When it comes to developing future dressage riders, Canada is clearly doing something right. America’s northern neighbor did some cleaning up in the medals at the CN North American Junior and Young Riders’ Championship.
First, Canada’s Junior Dressage Team won the Gold Medal in Junior Team competition. Then team member Jade Deter nabbed the individual Gold in the Junior Freestyle. But even more astounding was that Canadians took the individual Gold, Silver and Bronze in the Young Riders Freestyle competition. The Canadian hat trick made up for their disappointment in the Young Rider Team competition where they finished out of the medals, deferring to the American team successes.
“They’ve made history,” said chef d’equipe Tina Irwin. “We’ve never had a Bronze, Silver and Gold medal at Young Riders, or maybe ever.”
Irwin said the Canadians were on the edge of their seats waiting for the final scores following Saturday’s freestyle competition. “I just couldn’t take it. I thought I’d have a heart attack.”
The individual Gold went to Alexandra Duncan of West Vancouver, British Columbia who scored 72.950 on Elektra. The Silver went to Leah Wilson of Orangeville, Ontario, who rode Westside Lady to a score of 70.990 and the Bronze went to Julie Watchorn of Schomberg, Ontario with a score of 70.200 on Dobble Tyme.
Canada’s winning junior team consisted of Jade Deter of Kemptville, Ontario who scored 69.750% on Mastermind, Jaimie Holland of Caledon, Ontario, who scored 67.800% on Fleurina, Sara Regehr of Vernon, British Columbia, who scored 66.900% on Danika, and Lindsay Seidel-Wassenaar of Bluffton, Alberta who scored 66.750% on Oslo.
Jade Deter and Mastermind - A Canadian Recipe for Success
Jade Deter, 16, and the 10-year-old Westphalian gelding Mastermind (Montmarte out of Dayenna) were also the big winners in all three classes of the Junior division topping their week in the Junior Freestyle, winning the individual Gold with a score of 73.400. The pair have only been together since last October, which is when Deter’s trainer and coach, Ruth Koch, imported Mastermind.
“We’re really a new combination,” Deter said. “But he’s been a winner at all the shows this season. He’s really done his best for me all year and he really pulled through this week.” One thing Deter said she learned at the Championships was to focus on herself and not anyone else. “If you glance at other riders in the warm-up and see how good they look, you can really feel the pressure, but I learned that you have to concentrate on you and your horse.”
Koch was very proud of her junior student. “It’s her first year at the Championships and her first year at this level. She really did great. She did the pony FEI for two years but outgrew her pony and she’s done a wonderful job of moving up.”
Koch is credited by Young Rider Team Coach Albrecht Heideman who works closely with her at her farm in Oxford Ridge Stable, in Oxford Mills, Ontario, Canada. When they find talent and horses, they do all they can to provide opportunities for the young riders they encounter around the country who may not normally have the opportunity to train.
Alexandra Duncan and the Electric 'Electra' Lead the Canadian Victory
The three young Canadians who finished one, two and three in the Young Riders Freestyle competition were no less excited by their victories. As befitting a true team spirit, they didn’t even seem to care who was first and who was third. All that mattered is Canadians grabbed all three medals.
“It’s crazy. We are so excited,” said Canadian coach Albrecht Heidemann, of Germany.
Gold Medal winner Alexandra Duncan, 17, was “ecstatic. This is something I really, really wanted.” It wasn’t just that she had earned the Gold that made Duncan so happy, it was also that she had done it with her 12-year-old Holsteiner mare, Elektra (by Columbios).
“It’s been a work in progress with this horse. She’s an amazing mare. I love her, but it’s been a long program. She was a very hot horse and quite difficult. But I couldn’t give up because we just have this bond and I couldn’t part with her. When she’s good, she’s good. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs and times when I got really disappointed, but I just kept going,” said Duncan, who trains with Leslie Reid.
Duncan was happy to have a win with her mare, but teammate Wilson, the Silver medalist, was happy just to have been in the ring at the Championships. “I said to everyone that I don’t care what happens. I just want to get down that centerline. I could fall off the horse, I don’t care as long as I get in the ring.”
Leah Wilson and Westside Lady - Picture Perfect
It was Wilson’s first time actually competing at the NAJYRC and since she’s 20 years old, it’ll be her last. She had actually qualified for the Championships each of the past three years, but never made it in the ring. “All three of the previous years, the horses went lame or had an injury. The first two years I got here but then didn’t make it through the jog. Last year, I withdraw from the team well before the Championships. This is the first year I actually made it into the ring.”
So determined was Wilson to get in the ring this year that she decided to try and qualify two horses for the Championships. One was her horse Bostoezsky, a 13-year-old Russian gelding.
The second was Tom Dvorak’s former mount, Westside Lady (Wesley out of La Traviata), owned by Sue Platz. Platz offered Wilson the ride on the 12-year-old Hanoverian mare to improve her chances of getting to the Championships.
“Sue is super. I could not ask for a better, I guess I could call her a sponsor. She is a friend to me. She’s so wonderful and I love her,” said Wilson, who trains with Jackie Brooks. “And I absolutely adore the mare. She’s so talented and she teaches me something new every day. She just makes me smile.”
It’s with Westside Lady that Wilson competed this year at the NAJYRC, but Bostoezsky was there “just in case. I thought, ‘I’m getting in the ring with one horse’ so I figured having two here was safer, but Westside Lady was better qualified. Still, Bostoezsky was here and ready to go.”
Julie Watchorn and Dobble Tyme - A Last Minute Addition
Julie Watchorn, 21, said her Bronze Medal ride was the best she’d ever had. “It was amazing. We hit everything. It was so fun and I’m still on a high,” she said after her ride. Watchorn almost experienced the misfortunes that had befallen teammate Wilson in previous years.
Watchorn, who trains with Evi Strasser, arrived at the NAJYRC with her mare, Quintesse. But the mare was unable to compete. Her only option was to get her back-up horse, Dobble Tyme, and compete with him. But the 11-year-old Westphalian gelding (by Dynamo) was back in Canada.
Getting the gelding to Virginia was a team effort that began with her father putting the horse in a trailer and heading south from Canada while her mother, with the companionship of relatives of other Canadian team members, began driving north. She left at 9 p.m. the evening before the FEI jog. Watchorn’s parents met up. Her father headed back to Canada sans horse while her mother headed back to Virginia arriving 45 minutes before the jog.
“It was unreal,” Watchorn said. “It was so stressful. I didn’t even have his bridle. I was so happy to even make it into the freestyle and I’m still in shock. I’m speechless.” She was most impressed with Dobble Tyme. “He had a 15-hour trailer ride and then was thrown into the competition. I think he was a little confused at the beginning. But I gave him a pep talk and he’s built up a lot of trust in me. He was unreal.”
Canada Has A Formula That Works
It may be a surprise to some that the Canadian riders were able to win so many medals despite facing such stressful obstacles. But it seems to be no surprise to Albrecht Heidemann or to Tina Irwin. That Canada does so well when it has such a smaller population than other countries in the Championships, especially the U.S., could be considered rather astounding. Canada has far fewer young dressage riders than the U.S. from which to make a team, but what it does have, said Heidemann and Irwin, is a strong young riders program.
“Dressage is not that huge in Canada,” Irwin said. “At the most, we might have maybe 10 grand prix horses. But we’ve got good juniors and young riders coming up the ranks and they really are the future of our sport. In addition, the quality of the coaching has really gone up.”
Albrecht Heidemann has been coach of Canada’s young riders program for the past seven years and he’s got three more years to go on his current contract and it will most likely be renewed after that. He travels to Canada at least every other month. But when there, it is not just the riders with whom he works. The program is designed to be a truly team effort. The riders, their coaches, and Heidemann all come together and work as a unit.
“He works alongside the riders and their regular coaches so that everyone is working together and consistent,” Irwin said. “It’s the team effort that makes it so good – the right coaches, trainers, horses all coming together.”
“This is a true collaborative effort. We all work together. My job is to put the home coaches on the right path and they have done an amazing job of moving riders forward,” Heidemann said. “I want it made very clear that I oversee this program, but it is the home coaches who are responsible for the development and strengthening of both horses and riders. They are the ones who do the day-to-day training.”
Back to the Basics
The way in which Canada’s young rider program is designed ensures consistency and collaboration, which contributes to the country’s success, but Heidemann said what is most important is what the program emphasizes and that is “basics, basics, basics. Our program puts a lot of effort into the basics. There is no substitute.”
Heidemann oversees the development of Canadian riders as early as the age of 12 and all of their coaches are directed to focus on the basics. Heidemann is quite opposed to the notion that young riders should be thrown into the competitive world as soon as possible to keep them from becoming bored.
“Even at that young age, we emphasize an understanding of throughness and suppleness and focus on developing a good, deep seat. The biggest mistake one can make is to put a youngster on a horse who can barely hold on and then send that rider running around a ring doing a test. People say you have to let them compete so they enjoy riding more and have fun. No, they first need to learn to ride. A deep, balanced seat and riding skills matter most and must come first,” he said.
And he believes this focus helps explain why Canada, with so fewer young dressage riders, still does well in competitions such as the NAJYRC. “I think it’s because of our basic riding skills and the number of years of experience our riders have. They’ve got a good, deep seat. And they’ve got the concentration and attention. They have an ability to use their back and they understand correct use of such things as the half-halt.”
In Heidemann’s opinion, having quality horses is meaningless without quality riders. “Having a good horse helps, but most important is that you need to have good riders. You can have excellent horses but you must have riders with the skills to ride them. It takes skill to keep the lid on a hot horse and many good horses are hot.”
DressageDaily congratulates our northern neighbors on a job well done and an inspiration to the future of our sport in North America!