Our Olympic and World Equestrian Games reporter Diana DeRosa was on hand for the 2011 NAJYRC and I asked her to share her impressions of the final day of competition for the Dressage.
Little did we know earlier in the day the drama that awaited us. Groups of five riders went at a time, each doing their routine to their choice of music. The second group of riders started with Anneka Sutton and Fidelio for their second year at NAJYRC. They put in a pleasant ride and scored 65.85%. Next to go was Dominique Cassavetis on Charming Princess with a surprise entrance at the walk before continuing their test and finishing with a score of 65.95%. Noemie Gagnon Bergero and Vavite Fortuna were not so lucky. As they entered the arena it was clear that Vavite didn’t like something on the left side because several times he tried to rear or spin away. While he probably thought his rider would give up she kept her cool and somehow managed to complete a good ride despite the disobediences which resulted in a score of 58.225%.
What caught my eye when Megan Wisniewski rode Bentley was the sight of her parents watching over the fence. Her mom had her arm wrapped around her husband who stood military tall. They watched with parental admiration as their daughter finished on a score of 63.775%.
Then the calm before the storm hit when Brook Santangelo rode Daylight into the arena and in the distance we heard the clap of thunder but fortunately no sign of rain and a final score of 67.125%. It was after the 15 minute break that things began to happen. As Monika Zillinger on Nucari rode there was just a sprinkling that was almost a bit welcome. However, Sadie Lahey and Up to Date P faced the real wrath as the sprinkling changed. If I didn’t know better I would have sworn there was a huge bucket that was being poured on the Kentucky Horse Park. What was even more amazing was how Up to Date seemed to not even notice and finished with a score of 66.725%.
Monica Houweling and Stentano from Canada then entered with the buckets still being poured on the showgrounds but it wasn’t until a huge clap of thunder made everyone jump that the judges made the decision to stop the class with three riders left to go. We sat in the press tent and waited for the rain to stop but the rain kept coming knocking out the electricity and internet and drenching the hospitality entrance with its force.
A couple of hours later when the competition resumed Houweling returned and somehow managed to pull her horse together. They finished on a score of 67.700% which placed them second. Things then moved along quickly and before we knew it both the Juniors and Young Riders had finished their rides and the winners joined us in the press room.
We were surprised at the talent we had witnessed but it was judge Linda Zang that took the time to bring to the riders a message from all the judges. “We are very proud of you. You pulled it together,” said Zang just before the Junior riders answered out questions. You all did an outstanding job. We kept meeting in the tower to see how we were going to get it finished. It was Nigel (Casserly) being very clever who suggested using his generator to get the music going.”
The reason Nigel needed to use his generator was because all the electricity was out. There was no scoreboard, many of the journalists computers had died sending them packing and all this meant there was no way to play the rider’s music until Nigel came up with a solution. Everyone took it in stride and the Dressage riders were able to finish their rides.
Sarah Loewen on Ricardo finished with the Gold ahead of Houweling with a score of 69.675. She was pleased with her test and remarked, “I don’t think there was much I could have improved. He was awesome. She spoke about her trainer Chris Von Martels and mentioned how he “helps me get ready and really prepares me mentally to go into the ring. He keeps me at ease so that when I go in I am really focused on my riding.”
Loewen rode to big band music, which she said is “fun music and my horse dances to it. He is a good boy and has lots of personality. He loves to give kisses and he loves bananas.” When asked what was the most difficult obstacle to overcome Loewen commented, “coping with the stress and having to go back to the barn (when it rained).” She and all her teammates said they were looking forward to getting some much needed sleep after a celebration dinner with her family.
When it was Houweling’s turn to speak she explained how when they came back the second time her horse was “super tired. I am just so happy he dug deep and kept it together.” She talked about her horse as having “tons of personality,” but being quite mischievous. “He’s always grabbing something,” and it was the mental aspect of riding that she learned and will bring away with her. As far as what she was most proud of with her horse, it was that “he knew I was in control and he trusted me.”
Julia Burtt on Aaron VI finished in the Bronze Medal position (67.150%), despite the fact that she went second in the original order. She admitted that her horse “was a little stressed.” She also trains with Chris Von Martels and explained that “he helps you in the stall and out of the stall.” About her horse she commented that he loves red Gatorade and he is a really sweet horse.” As far as what she learned this week it’s that “no matter what happens in your test just keep going to make the best you can out of your test.”
Once the Junior Riders went off to enjoy the party that was going on for all the competitors, the Young Riders answered some questions but not before Linda Zang again offered some words of praise.
“You did such a great job and you were out to get every point you could get,” she said to the three riders that sat in the medal positions. “We have good talent here and our winner was unbelievable. Everyone was right there to go in the ring. Thank you very much for good riding.”
It was the very last rider, Isabelle Leibler riding Watson 109, who claimed the most praise from the judges and the Gold Medal from a score of 74%. Chase Hickok and Palermo were next with a score of 70.725%, followed by Mackinzie Pooley and Jonkara with 70.004%. When it was Leibler’s turn to talk she had nothing but kind words to say about Watson. “Today Watson was right there for me, he had my back and he was ready for anything.”
Leibler explained how they had focused on their canter work. “It’s something we have been trying to clean up and today we made a big step towards that. I had this feeling that my horse was right there with me. It was the most amazing feeling.” For Leibler this was her first team experience and she learned from that. “I learned many things, such as never letting go of your teammates.”
She also talked about the importance of staying cool, calm and collected and putting your blinders on so you can stay focused. The music she rode to was from the movie E.T. “It is my favorite movie and it really fit Watson. We tried really hard to make it work. It has taken some time to slow it down and synchronize my movements with the music.”
It was people like Lendon Gray and Robert Dover who helped her sync her horse’s movements with that of the music so much so that at one point when there was a clang sound her movements were so in sync that even I made a note of it. She mentioned that one thing she keeps in mind is Dover’s comment that she should slow down and let the music come to her.”
For Chase Hickok it was “the environment and atmosphere that he had to overcome,” but his horse “was a trooper the whole time.” They rode to Latin themed music which both she and her horse enjoy but she also liked being part of a team. She made a point of saying that she also learned how to stay focused, and about her horse Palermo she commented, “he is fantastic. He has lots of personality and has a lot of heart and he is very patient.”
About Jonkara Mackinzie Pooley said, “she is amazing. She has the biggest heart of any horse I’ve known. Every day I take her out she tries her hardest. I really tried to go for it because this is my last ride on him so we had nothing to lose. She rode to Slum Dog Millionaire because “it is really fun to ride and it makes me happy.”
Like the other riders, she also learned what teamwork is. “It is more about at the end of the day that we are proud of everyone. I was so proud of my girls on the team.” No truer words were ever spoken. Sure those ribbons are nice, but when it comes down to it what’s most important is that the team spirit, sportsmanship and care for your horse remain at the top of the list.
What has made this event so special for all riders at the 2011 NAJYRC is that they competed in the same location as the 2010 Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games in the main Olympic size arena complete with massive grandstands, signage, a jumbotron with all the amenities they would have to deal with at a major competition. Having that kind of exposure is very beneficial, but can also be a test of nerves for both riders and their mounts. Of 78 dressage competitors that was split between the Junior and Young Rider divisions only the top 15 in each division moved on to the Freestyle and that final list of competitors was as follows:
Canadians/Juniors: Megan Overwater/Wind Walker, Anneka Sutton/Fidelio, Noemie Gagnon Bergeron/Vavite Fortuna, Monika Zillinger/Nucari, Monica Houweling/Stentano, Sarah Loewen/Ricardo.
USA/Juniors: Julia Burtt/Aaron VI, Talia Hershaft/Westfalica, Rachel Chowanec/Embrujado XI, Dominique Cassavetis/Charming Princess, Megan Wisniewski/Bentley, Brook Santangelo/Daylight, Sadie Lahey/Up To Date P, Katelyn Kok/Morgan Enshoj, Devon Wycoff/Power Play.
Canadians/Young Riders: Alexandra Dvorak/Fling, Megan Lane/Caravella, Mathilde Tetrault/Michelangelo
USA/Young Riders: Alexandra Kitchen/Guardian Angel, Katie Foster/Sacramento, Bryn Cahill/Bon Renoir, Emily Wright/Florestano, Anne Ferris Yanney/Rocky Road Trip, Jaclyn Pepper/Tabob, Kelli McLean Newton/Luciano, Mackinzie Pooley/Jonkara, Madeleine Birch/Uoeri, Brandi Roenick/Pretty Lady, Chase Hickok/Palermo, Isabelle Leibler/Watson 108.
At the North American Junior Young Rider Championships here’s the outline of how many riders competed throughout the week.
• 174 riders from the U.S. (57 dressage, 19 endurance, 39 eventing, 52 jumping, 7 reining)
• 59 riders from Canada (21 dressage, 3 endurance, 9 eventing, 12 jumping, 14 reining)
• 10 riders from Mexico (3 endurance, 3 jumping, 4 reining)
• 2 riders from Columbia (endurance)
• 1 rider from Germany (endurance)
• 1 rider from Spain (endurance)
The medals for Saturday's performance were awarded at the closing ceremonies held out of the sun and in the competitiors tent.