It’s Not About the Bike!
When I arrived on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park, home to the North American Junior Young Rider Championships, I couldn’t help but think of Lance Armstrong, “It’s not about the Bike.” Last year was my first time at this competition. I’d heard about it over the years but never realized just what a great event it is.
These winners of today and tomorrow really have a chance to get some championship mileage at this event which showcases Dressage, Show Jumping, Eventing and Reining. Endurance also is taking place but as a separate entity in Harrodsburg, KY.
The reason I keep thinking of that phrase that “it’s not about the bike” is because walking around the KHP opens your eyes to the magnitude of the NAJYRC. By taking it all in you see just what an unbelievable opportunity these kids have. The competitions are taking place in the same arenas where the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will be happening. The horses are being stalled in the same stalls that Olympic veteran and world champion horses will call their home during the 16 days of WEG competition. So, it’s not just about the fact that there is this event called the North American Junior Young Rider Championships but also about all the great opportunities this event affords all of these young riders and their support staff.
I enjoy doing these Championships because I take a different approach. Unlike at other events where I immerse myself in the competition making sure to photograph every ride, for this event I work behind the scenes. There’s lots of great stuff to see from the colorfully designed team golf carts to the camaraderie between the teams. There are the subtle things you see, like the people setting up the food that is complimentary to the competitors and their support staff. There’s the grounds crew wandering around doing the must do jobs like emptying trash cans to setting up, raking and watering rings. Looking at the view from behind the scenes gives you a perspective of just how massive the job is for the United States Equestrian Federation (the host of this event) to organize all the pieces that together make it the whole (make it the bike).
When not wandering around the grounds I based myself in the press tent where Brian Sosby, Press Officer of the NAJYRC was in charge. Brian is also the editor of Equestrian, the official Magazine of the USEF and of WEG 2010. I was surprised to hear that on the first day 19 media were roaming around the grounds and a total of 31 had signed up for the week. Those are impressive numbers for our sport. And this event gives the locals a chance to get a taste of a variety of disciplines all in one week.
The press tent is located just across from the grand prix arena and is situated in such a way that I can’t see the competition but I can see some of the surrounding schooling and set up areas. As I peek out on one side there are young riders coming up the hill on their ponies and on the other are the sounds of tractors and golf carts going back and forth on the major roadway.
Yesterday was when everyone arrived and so Brian and I chatted a bit about that first day. Brian’s coined phrase was no surprise. “Expect the unexpected,” he commented. “Everyone is looking for MacGyver so that he can fix every problem with a shoestring and paper clip but this is reality. Yesterday the power was out and it caused a little back up in getting credentials ready, just basic things that are the function of every show. Yet, despite that the spirit of this event is just so high. Everyone was very understanding. Once the power was on and we were back on track the rest of the day moved along without a hitch.”
Endurance is new to the NAJYRC and I so I decided that since Brian had a bit of time he could fill me in on some of the details. Shaker Village, located just outside of historic Harrodsburg, KY, is where the endurance is being held.
Brian, who is always so full of historical tid bits, had a few to pass along. “Harrodsburg is the site of a very prominent National Historic Landmark called Shaker Village, which was one of the Shaker communities, a religious sect back in the 1800s,” explained Brian. Apparently the name came from their prayer time when there was a “lot of shaking going on.” “Ironically one of the tenets was sex was a no no,” continued Brian which ultimately caused the demise of the people in the Shaker communities. “They all died out,” he added.
Yet the town still exists and continues to be a tourist attraction. “Their very simply built village is now preserved and people come from all over the world to visit Shaker Village. There’s lots of land surrounding the town and so that is why the endurance is being held there,” added Brian.
Chatting With the Reiners
Dressage and Reining took place on this first day of competition and so I had a chance to chat with some of the riders. When the winners of the Reining Welcome Class were announced it was an all Canadian victory for first, second and third place. Nancy Pratch, St. Paul, Alberta was 1st; Kaylynn Malmberg, Carseland, Alberta finished 2nd and Sage Sapergia, Cochran, Alberta was 3rd. No one was around at the time they came into the press tent and so it gave me a chance to have a quick chat.
After our conversation you might think it was their victory or the kind words they spoke about the Kentucky Horse Park that I remember, but it wasn’t. What I remember was the trip down by those driving the horses on the 52 hour trek from Alberta. Unfortunately that 52 hours was doubled just seven hours into the trip when the first brand new tire blew. No worries, they changed it.
If that wasn’t enough a few more hours down the road in the middle of the night, down goes the second tire. Now they are stuck so they had to find a place to change that tire. Moving right along a third one goes. Yikes they ended up buying extra tires. I hope when they get home they have a good talk with the place that sold them those tires.
Anyway, this event wasn’t about the tires so I did find some time to talk about their rides and their initial thoughts. Nancy recalled that it was in 4-H that she was bitten by the horse bug. “An instructor came in and we were awed at what the horse could do and that drove me to seek out reining,” she explained.
When we chatted a little more about how well Nancy had done, it wasn’t so much the ribbons that Nancy was proud of but rather the fact that Reining has only been a part of the North American Junior Young Rider Championships for three years.
“Competing in the first western sport within the youth championships is an honor,” continued Nancy. “I’m proud to be able to show other people our discipline.”
All of the riders were thrilled with the facility and so I wanted to understand what made it so much better for the horses. “They have brought in the best footing expert in Bob Kizer,” noted Nancy. When the footing is right “the horses perform that much better. You don’t have to worry about slipping and sliding doing your big fast circles and for the sliding stops they can hit that ground and do their best. It’s amazing.”
Kaylynn, who has been reining for six years pretty much echoed what Nancy had said. “It’s important because we are representing our province. We are competing for Team Alberta.”
Every one of these riders fought to make it here. In order to be considered they had to do three qualifying shows and have a score of 68 or higher. Kaylynn was able to do that on her 12-year-old sorrel, Quarter Horse Pickin Around. And that was a feat since he loves to spook. When Kaylynn entered the ring it was the judges that got him a bit unnerved but he pulled it together.
While Kaylynn admitted “it has been one of my goals to make it to this team.” She also couldn’t say enough good things about the grounds. “This facility is amazing. You couldn’t ask for better. The ground is great. The people around here are willing to help you out if you need anything. The barns are beautiful. The stalls are great. It’s amazing and huge. “
When it was Sage’s turn it was no surprise that she too echoed similar thoughts as her teammates. The one difference though is that unlike the others, Sage has been riding from when she was a tiny tot. “It is in my family; in my blood. I am a third generation. We all train reining horses.”
For Sage the idea of representing the sport of reining is what means so much to her. “Being here allows us to represent our sport and since reining is so new it is a lot of fun be able to represent my country and my sport. We are all competing against each other technically but in reality we are here together representing our country and representing reining as a sport. We are all working together to get our sport out there to the world and make it known. ”
When I asked Sage about her horse Shiners Q Chex, a 10-year-old Palomino, Quarter Horse Stallion and if he had any quirks, all she could utter was “He is really loud. He likes to voice his opinion. He likes to announce himself when he comes into a place.”
The three girls giggled when Sage revealed this tid bit as it was clear they had seen his musical notes many times. This time Sage explained that it was “during the jog he made sure everyone knew he was there. He neighed and danced around and made a big scene.”
The picture she described made her horse come alive and as we were about to end the conversation on that note Sage wanted to say thanks to the Kentucky Horse Park. “It’s an incredible facility and they’ve done a great job of organizing it,” she concluded.
You see, it really is not about the bike or the horse or the rider or the atmosphere or the camaraderie. In fact, it’s all these bits and pieces that make the North American Junior Young Rider Championships such an amazing event.
Article and Photos by Diana DeRosa