Team Canada Defends the Gold, Mexico's Maiden Voyage Silver, Long Haul for Bronze

Lexington, KY - High-quality runs and terrific scores from a field of top-quality reining horses and the continent's most elite junior and young rider athletes made for a spectacular night at the 2011 SmartPak Reining Team Championships at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships presented by Gotham North.

Canada reclaimed the top of the podium at Thursday night's team competition, this time with its Alberta/Manitoba team earning a score of 623. All three counting scores on the Gold medal team came in above the 200 point mark. Team members Jessica Green (201), Lisa Hiebert (206.5), Nancy Pratch (215.5), and Kylie Wasiuta (194) powered through the competition with determination and heart and their efforts paid off in a big way. Defending the Gold medal on behalf of Canada was a top priority for the team, and seasoned team veterans Pratch and Wasiuta knew just what it would take.   

"The horses were great and we had very nice, consistent runs that helped us stay on top," said Pratch. "It is a huge honor and we are super proud to represent Canada at such an important competition."

Pratch wins her third FEI Gold medal in two years, as she was the anchor rider for the Gold medal Canadian team at the Adequan North American Junior & Young Rider Championships last year and won the Individual Gold medal in 2010. All eyes turn now to see if Pratch will also defend her Individual Gold on Saturday morning in the final round of championship FEI reining.

Wasiuta is perhaps the most experienced reining competitor at these championships. She is the only rider that has competed at every NAJYRC since reining was introduced at the 2008 Championships in Parker, CO.   

"I've been to each and every Young Riders since Parker, and I cannot think of a better way for me to go out on this, my last year competing as a Young Rider," said Wasiuta. "I never dreamed that I would one day be a Gold medalist. It is the most important thing I've ever accomplished, and I am so proud," an emotional Wasiuta said.

Team Mexico made its debut at the 2011 Championships, fielding a full team of Young Rider athletes and bringing with them some exceptionally nice horses. Taking their inaugural trip to the continental championships very seriously, the team has been in the U.S. training and preparing for the championships since June. After what would have been a devastating blow to any team, the Mexican Young Riders lost a strong team member at the horse inspection when their likely anchor, Alberto Aguilar's horse, failed the jog. Undeterred, Mexico reorganized and advanced only three to the team competition, knowing that they would not have the security of the dropped fourth score. However, when the pressure was on, competitors and cousins Jesus Arturo Leal (199.5), Gerardo Leal (206) and Gilberto Leal (214) rose to the occasion and in the end, claimed the Silver medal with a team score of 619.5.

Mexico's competitors and coaches all had the goal of reaching the podium. They enjoyed the challenge of possibly taking home some hardware to Mexico on their first attempt, and after the first two rounds, team scores revealed the Gold medal was within reach. It wasn't until the second to last run of the night that Canada edged out Mexico in an incredibly tough fight for the top honors.

Asked about their experience so far at the Junior & Young Rider Championships, Aguilar, speaking for the entire team said, "It is a great beautiful. We are very proud to bring the Silver medal back to Mexico and we give many thanks to our horses, our coaches and to the sponsors and organizers of this amazing event."  

Team Mexico has raised the bar of competitions at these championships and it is clear they will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.

While many come from far and wide to participate in the NAJYRC, perhaps none so far as team Saskatchewan, Canada. Determined and resolute, the team goal was to find a way to the podium in 2011, which began as far back as qualifying events. The team drove long hours, remained focused and kept an incredible team spirit - and was rewarded with the team's first FEI medals. Bronze medalists from Canada - Brent Dembisky (208.5), Shelbie Friesen (202.5), Jon Katzman (202.5), and Lindsay Wankel (204) - combined for a team score of 615.

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 earned qualifying scores to advance them to the individual medals round. Juniors include Lane Wilson and Emily Wilson of Canada, and Tiffany of the U.S.  

See more of the Adequan North American SmartPak Reining Championships with the Individual Finals this Saturday starting at 9 a.m. at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.

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Photos: Canada's YR Reining Gold team, l-r: Lisa Hiebert, Kylie Wasiuta, Jessica Green, Nancy Pratch. Photo: Diana De Rosa; Mexico's YR Reining Silver team, l-r: Jesus Arturo Leal, Gilberto Leal, Gerardo Leal, Alberto Aguilar. Photo: Diana De Rosa; Canada's YR Reining Bronze team, l-r: Jon Katzman, Shelbie Friesen, Brett Dembisky, Lindsay Wankel. Photo: Diana De Rosa.