While our Olympians make final preparations for the London Games starting July 27, tomorrow's Olympic hopefuls are heading to Lexington, Kentucky July 17-22 for the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships. These FEI-sanctioned international championships for riders aged 14-21 are a great introduction to international competition. In addition to demanding high-level performances, the Championships are renown for their ability to foster teamwork and team spirit.
Our region has a proud tradition of medals in all hues in eventing, show jumping and dressage. The Championships began in 1974 as an eventing competition, and the other two Olympic disciplines, show jumping and dressage, have been part of it since 1982. Reining and endurance are newer additions, made in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
The Championships themselves are thriving, reports Langer Equestrian Group's Larry Langer, who has been closely involved with the competition for roughly 20 years. For the last two years, it was held concurrent with a big hunter/jumper show, including Grand Prix classes, that piqued interest and excitement at the famous Kentucky Horse Park. This year, the event was pushed up a week because of the Olympics.
USHJA Zone 10 show jumpers completed their final of six selection trials in San Juan Capistrano June 8, when the teams were named. The Junior team consists of NAJYRC returnee Madison Bradshaw and Katina 12,
Haley Schwab and Coya,
Hannah Von Heiddegger and Candle Light Van De Warande
and Alicia Gasser and Audi's Reflection. The squad's alternate pair is Haley Stone and Tyrone.
The Young Riders team includes pairs that are familiar in the big ring jumper classes: Sage Flynn and Hot Pants return to the Championships after being part of last year's YR silver medal quad, and Kilian McGrath steps up from her role last year on the Junior team, this year aboard Salerno. They are joined by Charlotte Gadbois and Semira De Saulieu and Stevie Sorenson and Esperanto.
Taylor Harris and Candilla are the travelling alternates.
Charlotte Gadbois. Photo: Bonnie Gainer
Bringing home a medal in the jumper division has gotten tougher in the last few years, notes Larry, who is also Zone 10 Chairman. Though the FEI-designated specs for the Junior and Young Rider classes have stayed essentially the same in fence dimensions, the courses' technical challenges have increased significantly to keep pace with the abilities of the riders and horse tackling them. With very-well mounted and talented riders Zone 10 had a golden streak in 2009 and 2010. The YR team followed up with team silver and individual bronze last year.
"These are 1.5 meter courses and, in the last few years, you almost have to have been a Grand Prix rider in order to ride them," Larry observes. He believes that reality, along with the economy, have contributed to a concurrent decrease in the number of horse/rider pairs targeting the NAJYRC. But he believes the Zone is sending the right riders to the competition, those with international ambitions and ready for the challenges that await. As with every aspect of the sport, the potential of the candidate pool ebbs and flows, as past champs age out or move onto bigger goals and youngsters step up.
This year's two teams are in the very capable hands of chef d'equipe Karen Healey, who trains Killian McGrath.
2012 Zone 10 NAJYRC Team
The qualifying process for dressage and eventing was still underway as we went to press, but both disciplines already has some shoe-ins.
The dressage team looks incredibly strong. Genay Vaughn and Mackinzie Pooley are already locked into USDF's Region 7 Young Riders team, by virtue of both great showings during the qualifying period and their successes in the national Young Riders competition in Gladstone in early June. Genay, the star of the Vaughn family's Starr Vaughn Equestrian Center in Elk Grove, will campaign her spectacular Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF. This pair has been burning it up since coming together in October of last year. As of mid-June, Genay and Donarweiss had a collective 69.701 average in their qualifiers, second then only to another famous So Cal horse, Weltino's Magic. That's the horse Steffen Peters rode to fame, now being campaigned by Brandi Roenick for Region 5, last year's Individual silver recipient in the Young Rider division. Should be a good showdown!
Genay Vaughn and Donarweiss. Photo: Tamara
Dressage trainer Jodie Cressman stepped up to serve as chef d'equipe for both the Young and Junior teams this year. It's a big job in a region with so much competition for eight openings. "Some regions can only send one team," she notes. "But we have good solid riders and well-matched pairs on both teams. It's going to be fun in Lexington!" The owner of Wirlwind Equestrian Services that's just settled into the El Sueno Equestrian Center in Ventura County's Somis, Jodie has not been to the Championships herself. She signed on for the job "because I think it's important and fun to support the riders who are coming up," she explains. "They are all going to replace us some day!"
Dressage trainer Jodie Cressman stepped into the USDF Region 7 chef d'equipe role for both the Junior and Young Riders teams this year. The task has been both a lot of work and a lot of fun, she says. With a stacked team heading to Lexington, led by Genay Vaughn and Mackinzie Pooley, it ought to get even more fun.
"It is such a great way for them to start to understand how international competition works without having to actually travel out of the country," she continues. Of course, travelling from California to Kentucky is a long way, which adds to the considerable logistical challenges involved. One of many hopes for Region 7's future is to secure a storage location in Kentucky where the team's tack room décor and other equipment can be kept year-round.
Jodie likes the fact that everything about the Championships is a team effort. Region 7 encompasses all of California, plus Alaska and Hawaii, so getting that team spirit going into the Championships is a challenge.
Throughout the qualifying season, hopeful NAJYRC riders have been "working their butts off" in and out of the saddle. Earning scores is only part of the battle for most because it's also expensive. Region 7 fundraisers have helped defray some of the expenses and sponsorships are still greatly welcomed. People On Horses, for example, donated browbands for both teams' horses and Jodie hopes other companies and individuals will continue to come through with similarly generous gestures: team shirts, she says, would be ideal.
Teresa Harcourt and Bonza Twist of Fate, members of the Area 6 eventing team.
2011 Pan Am Games team gold medalist Shannon Lilley is now in her fifth year as chef for the USEA Area VI team. In doing so, she carries on a great tradition set by her mentor and head trainer at Flying Tail Farm, Dayna Lynd-Pugh, coach of the Area's Young Riders program.
At presstime, the Area was set to send two Young Riders and hopefully three Juniors to the Championships. Teresa Harcourt and Bonza Twist Of Fate and Sarah Braun and Perfect Intentions were locked in for the YR squad and Gigi Herron and Erin Murphy, both with two possible horses, for the Junior. Jordyn Horwitz was competing in a qualifier June 16-17 in hopes of joining the Junior effort in Lexington.
While the Area VI Young Rider program is thriving overall, with plenty of talent moving up the levels, leaders had hoped to field full teams of four at each level. But the scheduling fates conspired against them, with the Event at Rebecca Farms in Montana taking place just one week prior to the NAJYRC. Shannon acknowledges that it's a tough choice between two excellent events. "We always battle with this conflict, and this year it happens to be a little more prevalent than in the past."
Promoting the Championship's value is important to Shannon. "A telling sign about how great an experience it is is that riders who competed one year always want to go back the next as grooms. The experience is so huge, but it's hard for kids to understand it unless they've been there and it's hard to give up one of the best shows of the season."
Even with a smaller representation, Shannon is confident of a good showing.
Shannon gives a big nod to many volunteers and especially Laura Powell, coordinator of Area VI's Young Rider program, which is absolutely thriving. "We have a huge amount of participation," says Shannon of a program that offers clinics and camps throughout the year to youngsters of all ages and experience levels. "A lot of other areas model what we are doing."
Reining & Endurance
In its debut as an official NAJYRC sport last year, endurance drew four entries. This year, 10 to 15 competitors from the U.S. alone are expected, along with a few from other countries., reports the USEF's Vonita Bowers. The idea of separate competition for youth in endurance is a new one itself, but it is catching on quickly in the States, she adds. The main qualifying requirement is that a horse/rider pair has completed an endurance ride at the NAJYRC distance of 120 kilometers (75 miles). Entries are due July 5.
Introduced as an official NAJYRC sport in 2008, reining is in development mode too when it comes to building up the number of American contenders. The championships often conflict with the American Quarter Horse Assn.'s World Show, but that is less so this year so organizers are hoping for a strong U.S. turn-out. The NAJYRC selection trials for reining were set to take place during the USEF Youth National Championships at the end of June.
For more information and daily results from the North American Junior Young Rider Championships, visit www.youngriders.org.