Lexington, KY - Will Letner knew the bar was set high when fellow U.S. rider Laura Sumrall went out first into the Alltech Arena on Saturday - and came out with an impressive score of 217.5. Sumrall pumped her fists in the air, shouting, "Yes, yes!" at her first SmartPak Individual Reining Championships at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships presented by Gotham North. Letner's thought: "Well, where do I go from here?" And he'd have to wait for 18 more riders to go before him to find out.
As it turns out, the best was saved for last. The 20-year-old from Harris, MO, topped Sumrall by a whole point, earning 218.5 from the judges - a number that left his cowboy hat flying into the air, the crowd cheering, and Letner with a Gold medal. "He was great," Letner said of his 12-year-old Paint, A Genuine Diamond, owned by Dr. Larry Letner. "I couldn't have asked for more horse today. He doesn't really have a bad day and today was the best day he's ever had."
Sumrall, who won the Silver medal, knew she could do better than she did at Thursday night's Team Reining Championships, also held at the Kentucky Horse Park's Alltech Arena. Her horse, Einsteins Fancy Pine (aka "Smartie") spooked and "I nearly fell off," Sumrall said. Choking back tears, she walked off with a zero score. "The zero was so disappointing," said the 18-year-old from Summit, MO. "But today we had nothing to lose and she was amazing. She did what she does best."
Sumrall's Silver came with an extra push Saturday. Shelbie Friesen of Saskatchewan, Canada, and the 7-year-old quarter horse stallion, Golden Lena Chex (aka "Bo"), earned a score of 217.5 - the same as Sumrall.
By the end of Saturday's 20-rider Individual pack, Sumrall and Friesen - who's been riding since she was 2 and won a Bronze with Team Canada on Thursday - knew they would be in it for a run-off for the Silver medal. The second time around, Sumrall wowed the judges again, earning a 215.5. Friesen's horse, though, tired and after taking a circle close to the judges' stands, she opted to pull Golden Lena Chex out.
In addition to NAJYRC, the sport of reining presented for the first time a Juniors division at the SmartPak Reining Championships. All three junior riders at Thursday's team competition earned qualifying scores to advance them to the individual medals round.
Lane Wilson of Ontario, Canada, rode No Finer Shiner to a Gold medal, scoring 207. "I was so proud of him," Wilson said, adding that he has put his heart and soul into his horse for several years. "He gave it back to me this morning," Wilson said.
Tiffany Wynn of Benton, KY, who has only been riding two years, won the Junior Silver on I Gotta Whiz with 187.5, and Emily Wilson of Ontario, Canada, earned 182.5 on Miss Cielo Chex for the Bronze.
For more information, visit http://www.youngriders.org.
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Photos: Will Letner wins Gold. Photo: Waltenberry; Laura Sumrall awarded Silver after run-off. Photo: Waltenberry; Lane Wilson wins Gold, Juniors division. Photo: Waltenberry.