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Press Release


Team Back on Track clinches the Challenge of the Americas 2016 title. Photo by Mary Adelaide Brakenridge

Ben Meredith earned show jumping points for Team Purina. Photo by Annan Hepner.

Challenge of the Americas' judges Gary Rockwell and Janet Foy. Photo by Annan Hepner.

Team Back on Track's Heidi Degele, Tigger Montague, and Jim Koford. Photo by Annan Hepner.

Ashley Davis, Amy Bock, and Terri Kane enjoy the silent auction. Photo by Annan Hepner.

Patti Thompson, Tami Hoag, Betsy Steiner, and Jessie Steiner. Photo by Annan Hepner.

Sponsor Bo Lofvander of Back on Track with COTA organizer Mary Ross. Photo by Annan Hepner.

Team Purina performing their intricate Grand Prix quadrille. Photo by Mary Adelaide Brakenridge.

Team Merrill Lynch's quadrille theme was "We Cancer-vive!". Photo by Mary Adelaide Brakendridge.

Heather Bender, Georgia Wren-Russ and Michele Riley performed a pas de trois as the Pink Ladies from Grease

Click on the above photos for details and a high resolution version.

Photographs may be used free of charge only in relation to the PMG press releases they pertain to.

The Force Is With Team Back On Track at 2016 Challenge of the Americas

Written by: Mary Adelaide Brakenridge and Annan Hepner
Client: Challenge of the Americas
Release Date: 2016-03-14

Wellington, FL - March 14, 2016 - World-class dressage and show jumping riders took the field Friday evening at the International Polo Club Palm Beach for the 2016 Challenge of the Americas (COTA), an annual event that raises money to support breast cancer research. Show jumpers displayed their speed and athleticism in a gambler’s choice competition before the spotlight shifted to Grand Prix dressage quadrille teams, who performed their intricate musical routines after months of preparation. The competition came down to the wire, and at the end of the evening, Team Back on Track’s Star Wars-themed quadrille earned them the approval of the crowd and the top marks from the judges.

A highlight of the winter season in Wellington, COTA benefits the Breast Cancer Research Foundation through their partner, Play for P.I.N.K. (Prevention, Immediate Diagnosis, New Technology, Knowledge). The combination of spectacular equestrian entertainment and fundraising for an important cause draws many spectators to the beautiful venue each year. COTA organizer Mary Ross created the event in memory of her mother, Jean Cruse, who died of breast cancer.

“It was a wonderful evening from start to finish,” Ross said. “I’m truly grateful to all of the riders and coaches who devoted so much time and hard work preparing for the Challenge, as well as the sponsors, committee members, horse owners and volunteers who did so much to support the event. I can’t thank them enough. Their commitment allows us to make a real difference and contribute to the fight against breast cancer.”

After Brian Lookabill, the winner of American Equestrians Got Talent in 2015, performed the national anthem for the opening ceremonies, show jumpers kicked off the COTA competition with a fast-paced gambler’s choice round. Two competitors for each team tackled the course, trying to rack up as many points as possible in the 50 seconds allowed. Riders were then given 20 seconds in the bonus round for an attempt at the joker vertical. If they successfully cleared it, they earned an additional 200 points, but if they chose to try it and knocked the rail down, 200 points were subtracted from their score.

Team Purina’s show jumpers Ben Meredith and Schuyler Riley executed speedy, strategic rounds to give their team the edge in the standings heading into the dressage quadrille competition. Spencer Smith jumped two rounds for Team Back on Track, putting them in second, while Jennifer Santana and Rodrigo Fracias rode for Team Merrill Lynch and took the third place spot.

Once the show jumpers were awarded their pink ribbons, the action began in the dressage arena under the lights. An exhibition pas de trois with the theme of the Pink Ladies from Grease headed down centerline first. Heather Bender, Georgia Wren-Russ and Michele Riley rode three cremello FEI dressage horses through a playful routine, acting out moments from the music while showing impressive harmony with their mounts.

Team Purina was first up in the quadrille competition, attempting to defend their title after taking top honors in 2015. They set the standard high with challenging choreography that showcased the talent of the horses and riders on the team. COTA judges Gary Rockwell (FEI 5*), Janet Foy (FEI 4*) and Christopher Hickey praised their accuracy and straightness as a group and awarded them high marks in the entertainment category. Team members included captain Pamela Goodrich, Shelly Francis, Kasey Perry-Glass, Kim Herslow, Betsy Steiner and Jennifer Marchand. Terry Ciotti Gallo was the choreographer, with the help of Betsy Steiner and Bill Warren.

Next to go was Team Merrill Lynch, whose music, including Gloria Gaynor’s classic “I Will Survive,” reflected the theme of survival. Each team member wore letters on their backs, encouraging the audience to try to guess the meaning. Finally, near the end of their routine, the team’s formation revealed the answer: “We Cancer-vive.” The judges commented that they loved the puzzle theme and the suspense it created. Marco Bernal, Susanne Hamilton, Shannon Dueck, Nancy Later Lavoie, Luis Reteguiz Denizard and Melanie Cerny rode for team sponsor The Seley Parker Group of Merrill Lynch, with Ruth Hogan Poulsen and Melissa MacLaren serving as choreographers and coaches.

Team Back on Track’s eye-catching Star Wars regalia immediately caught the attention of spectators, and the movie’s theme music provided a perfect backdrop for their performance. Their creative choreography earned them points from the judges, and the real highlight was their entertainment score of 9.7 out of 10, reflecting the team’s hard work and successful engagement of the audience. Tigger Montague choreographed the routine, and team members included Jim Koford, Marcus Orlob, Allison Kavey, Katie Hiller, Kaitlin Blythe and Heidi Degele.

“Tigger put together an amazing and unique piece for us that was very fun to ride, especially for a group that included many riders who had not been in a quadrille before,” said Koford, who was Team Back on Track’s captain. “It was nice to introduce some new, up-and-coming riders who appreciate the opportunity to compete against the A-list riders. Everyone on my team was very enthused with the opportunity!

“Both of my parents are cancer survivors, and my groom just passed away a few weeks ago from cancer,” Koford continued. “You feel so helpless, like there is not much you can do to help. I feel like donating my time for the Challenge is the least I can do.”

Following the quadrilles, VIP attendees enjoyed delicious dinner and dancing at the Challenge Gala. An expanded live auction for 2016 featured several fantastic items. Silent auction items including an array of fine art, tack and supplies, jewelry, and much more were displayed for browsing and bidding. The Gala served as the perfect finale to an exquisite event.

Along with team sponsors Back on Track, Purina Animal Nutrition and The Seley Parker Group of Merrill Lynch, sponsors of the 2016 COTA included International Polo Club Palm Beach, Havensafe Farm, Cherry Knoll Farm, Cunningham & Cunningham, and Diamante Farms Dressage.

Members of Partners for Pink were The Tackeria, Weiss Family Chiropractic Center, Laura King Hypnosis, Flamingo Clay Studio, Suzanne Dansby of Dancing Horse Farm, Wellington Classic Dressage, Tree Free Wood LLC, Oak Meadows Farm, Serenity Insurance Agency, Betsy Lindsay Inc., JetStream Ground Services Inc., Horsepower Team of BHHS Florida Realty and Kimberly Dianne Ritchie.



The Challenge of the Americas Beneficiary:

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation through their partner Play for P.I.N.K.

Play for P.I.N.K. website:

BCRF website:


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