Calgary, Alberta – Caitlin Ziegler, 16, made history by becoming the youngest rider to ever win an International Equestrian Federation (FEI) event in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows. Ziegler of Mequon, Wisconsin, won the $31,000 1.50m AON Cup on Thursday, July 7, at the Spruce Meadows “North American” tournament in Calgary, Canada.
A truly international field of competitors tackled Thursday’s $31,000 1.50m AON Cup, with nations such as Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Mexico, Russia, and the United States represented. Seven riders found their way over the tough track set by German course designer Werner Deeg to advance to the jump-off.
Fourth back to tackle the shortened jump-off track, Ziegler guided Valencia to a blistering fast round in a time of 45.16 seconds, taking more than three full seconds off the leading time of United States Equestrian Team veteran Nicole Simpson, who had crossed the timers in 48.81 seconds riding Candle Light van de Warande. Three more riders were still to come, but even Ziegler’s own coach, Olympic Gold Medalist and number one ranked rider in the world, Eric Lamaze, could not catch her.
“I decided to try my hardest, take every option that I could, and go as fast as I could,” said Ziegler of her jump-off strategy. “It was a good jump-off - everyone was going quite fast. To win was very exciting!”
Lamaze, who placed sixth with Sidoline van de Centaur after incurring a rail in an effort to catch his student’s time, added, “It was an exceptional performance. For a 16-year-old to win in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows is very special, and proves how much talent and dedication Caitlin has for the sport.
“She had a great learning experience competing in Europe earlier this year, and here at Spruce Meadows, she has been riding really well and competing against great riders,” Lamaze continued. “It was only a matter of time before she won. You always need a little luck and for things to go your way, but she wasn’t just lucky – she really earned it. Her performance was a result of riding well.”
Ziegler began riding Valencia in April, and has quickly formed a strong partnership with the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare. The pair competed in the European Youngster Cup for riders aged 25 and under, held in conjunction with the 2011 Rolex FEI World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany, as well as at La Baule, France, where Ziegler was named the Leading Rider in the CSI2* division, helped by a second place finish riding Valencia in the €23,000 Jockey Club Prix.
“She has so much energy,” said Ziegler of her mount, who is owned by Artisan Farms. “Most horses get quieter as they get older, but not her. Every day she is crazy and wild. She really loves her job.”
While Ziegler has been competing at the Spruce Meadows venue for the past five years, 2011 marked the first time she walked under the clock tower and into the International Ring. With consistent results throughout the five-week summer series at Spruce Meadows, Ziegler’s first victory earned her $9,300 in prize money as well as valuable points towards the Rolex World Rider Rankings. Earlier this year, Ziegler, who currently attends Laurel Springs School, was awarded a RSA scholarship at Spruce Meadows in recognition of her commitment to the sport.
Following the conclusion of the Spruce Meadows “North American” tournament, Ziegler will return to Europe where her first competition will compete at Chantilly, France, from July 22 to 24.
Photo: Caitlin Ziegler, 16, became the youngest rider to win an FEI Grand Prix event in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows after winning the $31,000 AON Cup on July 7 in Calgary, Canada. Photo Credit – Cealy Tetley, www.tetleyphoto.com