Canada waved their flag proudly on team day of the Gotham North FEI North American Youth Championships, presented by USHJA, on Friday afternoon. The four team riders in the Young Rider category, William Martin, Quintyn Werner Baeumler, Lily Elliot, and Halle Duke, put in the strongest overall performance over the two rounds, sealing the deal for the gold medal in the Team Final.
2023 marks the first time in many years that Canada has won the gold at NAYC in this category, which made the riders and their chef d’equipe, Dayton Gorsline, tremendously proud. They had to earn the win, too, as Nick Granat’s (USA) courses for the day were demanding and few were able to jump clear. Fault-free rounds from Duke and Martin as the leading and anchor riders, respectively, kept them on the lowest score.
“I think any time you can represent your home country it’s a big deal,” Martin, who took an individual gold medal in the 2022 Junior section, remarked. “Canadians really take pride in that. This is a show we look forward to all year long mainly because we get to represent our home country. To bring back a medal means a lot.”
Duke leaned on her partnership with Ilana to come through and jump clear for the team, even after an unexpected break in competition due to weather conditions.
“I’ve had this horse for four years this week actually,” she said of her horse. “We are pretty much best friends. She jumped incredibly today and the second round I gave her the ride she deserved and she jumped clear for me. This is my second year coming here and it’s amazing, every part of it. To be able to represent your own country is incredible.”
Baeumler knows he and his teammates are inching closer to representing Canada on a grander stage. “Being on a Canadian team is wonderful and the team we have here is one of the best,” he shared. “Everyone is kind, caring, and works really hard. I’m thankful to have such a great team behind me and this is the one step before the senior teams. We’re all looking forward to that and we’ll all be working hard for that day.”
In the silver medal position, Zone 7 featured Luke Jensen, Sofia Cady, Stella Wasserman, and Hallie Grimes. The team faced a few unexpected challenges later in the class but Cady’s clear round helped solidify their second-place finish.
“I don’t think there’s a horse show I enjoy more,” Cady said. “There isn’t anything like it. Pressure aside, it’s a lot of fun. There’s limited opportunity to do team events and this teaches you a lot about how to master your nerves and mental game along with how to have your horses jump best and how to sustain yourself as well.”
Grimes is jumping the highest levels of the sport at 21 years old and still gets more butterflies jumping at NAYC than she does in the CSI5* events.
“I’ve never felt more pressure than I do at Young Riders,” Grimes remarked. “I jumped my first five-star last week and today was [more pressure] than that. It’s unbelievable because I really want to show up for these people. It’s once a year and you know you can’t take it back. You give it everything you have. I can speak for all of us when I say we’re going to come out of it stronger because we’ve had this experience.”
The Bronze medal went to Zone 5’s trio of Maggie Jacobs, Olivia Williams and Alexander Alston.
Young Riders return Sunday for their Individual Final with Mexico’s Maya Ines Denis Chambon on top aboard Jantien de Muze with 1.41 faults.
See full results from the Young Rider Team Competition here.
Zone 7 Rises to the Challenge in Junior Category at North American Youth Championships
In the Junior category, Zone 7 rose from the third place position to ultimately take the gold medal. Riders Tessa Downey, Carlee McCutcheon, Laurel Walker, and Ava K. Myers put in rock-solid performances, including double-clear efforts from Downey and McCutcheon, to come in on the lowest score.
Anchor rider Downey had significant pressure on her shoulders coming in for the final round, knowing she had a rail in hand with her mount Isabelle, but she pulled out the clear and was able to help send her team to the top of the podium.
“I felt pretty good,” Downey said of her mindset stepping in as the anchor rider with the pressure added. “I’ve had this horse for roughly two years now. I know her very well and I was in a similar position at Prix De States last year. We had the same chef, [Martien Van Der Hoeven], and he instructed me on what I needed to do for my team, and so did my trainer, Peter Pletcher. My horse handled the pressure very well and I did as well.”
McCutcheon brought forth Coco Mercedes, a ride she acquired from McLain Ward. “I think she gets better for the second round,” McCutcheon said. “She’s a little more relaxed and she jumps better. She wasn’t so quick off the ground and I was able to relax a bit more. Our second round was smoother than our first round so I think that’s very important for a championship to have one that gets better as it goes on.”
Walker loved getting to ride for the team, especially since she’d been paired on teams with the same riders prior, including at Prix De States.
“As we all know, riding isn’t really a team sport, so it’s unique when you can qualify for these teams,” Walker shared. “You can all work together for one goal. It adds a new bond that we don’t get to experience a lot, and it’s a super fun environment. They do a great job putting this on and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to compete.”
Myers echoed the sentiment of the team morale and how it carried them to a top result. “We come out from this week stronger and better friends and more connected as a team,” she explained. “It’s a lot of pressure but it teaches us how it’s going to be in the future when we move up. We’re all supportive of each other and we’re okay with any outcome. Of course it’s nice to be in this position.”
Zone 4, featuring riders Olivia Sweetnam, Mustafa Shah, Mia Albelo, and Taylor Cawley, claimed the silver medal with strong efforts put in by all team members, including a double-clear from Sweetnam.
Sweetnam’s performance put her into the lead going into the Individual Final for the Juniors on Sunday. Her ride, HBD Quality, owned by Sweet Oak Farm, is one that has a special family connection for her.
“I was quite nervous going in but it was good nerves,” she explained. “It helped me to stay sharp and focused on my plan I developed and executed properly. My family has owned Quality for four years and I started riding her about a year and a half ago. It’s really special because my dad used to ride her and a few other people in the barn used to ride her. It’s made for a really great bond we’ve formed both in and out of the ring.”
The bronze medal went to Zone 2 and its riders Stephanie Garrett, Caroline Signorino, Emma Blumenkrantz, Alexa Elle Lignelli.
See full results here.
While Junior athletes wait until Sunday to compete in their Individual Final, the Gotham North FEI North American Youth Championships resume Saturday with the Individual Final for both the Children’s and Pre-Junior categories.
Individual Champions Crowned at 2023 FEI North American Youth Dressage Championships Presented by USDF
Two gold medalists emerged today at the 2023 FEI North American Youth Dressage Championships presented by USDF as the Young Rider and U25 divisions completed their individual championships. Mary Claire Piller and Caterina, Emily Brollier’s 2011 Hanoverian mare, won the gold in the Young Rider division. Emily Hewitt was the U25 champion with Fidens, a 2010 KWPN gelding owned by Tammy Pearson.
Young Rider Individual Championship
After earning the top score in the team test on Wednesday, Piller and Caterina repeated the feat in the FEI Individual Young Rider test, scoring a 70.147% to secure gold.
“My horse felt amazing. She always tries so hard for me in the ring,” said Piller. “I really just wanted to lay down a quiet and consistent test and show my horse off where I could and try to improve on some things that we may have missed a little bit in the team test. And she really tried as hard as she could for me, and I couldn’t be happier with her.”
Piller said that she was able to improve on her centerlines and pirouettes in her second test at this NAYC, and that Caterina has many strengths that she brings to the ring.
“[Her strength is] absolutely the cadence in her trot work,” said Piller. “She’s incredibly balanced and powerful in her movements. She has a really nice extension and can really show off, especially in the individual test because coming out of a small volte you have to go into medium and she really comes out of that and says, ‘How much do you want?’”
Piller said she will compete at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions with Caterina in the Young Rider division later this month. From there, she has her sights set on the big stage.
“The ultimate goal is always a Grand Prix, so we’re working towards that.”
Celsiana William rode her own Prima Ballerina, a 2011 Oldenburg mare, to a close second-place finish on a score of 69.912% to take home silver.
“I think our medium and extended trots and some of the changes today were high points,” said William. “She was just so with me and happy out there, so I’m extremely pleased. She’s consistently gotten better and better as the season has gone on and more focused and relaxed in the ring.”
Kat Fuqua won bronze with her own Dreamgirl, a 2008 KWPN mare, posting a score of 69.294%. Fuqua competes in hunters and jumpers as well as dressage, and her partnership with Dreamgirl has helped her find success in the dressage arena.
“I’ve had Dreamgirl for about three years. She was my first dressage horse ever, so I know her really well,” said Fuqua. “All of the dressage knowledge I have is basically from her, so it’s really special to be competing here with her. Luckily I’m just doing dressage this week, so I can solely focus on that, but I have a really great team behind me that helps me juggle both the jumpers and dressage together, so it’s been really fun.”
U25 Individual Championship
In winning the FEI Grand Prix 16-25 test on Friday, Emily Hewitt became the first-ever winner of the U25 individual gold medal at NAYC. This came after she won a team bronze earlier in the week, and she said she was able to improve on some things in her second test with Fidens, earning a 66.641%.
“Today I was really focused on getting him in front of my leg and more on my aids,” said Hewitt. “I felt like some of the high points of my ride today were my canter pirouettes and my changes. Overall I was so pleased with him. He was such a good boy and was really obedient and listening. I really couldn’t ask for more from him.
“I felt like today I was really able to improve. The piaffe/passage for example was one of them,” said Hewitt. “Today I made sure in the warm-up to really encourage him to be in front of my leg and it worked.”
Dennesy Rogers won the individual silver medal riding Chanel, Dorriah Rogers’s 2005 Danish Warmblood mare. The pair earned a 66.256%, improving over their team test earlier in the week.
“Our main focus was pretty much trying to keep my horse fit and sound, so we don’t want to work her too hard and we also want to make sure she stays fit enough to be prepared for a competition like this,” said Rogers. “Today she felt so much better than [in the team test] because she’s been very amped up since we got here. She didn’t really have a walk the other day, but today we did, so I’m very happy with that.”
Claire Robinson of Canada won individual bronze to add to her team gold from earlier in the week. She rode Carol Robinson’s Glamour Boy, a 2011 KWPN gelding, and said she was able to channel his energy from the cool and windy weather to turn in a good performance.
“Today he was definitely feeling the weather a bit. He was a little amped up,” said Robinson. “But I felt that in my warm-up, I could really feel him connecting, being with me, so that I could really use that power in the test. I could really feel that at moments in my test today.”
On being part of the inaugural U25 competition at NAYC, Robinson expressed appreciation for the opportunity to compete in an international environment.
“It is so educational for me as a rider,” she said. “I think probably everyone here is hoping to make [senior] teams in the future, so I think this is an amazing experience. It was so awesome to be able to wear the flag on my saddle pad and compete with these other extremely talented riders and to feel the pressure and learn how to cope with that. It is just so awesome.”
Dressage competition at NAYC continues on Saturday, August 12, with the Junior Individual Championship at 8:00 a.m. ET and the U25 FEI Grand Prix Freestyle at 6:00 p.m.
David O’Brien Leans on El Balou Old for $38,700 Hippodata CSI2* Speed Win
As the day drew to a close Friday, David O’Brien (IRL) had one last trick up his sleeve. In a field of 34 entries, O’Brien sped to the win with El Balou Old, owned by Leap Year Farm, in the $38,700 Hippodata CSI2* Speed Classic, proving to everyone what the 11-year-old Oldenburg stallion (Eldorado VD Zeshoek x Balou du Rouet) is capable of.
“He’s ultra sharp,” O’Brien said of El Balou Old. “It’s been something we’ve been working on, to ride at more of a pace. He’s always so careful and he’s jumped so high. We’re working on more pace now and getting him to be more confident running. Every time we have a class like that we choose our places we’re going to run him and then we can protect in other spots so we’re not always going full speed.”
Nick Granat’s course welcome full speed on Friday. O’Brien unseated the leader at the time, Patricio Pasquel (MEX) with the 17-year-old veteran Seringat, who had a time of 63.67 seconds and would ultimately finish third. O’Brien threw caution to the wind, taking the time to beat down to 58.42 seconds. Only Kyle King (USA) would come close, sliding in at 62.58 seconds for second place with SIG Chiari, owned by SIG International.
“We’ve had a really good year so far,” O’Brien continued about his run with El Balou Old, a horse he’s ridden since 2021. “He’s been quite consistent for me all the time. He’s the one that holds me together. He’s one of those that when you have a long day and you take him out to compete, you know he’s going to give you his all.”
Riders in the $77,300 CSI2* Grand Prix Saturday can breathe a sigh of relief, because El Balou Old will not be making an appearance after his victory Friday. “This week we’re only doing that class with him because next week he gets to show in the Major League in Toronto,” O’Brien explained. “I wanted to give him a class where he could run around and be competitive and be ready to go for next week.”
O’Brien and his trusty partner will travel along the Major League Show Jumping tour for two weeks following the close of the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival before campaigning across the East Coast on their way back down to Florida for the winter.
International show jumping concludes for the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival Saturday with the $77,300 CSI2* Grand Prix at 3:30 p.m.