The Gotham North FEI North American Youth Championships, presented by USHJA, came to an exciting close Sunday with the Individual Final for both the Junior and Young Rider categories. Ultimately standing atop the podiums in the respective categories, Baylee McKeever took the Young Rider title and Carlee McCutcheon claimed gold for the juniors.
McKeever seemingly pulled off the impossible: she jumped the sole clear round over Nick Granat’s (USA) very challenging first round for the Young Riders. Aboard Formidable, she followed up that elusive clear with a second clear, securing the gold medal after Augusta Iwasaki pulled one rail to take silver.
“I was trying to take it jump by jump and not get caught up with how the class was going,” McKeever, 18, said of her plan. “I just focused on my round and how my horse was going, everything I could control. Going to the last [jump], I was definitely nervous but I tried to stay calm and focused.”
McKeever was trained on the sidelines all week by U.S. Olympian McLain Ward, who is practically family after what’s now a long-standing work relationship between her father, Lee, and Ward.
Formidable proved to be extremely adjustable and game for the tough day of jumping.
“I started riding her around a year and a half ago after bringing her back from colic surgery,” McKeever remarked of the mare. “Last year she was gifted to me by McLain Ward as my graduation present. I’d say we have a strong partnership. She’s special to me and she brought me up the levels from the Medium Juniors all the way here.”
Walking away with the individual gold medal wasn’t on McKeever’s radar. “It was a surprise,” she said of how well she performed, even under pressure. “I knew it would be a bit bigger here so I went in hoping to get around and have a good time. I couldn’t ask for anything more from her.”
Ward himself knows plenty about jumping a championship, but McKeever is still learning the ropes. He advised her from the sidelines to enjoy it and soak up the glory of simply making it to the Individual Final. “He was talking about how nice it was to be in this situation to start with,” McKeever recalled. “Everyone wants to be at the top and you’re going to lose sometimes, but you have to appreciate where you are right now.”
For her win, McKeever’s name was etched on the Maxine Beard Memorial Trophy, along with many major names in show jumping, both past and present.
Iwasaki had an incredible performance all week aboard Fresca, jumping two 4-fault rounds in the Individual Final for the overall second best showing.
“She’s been amazing all week,” she said of Fresca. “This is my first championship with her and my first championship in general. Team day was incredible. It kind of caught me by surprise; I didn’t expect it to go that well. Today, I wanted to have consistent rounds and she was amazing. She really fought for me. I couldn’t be happier.”
While Iwasaki has stepped into CSI2* action before, NAYC is still among the biggest events the pair has navigated, and to emerge with such a strong result bodes well for their future.
“I feel so lucky to have the horse I have and my trainers and everyone supporting me,” she continued. “This and the U25 are the biggest I’ve asked her to do but she’s been amazing. Anything I ask her to do she’s willing to do.”
Taking home both a team gold medal for Canada and a bronze medal individually, William Martin and his 18-year-old Ricore Courcelle fought until the very end for their podium position.
“The last track was nice,” Martin said of the course that produced a few more clears than the one immediately before it. “It suited my horse with a big stride so we kept it going there. He was jumping out of his skin. He’s 18 years old, so we need to pick and choose our shows with him, but to be honest he just keeps getting better.”
Martin admits that Ricore Courcelle, his gold medal-winning ride in the 2022 Junior category of NAYC, has put him on the map.
“I got the ride on him two years ago and he was the horse to take me to the top level,” Martin continued. “We got along very well and he’s also been a great trainer for me. Now that I’m riding him much better, he’s giving me these clear rounds and winning me these medals. He’s won three medals in the last two years. He’s gone above and beyond our expectations so we praise him for that.”
Hear from Canada’s own team Gold medalist Halle Duke!
In the Junior category, McCutcheon had a lead to protect coming into the final round, with not a single rail dropped through all of competition to that point. With two additional clear rounds aboard Coco Mercedes on Sunday, she solidified her victory and earned the gold medal.
“This is my first Young Riders experience,” McCutcheon, also a team gold medalist for Zone 7, remarked. “Last year I qualified to ride on the Zone 7 team but I had a bit of a spill on the first day in the warm-up, so I was not able to compete. To come back here and have the opportunity to show and be part of the team means so much to me. I was really just looking forward to it all week, and it went better than I ever could have imagined.”
The win couldn’t have come without the help of Coco Mercedes, a mount she acquired from McLain Ward.
“She’s so brave,” McCutcheon, 17, said of her ride for NAYC. “I never have to worry about it. If I don’t see the perfect distance I know she’ll take care of me. I think having a horse with so much confidence has given me a confidence boost and has improved my riding all year.”
With advice coming from several trainers – including Max Amaya and TJ O’Mara of Stonehenge Stables, as well as Ward himself – McCutcheon felt prepared to take on the final round of jumping, where she pulled out a fifth clear over the course of three days.
“Max and McLain both told me just to stay calm,” she explained. “This is the first of hopefully many situations I’ll be in like this, and it’s just icing on the cake at this point. It’s been a great week so I was happy with any outcome because she’s been incredible all week.”
Stephanie Garrett took home the silver medal in her second NAYC appearance, aboard Darius De Kezeg Z. She executed four consecutive clear rounds to move up the leaderboard.
“This has been a pretty big goal of mine,” Garrett shared. “I came in last year and was also able to compete on the Zone 2 team, which was a phenomenal experience. The outcome might not have been what we were hoping for, but coming back this year I knew more about what to look for and how to prepare. Building up to this week we’ve been preparing, and we had some nice rounds before here so it’s a great feeling to leave this show with a medal.”
Taking home the bronze was Elise Stephens aboard O’Mega H & DB, a pair that rode to only one rail down over both the Team Final and the Individual Final.
This is my first time at the North American Youth Championships,” remarked Stephens. “Coming into today I had two good rounds on Friday, but on Thursday my round wasn’t quite what I wanted. So I really just wanted smooth and hopefully clear rounds. The first course had a lot of tests in it. The water to the vertical – a lot of people were having issues with that and I’m really glad my horse is a good water jumper.”
Junior and Young Rider Freestyles Bring 2023 FEI North American Youth Dressage Championships Presented by USDF to a Close
The 2023 edition of the FEI North American Youth Dressage Championships. presented by USDF came to a spectacular conclusion on Sunday as the Juniors and Young Riders performed their freestyle tests.
Junior Freestyle Championship
After winning two silver medals in team and individual competition, Madison Sumner (Wellington, Fla.) and Briar, the 2007 KWPN gelding she co-owns with Wayne Sumner, struck gold in the freestyle. The pair posted a 73.540% to top the leaderboard in the FEI Freestyle Competition for Juniors.
“After my final centerline, I was very proud of my test,” said Sumner. “He was with me the whole time, and I was just so grateful.”
Sumner pointed to the changes on a circle as one of the high points of her test as a difficult movement that she and Briar execute well.
“His strengths are definitely in the canter work,” said Sumner. “Definitely his changes. He has some big, expressive changes. Also his trot work, some of the extendeds and half-passes were also really good.”
Sienna Rowe (Urbanna, Va.) and Lightfire Just Do It, a 2010 Westphalian gelding owned by Jason Rowe, won silver with a close second-place score of 73.320% for her freestyle to Michael Jackson’s music. In addition, Rowe and ‘Nike’ were awarded the Amanda Johnson Award for their consistently excellent performances over the course of the week.
“We thought that [the music] fit Nike very well, because he’s a little mover,” said Rowe. “I was very glad we had a clean test because he can be a little bobbley sometimes. I’m very happy that we won that award.”
Allison Berger (Chicago, Ill.) secured the bronze with her ride on Delacure, a 2014 Hanoverian gelding she co-owns with Marianne Berger. The pair scored a 72.915% from the judges.
“The whole freestyle was really fun,” said Berger. “I love riding to music. My favorite part was the extended canter. He’s so powerful and I just laugh out loud every time. It’s so fun. I was really confident going in and going last in the order was nice because I had some time in the morning to prepare.”
2023 NAYC Dressage Juniors Freestyle Results
Gold: Madison Sumner and Briar (Region 3)
Silver: Sienna Rowe and Lightfire Just Do It (Region 1)
Bronze: Allison Berger and Delacure (Region 2)
The podium looked very familiar during the awards presentation for the FEI Young Riders Freestyle as three athletes received their third medals of the week. All three medalists were part of the gold medal-winning Region 3 team, and all three medaled in the individual final earlier in the week.
Mary Claire Piller (Oakdale, Tenn.) and Caterina, Emily Brollier’s 2011 Hanoverian mare, finished their hat trick, earning their third gold medal of this NAYC.
“We set NAYC as kind of a light goal, just really trying to develop the mare properly, bring her up the levels in a good program, and just keep her as happy as possible bringing out as much excellence in her as we could,” said Piller. “We just tried to work on that over the last few months and just really honed in on it the past five or six months really thinking about the CDI in mind and just almost using evyer show we went to for qualification as a schooling, saying how can we make it better in the ring, how can we make things easier for her to do the job for me, and she has delivered 100%.”
Piller and Caterina have been building a partnership for several years to reach this point.
“We acquired ‘Karma’ back in 2020, and she had had kind of a rough start,” said Piller. “It took a while for me to get her trust. I started her on the longe line myself and we’ve just been trying to keep her as happy as possible to move her up the levels. We never had any expection of her even showing. I got my [USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals] with her and now bringing me to Young Riders and winning three gold medals has been such a blessing and I feel very honored to be able to work and prepare and grow from there.”
Kat Fuqua (Atlanta, Ga.) and her own Dreamgirl, a 2008 KWPN mare, added a silver medal to their team gold and individual bronze from earlier in the week. They scored a 72.390% with their new freestyle, which is set to music by Tears for Fears.
“After our European tour, we realized that in my old freestyle, the degree of difficulty wasn’t as high as it could be,” said Fuqua. “It was a little bit too slow moving and didn’t show off Dreamgirl’s ability enough. I’m a big fan of Tears for Fears and so is my whole family, so we thought that would be a good kind of neutral music to choose since everyone kind of knows it.”
Fuqua said that Dreamgirl is a steadfast partner who always tries her best.
“She doesn’t give up on you or ever try to be bad. She’s always on my side,” said Fuqua. “I think for next year we’re planning to do the Prix St. George I-1 small tour because she really shines in the I-1.”
Celsiana William (Ocala, Fla.) and her 2013 Oldenburg mare, Prima Ballerina, added a bronze medal to their collection with a 72.390% in the freestyle.
“I did the choreography myself, and I decided to start with the canter work because she tends to get hotter as the test goes on,” said William. “We’ve had some problems with that over the years, and I wanted to make sure that the canter work was nice and calm and controlled. Then I could just let her shine in the trot work and be as fancy as she wants.
2023 NAYC Dressage Young Riders Freestyle Results
Gold: Mary Claire Piller and Caterina (Region 3)
Silver: Kat Fuqua and Dreamgirl (Region 3)
Bronze: Celsiana William and Prima Ballerina (Region 3)
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