Wayne, IL- Catherine Chamberlain wasn't sure about bringing Avesto van Weltevreden to Lamplight for the Festival of Champions, even though she already had plans to attend with her Under 25 Grand Prix horse, Verdicci. Avesto van Weltevreden, nicknamed "Vito," was coming off a busy summer: he toured in Europe, competing with Chamberlain in the Young Rider Nations Cup at Hagen, and then traveled to Kentucky for the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships [NAJYRC], where he and Chamberlain earned team gold and an individual silver.
"We thought he might be too tired, but he came home from that and was super fit and feeling good," Chamberlain explained. "At the last moment, we decided to take a chance and bring him. Obviously it's gone really well. I'm thrilled. I have to really thank his owner Kimberly Pribble for allowing me to ride him and take this journey with him."
The decision paid off, as she and Vito earned an overall average of 69.43 percent over two days of competition - each worth 50 percent of the final score - to clinch the Young Rider Championship. "It's been really great," Chamberlain said. "I've never been to this facility before, and it's absolutely gorgeous. I'm really thankful to able to come here. Having the Young and Developing Horse Championships alongside is really inspirational to see all those top riders and see the quality that we have in the United States."
Chamberlain, who also earned triple gold medals at the 2014 NAJYRC with Verdicci, is wrapping up her last year at Young Riders. "It's actually my first national title - what better way to go out?" she said. "There's really nothing better. This whole Young Rider experience has been really an amazing opportunity and an amazing journey. I've had ups and downs. I've finished very last at North Americans (NAJYRC), I've finished first at North Americans, and everywhere in between. It's definitely a roller coaster ride."
She added, "Each new step teaches you something, and I think you have to learn to become open to the whole process. To finish out with a highlight means a lot to me. I'm thankful to everyone - the whole team behind me, the sponsors of this event and especially the horse. At the end of the day they're the ones that have to go out there and work with us and really give their all. I really owe a lot to him."
Kerrigan Gluch, who led after Friday's Young Rider Team test, scored 68.289 percent for Saturday's Individual test and finished on an average of 68.794 percent for the reserve championship with Hampton Green Farm's Vaquero HGF, an 8-year-old P.R.E. stallion. "My test felt really nice," Gluch said. "It wasn't quite as fluid as yesterday, but my canter tour I thought was really energetic and good. Our pirouettes were the best they've ever felt in the ring, so I was happy with that. He really surprised me doing this level this year - I never would have expected it. I can't ask for anything more."
The Junior Championship came to a nail-biting finish with the FEI Junior Individual test results shaking up the leader board. Though Kristin Counterman placed first with a 69.474 percent in Saturday's Individual test, it was not enough to upset the overnight leader, Mickayla Frederick on Wrainier Q, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding. Frederick managed to hold onto the lead with an average score of 69.171 percent.
"I'm still in shock and so proud of my horse for getting me here," said Frederick. "I definitely felt like today I was really riding; I wasn't just along for the ride." Counterman rode Three Times, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, to the reserve championship with an average of 68.408 percent."I was so pleased with my test today and felt like I could ride every step and go for a high mark," said Counterman. "He was with me every step of the way, and everything went great."
Also featured on Saturday at the Festival of Champions was the first test of the USEF Pony Rider National Championship, which will conclude on Sunday. Eight of the nation's top pony riders have come to Lamplight to compete for the championship, and Allison Nemeth and Pablo S, a 19-year-old Weser Ems German Reit Pony gelding, jumped out to a strong lead with a 70.94 percent after the FEI Pony Team test.
"Today my pony was a lot more energetic and collected then he usually is, and he really listened to me," Nemeth explained. "For tomorrow, I really want to work on our medium and extended trots because today he broke into the canter, and I want to fix that."
Mckenzie Milburn placed second with a 66.496 percent on Darius, her 21-year old Westphalian gelding. This is the first national championship for both Milburn and Nemeth. "Lamplight is a gorgeous facility, and I am so happy I was able to come," Milburn said. "I could not have done it without my trainer's help and my family who pitched in to help."
The USEF Network will feature live streams of Sunday's competition at Lamplight Equestrian Center.
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