Our day started early, and the fog still lingered over the lush pastures as we drove out to the Kentucky Horse Park at 6:30 a.m. in preparation for the Junior Individual Championship. The Juniors had an advantage being able to show when the temperatures are a bit cooler. We are in for a hot day.
The Juniors faced two rounds and conditioning is a key factor at this competition. Not only are the horses jumping big, technical courses, they have two days of two round competitions, and many horses and riders are not used to this format.
Twenty riders contested this final day of competition, and they brought their A game to the day. It was gratifying to see riders who had a tough time earlier in the week put in solid rounds today, and the course was even bigger. Today riders had to be confident at 1.45 as half the course was at this height.
All five of Zone 10's riders qualified for today’s competition, and three of Alberta’s (Canada) riders also qualified, with Ben Asselin holding on to the lead with three clear rounds. Meg O’Mara (Zone 2) and Frances Land (Zone 4) were on his heels with just four faults, and Jocelyn Neff (Zone 10) carried eight. Consistency and accuracy were the requirements for today.
At the outset the early riders had more trouble with the time allowed than they did with the jumps. There were a few rails here and there, but the time was tight and the jury wasn’t changing it. From the vantage in the jury box we could see where the riders and their coaches had walked the lines, however few of the riders rode anywhere near the tracks (on the bending lines) where they walked. Olaf’s (Petersen, Jr.) course demanded a prompt pace and tidy turns.
As the class progressed and the riders with better scores took to the ring, they started mastering the time allowed. Jasmine Wiggins (Alberta) finally put it all together and left the rails in the cups, the water untouched, and the time intact. A few rounds later, Audrey Coulter (Zone 10) posted a clear round, followed by teammate Kendall Skreden.
Now the class was approaching medal territory and Frances Land (Zone 4) dropped a rail to relegate her with eight faults alongside Jocelyn Neff (Zone 10) who added nothing to her carry-over score of eight. Class leaders Meg O’Mara (Zone 2) and Ben Asselin (Alberta) shrugged off the pressure and posted faultless rounds.
The second round featured a shorter course and no water, but fatigue and pressure were the riders’ companions. Laurence Addison of Quebec led off and it was gratifying to see her only add a rail to to her time fault from the first round. She had a tough time earlier in the week, but really turned things around and finished on an upswing. She can head back to Quebec with her head held high.
Half the class - seven riders of the fifteen - mastered the course and added nothing to their scores. Michael Hughes (Zone 4) edged into the top ten with the first perfect round. Bretton Chad (Alberta) was also assured of a ribbon with a clear round, and Kendall tied for sixth when she posted her second clear round. This was Kendall’s first journey to the NAJYRC and going home with both a team medal and an Individual Championship ribbon were like a dream come true.
Audrey slotted into fifth with another textbook round, and Frances had to settle for fourth when she dropped another rail.
Now the medals were on the line and Jocelyn rode with great accuracy and assured herself of the Bronze Medal. To stay in medal contention, Meg and Ben couldn’t afford mistakes, and both were flawless. With just four faults, Meg nabbed the Silver Medal, and Ben rode yet another clear round to take home the Individual Gold Medal.
There is no doubt that some of these riders will be contesting the Young Rider portion of this Championship next year.
Full results are available on the NAJYRC website at http://www.youngriders.org/Results.aspx.
Photo: Jocelyn Neff, Junior Individual Bronze Medal LEG Up News file photo.