Postcards From Young Riders

Day 1 - Wednesday

Postcards from Young Riders started in 1998 as some e-mails I sent to my mom while attending my first North American Junior & Young Rider Championships. The stories got passed around and within a few years they were distributed to the entire readership of LEG Up News.

I have been fortunate to be involved with this event, the only annual FEI Championship held in North America, at four different locations, a variety of management teams, many different riders, and even changes to the format, like inclusion of the Junior Championship designation. A few things remain the same. You may find yourself walking alongside an Olympian, or two or three, as many attend to coach the next generation of top international riders. The team camaraderie is palpable, and banner, flags, and team colors are everywhere. Officials from many different countries converge on the event for a week. NAJYRC is a spectacular, exciting, unique opportunity for all who attend.

This year Endurance has been added to the docket, along with Reining, Eventing, Dressage, and Show Jumping. I often describe this event to my non-horsey friends as our sport’s Junior Olympics.

Today got underway with the Dressage Team competition, and the show jumping riders had their jog in the morning. In the afternoon they got to tour the ring and jump a schooling course to familiarize themselves with the venue.

Zone 10's eight horses and riders all passed the jog and confidently jumped around the schooling session.

Hot and humid seem to be the conditions we are facing, and no one is immune. Dressage riders were banned from wearing their coats today and show jumping riders are requested to wear their team shirts instead of their coats. The jumping chefs d’equipe all agreed to have the team competition on Friday started at 7:00 a.m. in an attempt to beat the heat.

Throughout the week we’ll post daily stories and photos on the LEG/ LEG Up News Facebook page and we will distribute the stories via LEG Up News. You can always find copies on the LEG website under Articles.

I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I enjoy sharing them.

Day 2 - Thursday

Our first official show jumping competition got underway this afternoon and a large, talented group of Juniors took to the field and Richard Jeffries’ course. The water was part of the course, but with a pole over it the tape was not judged. That proved favorable for a large number of riders. However, all favors will disappear tomorrow.

For the first time at the NAJYRC there are more Junior riders than Young Riders, and the depth of talent at the Junior level is impressive. The Junior category was first offered in 2004 and was made an official FEI Championship a few years later. Since then the Junior category has steadily grown and this year there are 42 Juniors, up from 36 in 2010. There are 24 Young Riders this year, down from 42 in 2010. Many Young Riders are bypassing the NAJYRC to compete in grands prix and even in Europe. To be competitive in the Young Rider category at these Championships, a rider has to be comfortable and capable of jumping 1.50 meters over challenging courses.

But back to the competition itself. Demonstrating the depth of talent in the Junior category, 23 riders jumped fault free rounds, including two Zone 10 riders. The riders started out conservative, but Hannah Warde was both bold and accurate. She put the pedal to the metal and shaved five seconds off the leading time. For a long time she led the class with a time of 75.38 with her Canasucre. Brooke Cudmore (Zone 6), daughter of grand prix rider Karen Cudmore, showed everyone there was still more time to shave by posting a time of 71.08 on the grand prix veteran Ocelot. Watching Brooke ride one is reminded of Karen and it was truly a demonstration of both “nature” and “nurture” at work. Brooke looked pretty unbeatable, but no one told Zone 1's Sydney Shulman. She stopped the clock in 70.61 and remained on top of the leader board.

Madison Bradshaw (Zone 10) put in a steady, smooth ride that left all the rails up and slotted her into 16th place. Brittany Albrecq and Kilian McGrath wanted to combine their two rides on behalf of Zone 10. Kilian and Ashtin’s Obession rubbed the first fence and the rail teetered and tottered and finally rolled out of the cups to land in front of the jump. The rest of her round was fault free. Brittany on the other hand was perfect until the final line, the water to a big oxer. Her Union Jack gave a lovely effort over the water and Brittany just didn’t get him back sufficiently and that heartbreaking four faults at the last jump was Brittany’s score for the day.

While the two were relegated toward the bottom of the class, they are far from out since only faults carry forward for the Junior riders. Zone 10 looks quite solid for a medal in tomorrow’s team competition and I will go as far to say that a medal is theirs to lose. They clearly have the talent and the horses to bring home a team medal for Zone 10, they just need to keep their cool and have a little luck on their side.

For the Young Riders it is amazing how just five centimeters can make a big difference. The course not only got bigger, but the track got tougher, and it showed. The scoring for the Young Riders follows that of the World Cup Finals. In the first round faults are converted to time, and then a multiplier and a few other mathematics converts the riders’ time into scores.

The first few riders had three rails each, which added twelve seconds to their time. A fall off, a refusal or two, and it was beginning to look like a clear round was not likely. However, Chase Boggio of Zone 4 showed everyone how to do it. He rode beautifully and posted a clear round with a reasonably fast time (78.96) aboard Hennessey. Then it seemed like the rest of the field took a cumulative deep breath and more clear rounds were posted.

For Zone 10 Kendall Skreden led off and she really wanted to make the round count. After NAJYRC she is hanging up her spurs and heading to college. Last year she rode on the silver medal Junior team and finished sixth individually. Making the Young Rider team culminated her riding goals and Kendall showed everyone why she earned her berth by posting a solid, clear round with enough speed to finish tenth overall. “My horse was great,” beamed Kendall after the class.

Danielle Korsh has plenty of experience and her horse, San Diego has seen his fair share of international tracks, so an unexpected run out at fence three caught everyone by surprise. However, Dani’s experience showed itself and she quickly re-grouped and finished the course with all the rails in the cups. Even with her stop she was faster than some of the riders without a refusal. No doubt she will be extra focused for the team competition tomorrow, and the pair should be able to post great scores for Zone 10.

Cayla Richards also showed that experience is a great teacher. Building on her great equitation foundation, Cayla has been riding in Europe and Spruce Meadows, broadening her horizon. She too is heading to college in the fall and the NAJYRC is one of her final, major events. She posted a lovely clear round that was fast enough to put her in second, just a mere 1.43 points off the class leader, Kaitlin Campbell (Zone 3) and Rocky W. Kaitlin blazed around the course in a time of 71.94 and Cayla finished with a time of 74.79.

Sage Flynn closed the class and rounded out the Zone 10 performances aboard her Hot Pants. She had two rails and settled into 14th for the day. Sage is the least experienced of the Zone 10 Young Rider team members having never been to the NAJYRC, but she is not letting that slow her down. Her teammates are supportive and she is holding her own.

The team competition for the Young Riders will be tough tomorrow and if the Zone 10 girls really bring their game faces, they can go home with medals. Usually the Young Rider team medal is a contest between Zone 2 and Zone 10, but Zone 4 is looking quite strong this year. All four of their riders placed in the top ten, the only zone to do so.

A lot can happen. Stay tuned and we’ll bring you the news.

Day 3 - Friday: Team Day

Team Day is always exciting, nerve-wracking, and exhausting . . . for everyone. As Officials, our day began at 4:45 a.m. as we had to be at the Kentucky Horse Park at 6:00 a.m. for our 7:00 a.m. start. Everyone agreed to start earlier to help beat the heat and as the first light began to etch across the eastern sky, the riders took to the ring to walk the course.

Today’s courses were definitely more difficult than yesterday’s, especially the Junior track. Yesterday 24 Junior riders negotiated clear rounds, with one of those earning a single time fault. After two rounds of team competition today, only three riders remain with scores of zero. The water took its toll, as did the narrow vertical set a tight five strides after a scopey combination.

Zone 10's Juniors had a tough day and had to fight to stay in the team competition. With ten teams starting out, only six could return for the second round and the contest for the medals. Kilian McGrath led off for the Zone 10 team and she got off to a rough start. Four rails and a time fault put a damper on the team. However, Madison Bradshaw bouyed the team’s spirits with a seemingly effortless clear round. Brittany Albrecq rode in the third rotation and a pair of rails added to Zone 10's score. Hannah Warde rode in the anchor position, and she demonstrated why Chef d’Equipe Kelly VanVleck made that decision as Hannah piloted her Canasucre to a clear round.

Zones 2 and 4 showed they were there to win and the rest of the teams were left to fight over the scraps. Instead of fighting it out for a gold medal, Zone 10 was grateful to be among the six teams returning for the second round. All the other riders still rode because their scores counted toward the Junior Individual Championship where only 25 would move forward to Sunday’s two round final competition.

2011 is a re-building year for Zone 10 as the top Young Riders are in Europe and riding primarily at the grand prix level. All four Juniors were not only rookies to the NAJYRC, but all are relatively new to even riding at this level. Eighteen months ago Brittany Albrecq was riding in Children’s Jumpers and Killian McGrath just moved up to the 1.40m ranks this year. Hannah and Madison are similarly new to this level of competition as well.

All four riders continued to put in solid rounds – Killian improved her score, Brittany had another pair of rails, Madison had just a rail in the second round, and Hannah’s horse looked like it got tired as they pulled three rails. Regardless, all four girls rode quite well and there is no doubt they will continue to improve and probably return to NAJYRC able to win a medal.

Zone 4 led the victory gallop after an exciting jump off with Zone 2. One by one the four riders raced around the jump off course trying to leave the rails up while posting fast times. When Frances Land, the Zone 4 anchor rider posted a clear round, there was no need for the final Zone 2 rider to jump. Zone 4 clinched the gold and Ralph Caristo’s Zone 2 team took the silver. The combined Zone 1/6 team took the bronze due in large part to great riding by Brooke Cudmore (Zone 6) and Sydney Shulman (Zone 1). Zone 3/8 finished fourth, followed by Team Mexico in fifth, and Zone 10 in sixth.

After a course change where the jumps got bigger, the time got faster, and the track got tougher the Young Riders took to the stadium. Again, Zone 10 was fielding a relatively young and inexperienced team, but this team showed its mettle. Cayla Richards showed her teammates the way with a four fault round plus a single time fault. Time became a significant factor for the Young Riders who have to ride at 400 meters per minute. Danielle Korsh brought her A game to the team and jumped flawlessly, only adding a single time fault to the team’s score. Sage Flynn, probably the least experienced and the only member of the team who has never been to the NAJYRC got a bit nervous facing the course. She had a pair of rails and then a stop going into the triple combination. However, she took a deep breath and finished up with a final score of 16. While hers was the drop score for the first round, she proved invaluable in the second round. Kendall Skreden brought things home for her team with only a heartbreaking rail at the final oxer. However, the Zone 10 team was sitting in solid medal contention alongside Zones 2 and 4. Zone 10 carried a score of ten into the second round, with Zone 2 carrying eight, and Zone 4 with four. There was little margin for error.

By now it was midday and the sun was beating down, but a mild breeze helped make the heat a bit more bearable as the second round commenced. Cayla Richards posted another great round with only a single rail dislodged. Danielle and San Diego kept soaring over the jumps and once again added only a single time fault. Sage took her nerves and channeled them into a positive ride and had one of the few clear rounds. Kendall’s horse got tired in the second round and dropped two rails, but thanks to the great riding of her teammates Kendall’s eight faults served as the drop score, giving Zone 10 a final score of just 15.

Zone 2 was in contention for the silver, but when anchor rider Karen Polle also dropped two rails, Zone 2 finished that round with a total of eight and a final total of 16. Zone 10 edged them out for the silver by just one point.

With the most clear rounds of any team, Zone 4 was assured the gold medal after the third rotation. However, Chase Boggio, their anchor rider still had to produce the best round possible for he found himself in contention for an individual medal. Riding with great aplomb and accuracy, he logged a clear second round, helped his team to a gold medal, and put himself within striking distance of an individual medal on Sunday.

Spirits were mixed in the Zone 10 camp, but all the riders should be proud of themselves. They have ridden well, represented Zone 10, and showed the great talent that Zone 10 continues to produce year after year. The competition at the NAJYRC seems to get tougher every year, and the Juniors this year are the best group of horses and riders since the inception of this category almost ten years ago.

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Photos: Brittany Albrecq stands Union Jack for inspection Leg Up News File Photo;  Hannah Warde and Canasucre in the jog LEG Up News File Photo;  Cayla Richards at the horse inspection LEG Up News file photo