite part of the whole test,” said Harrison. “That is Bosco’s time to shine.”

Monday’s competition will determine the dressage team medals. With both Small and Large tour combinations competing, scoring for Large Tour combinations adds three points to their final percentage as part of the championship format.

In addition to medals, there’s Paris on the line. The top two placed countries not already qualified will also secure qualification for the 2024 Olympics. The U.S. Dressage Team booked their ticket to Paris 2024 via their sixth-place finish at the FEI Dressage World Championships in 2022. Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico have yet to qualify.

Intermediate I and Grand Prix Special competition will begin at 10:00 a.m. ET Monday.