Altitude Sickness Doesn't Stop Laura Noyes from Freestyle Gold

On the Scene at the 2008 North American Junior and Young Rider Freestyle Championships

Parker, Colorado – With emergency medical personnel waiting in the wings, Laura Noyes rode through the pain of a blinding headache to take the win in the Young Rider Individual Freestyle competition at the 2008 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. Noyes earned the gold medal with her partner Syncro and a score of 74.75.

Just before her ride, a meeting was held to determine if she ought to be allowed to compete, said Jane Hannigan, chef d'equipe of the Region 8 team, of which Noyes was a member. "As Laura was warming up, we were all having a group meeting about whether or not we were going to let her show. She was feeling so poorly, she was actually in tears before she went in," Hannigan said. "It was questionable up to the last second whether or not she would ride."

She said emergency personnel "were on hand at the gate in case they needed to catch her when she went in or came out." But as she entered the ring, Noyes set the pain aside and put on her game face. "That she was able to regain her composure and ride as spectacularly as she did was astonishing," Hannigan said. "She was tears on her way out because she had a really bad headache. The altitude was very difficult."

Altitude sickness was actually a problem for many of the young riders at NAJYRC who hailed from lower elevation parts of the U.S. The competition was held at the Colorado Horse Park south of the mile-high city of Denver. And the altitude combined with temperatures that often soared near or over the 100-degree mark, took its toll.

Noyes arrived at the awards ceremony sans horse and sat in the shade with water until she was needed in the ring. She attempted to smile through the pain of her headache and admitted that she was surprised at her gold medal win. She gave credit to Syncro, a 13-year-old Trakehner gelding. He was super today. He was just really there for me."

Hannigan was equally proud of Noyes' partner. "He gave her a 110 percent today," she said. "The last two days she's had a worry that he would be a spook in there from all the noise from the berm, but he took care of you today, didn't he?," she said looking at Noyes. "It was just beautiful, wonderful."

Noyes, 21, and Syncro rode to a medley of tunes from the Peanuts. It's a freestyle the pair has had for a couple of years, created with the help of Ruth Hogan-Poulsen. "It fits him really well," Noyes said.

Noyes, who is originally from Maine, trains with George Williams, who was on hand at NAJYRC to coach her. And, he was clearly proud of her accomplishment on the final day of competition. The advice he gave her once it was decided that she would ride was to "ride conservatively and be safe." Williams was not surprised at her performance. "She did a terrific job. I had faith in her."

Noyes' victory was well-earned, Williams said. Last year, Syncro had soundness issues, which meant Noyes was able to qualify for the NAJYRC. "She's worked really hard to get her," Williams said. "Coming into this year, we were quite strong going into the season and it just got stronger and better. She put a lot of work into it."

Finishing second in the Young Rider Freestyle Championships was Brianna Dutton, 19, with Tibet and a score of 71.90 percent. Dutton adds that medal to her team gold medal and her silver medal from the Young Rider Individual Championship. Still, she said she was actually rather surprised at her silver medal finish in the freestyle. "I just feel like we're so green. We've only done that freestyle twice. So, it's surprising that we did this well. But, I knew we had the ability to do well so I'm just glad we were able to pull it off."

Earning the bronze medal with a score of 70.50 was Chelsea Pederson riding H.S. With Honors.

Morgan Heinrichs Rides to Gold in Junior Freestyle Championship at 2008 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships