It isn't over until it's over, and this is something all riders and medal finalists in particular know well: even the strongest favorite can drop a rail, miss a lead or just have an off day. Such was the case at the NorCal Medal Finals, where the leaders of two of the four finalists at the show made one wrong move that cost them the title.
In the NorCal Junior Medal Final, Julia Nagler (Benson Carroll, trainer), who just flew home from showing at the Capital Challenge, put in two strong rounds and had the definitive lead going into the work off. The test included hand galloping a fence, then a counter canter past the other horses and the in-gate, around the short end of the arena to the last fence. Kaitlin Perry (Debbie Stone, trainer) went first and put in a lovely test, but jumped a wrong jump. Allison Levine (Debbie Stone, trainer) was next and executed a clean test, performing a simple change from the canter to the counter canter. Madison Bradshaw (Ned and Hope Glynn, trainers) opted for the more difficult flying change and pulled it off beautifully.
When it was Julia's turn, her test went well until her horse missed the simple change to the counter canter and thus opening the door for the other competitors to move in. When the awards were announced, it was Madison Bradshaw who was champion. Allison Levine received the reserve champion ribbon, while Julia settled in third and Kaitlin in fourth.
"He got a little herd bound going by the other horses and the gate," Julia explained. "But it wasn't his fault; it was mine. I was disappointed, but very happy for Madison. She's a very consistent rider. We just have to remember that this is a sport, and they are animals. Anything can happen, and you just never know." Although Julia calls Northern California home, this was her first time competing at this show and her last year as a junior. "This is a great horse show--I liked the courses. They weren't too hard, but they asked good questions. I plan to come back."
"I compete against Julia all the time and hardly ever beat her," Madison put in. "It was a very sweet victory. In the work off, I knew I had to put the pressure on Julia if I was going to catch her. I've been working hard on the flying change to counter canter all fall, so I knew I had that in my bag. Julia is a very good and consistent rider, and it's a bummer she missed that lead."
Madison, who shows as a 14-year-old, is in the independent study program at Montgomery High School, which allows her to ride nearly every day. In addition to balancing her school work with riding, she also finds time to volunteer for Renaissance Healing & Learning Center, which provides hippotherapy for severely physically challenged children.
"It's really an amazing program. The kids learn to use both sides of their brain, improve spatial awareness, and gain confidence on the horse. I do several things there, like exercise horses, walk alongside the kids to hold them on or play games with them. I learn so much from the kids, and I love to teach, so it's great to be able to share my passion with them."
Madison also balances riding equitation with jumpers, winning the $1,500 1.30M Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper Stake and the $1000 1.20m Junior Amateur Modified Spruce Meadows Qualifier Jumper Stake. "It's extremely helpful to me to ride both. After riding jumpers, the jumps in the medal classes look small, and no matter what I'm asked to do, I know I've done something more difficult before. On the other hand, equitation balances me and makes me more disciplined for jumpers."
"She's a hard working kid, and very talented," her trainer Ned Glynn added. "She spends a lot of time practicing all the details and fundamentals, and it showed when she needed it. It was a difficult work off, and Madison did a great job executing it. Her horse, Landon, is fantastic."
Peyton Warren (Leone Equestrian, trainers) also came from behind to win the NorCal Pony Medal Final. She was eighth after the first round with a score of 69.66, but after she earned an 80.66 in the second round and the leaders made costly mistakes that dropped them in the rankings, she moved up to second in that round and third overall going into the work off. At the end, Peyton was awarded the championship. Dalan Laughlin (Toni Venza, trainer) was reserve champion, while her sister Keely placed third and Katie Aoki (Jan Hainze, trainer) was fourth.
"It felt really refreshing to win. I didn't even know I had a shot," Peyton remarked. "It took some of the pressure off, so I just concentrated on keeping a cool mind and having fun. I was also a little sad, because this was my last pony final. I'll just be riding horses next year."
Dalan also moved up in the class to earn her spot in the top four after placing tenth in the first round with 68, but won the second round with a score of 83. "It felt really good to come in second," she commented. "I was more relaxed and less hurried today."
In addition to the nerves brought on by a medal final, Dalan also had the pressure of competing against her younger sister, Keely. However, according to her mother, the sibling rivalry doesn't stop them from being good sports. "Dalan is very grateful, proud, and complimentary when her sister beats her, even though she hates it. I'm very proud of both of them. They both work really hard."
While Madison and Peyton had to move up to overtake the leaders and win their classes, Adrienne Dixon (Benson Carroll, trainer), the 2004 Junior Medal Final winner, was on top of the NorCal Senior Medal Final from the beginning. She rode second to last in the order of go and followed numerous strong rides that scored in the 80s, but she stepped up to the plate and rode even better, earning a 90.33. On day two, the pressure and fatigue seemed to affect many of the riders, and Adrienne's horse swapped a lead and kicked out, but her score of 86.91 kept her on top. Jennifer Parker (Denise Parker and Benson Carroll, trainers) placed second, Tonya Johnston (Ned and Hope Glynn, trainers) was third, and Katherine Civian (Gry McFarlane, trainer) was fourth.
"I was extremely pleased with both my rounds as well as my work off," Adrienne reported. "All the rounds were great courses and wonderful tests. I loved how the course designer included the natural obstacles. Macintosh (Alison Heafey, owner) is better with the unique jumps. He gets bored with the generic ones. I also thought the work off tests for both juniors and seniors were great."
Jennifer, who has shown at the NorCal Medal Finals for 15 years, agreed. "I was glad the work off was easier than what the juniors had to do! I was a little worried about the natural obstacles, but my horse did great. He's young, and this is the first class like this he's done."
Like Adrienne, Elizabeth "Sissy" Robbins (Beverly Jovais, trainer) went straight to the top of the NorCal 3’ Medal Final of 47 entries and stayed there. After earning 88 from both judges in the first round and 85.75 in the second, she went into the work off with an average score of 86.87. After a challenging test that included a lengthened posting trot back to the line-up with no stirrups, she was named the champion. Tylor Nowell (Beverly Jovais, trainer) moved up from tenth in the first round and second in the second round to earn the reserve champion title, Camilla Jorst (Lynn Mullins, trainer) was third, and Lauren Andrews (Nancy Hey, trainer) was fourth.
"Winning the first round of the finals was so exciting. I was elated!" Sissy said. "Jonagold felt fantastic. He did everything I asked him to do. In the second round, I was definitely more nervous. It was especially fun to go into the work-off with my barn mate, Tylor Nowell. There was a nice feeling between the four of us out there, everyone wishing each other good luck as we lined up. Riding last in the work-off gave me extra time to think and plan, and Beverly has us practice so many elements at home all year, I felt prepared for the test and just hoped we could do a good job." And prepared they were--not only did fellow student Tylor come in second, but Kat Taylor was fifth.
"Sissy was the happiest woman on the planet," Beverly said. "She knew she was on top going into the work off, so for her to hold it together was really great. The test was really tricky, and I give a lot of credit to Lauren, who went first."
"It was amazing," Tylor recalled. "I didn't think I had a chance. My horse felt better today, and I set a better pace." Her mother Lisa added, "I was really proud of her. She's only eleven. She had a good weekend."
Chestnut Hill horses and riders won several other big classes, including Sissy in the $1,000 Adult Amateur Hunter Classic on her Jonagold, and Tylor won the $1,000 Children's Hunter Classic aboard her Too Cool and took second with her equitation mount Proverb. Finally, Julia Nagler catch rode Olympic (Grace McLaughlin, owner) to the blue in the $1,500 Junior-Amateur Owner Hunter Classic.
Nearly 100 medal finalists attended this year's NorCal Medal Finals. "The competition is formidable," commented show manager Adrian Ward. "Many of them have placed well in Southern California and on the national level."
Ned Glynn agreed. "I've been coming to this show since I was a junior. The NorCal board puts in a lot of effort to make this a nice show, and there's a high level of competition. It's a good place to showcase your riders and their abilities." His wife, Hope won first, second and third in the $3,500 Hunter Challenge.
"The quality goes up every year," Kelly Van Vleck added, who has coached numerous riders to top finishes in the NorCal Finals.
For more information about the Northern California Hunter Jumper Association, visit http://www.norcalhunterjumpers.com/.
While many riders are already setting their sights on next year, there are still a few shows left in the 2010 season. At the LAEC, Gold Coast 7 runs Oct 21-24, the National Preview Nov 10-14 and the L.A. National Nov 17-21. At Hansen Dam, riders have two more chances to earn points for the Maui Trainer Incentive at the Verdugo Hills League Preview Oct 29-30 and the Verdugo Hills Finale Nov 6-7.
Photos: Madison Bradshaw puts in a masterful work off for the win-Photo: Naismith Images
Peyton Warren comes from behind to nab the Pony Medal Final Tri-color-Photo: Naismith Images
Adrienne Dixon rules the Senior Medal Final- Photo: Naismith Images
Sissy Robbins goes straight to the top of the 3' Medal Final-Photo: Naismith Images