First Winners Crowned on Day One of Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championship

The Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International Ring at the heart of Flintfields Horse Park was home to blossoming talent on Thursday morning as the first winners of the Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championship were named in their respective sections. The first of three phases—a classic hunter round—saw competitors from the Older 3’6” Small, 3’6” Large and 3’3” Large Junior Hunter sections in Traverse City, MI.

With 23 total competing combinations, 3’6” Small Junior Hunter riders debuted as the first division of the day and ended with Paige Walkenbach of Paradise Valley, AZ, and Babylon earning the top prize. 

Paige Walkenbach & Babylon. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

“I think right when he walks in the ring he knows what he wants,” said the 17-year-old. “Every time I get to go in the ring with him I learn so much, and he teaches me a lot about the hunters. Every moment with him is special in its own way.” 

Walkenbach piloted the Marnell Sport Horses’ nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Crumbie—an established superstar in the hunter discipline in his own right—to the top after earning scores totaling 260 points with results combined from three judges panels. 

“I say it every time but just to keep up his legacy is a lot of pressure but it’s good pressure,” said Walkenbach of Babylon, a horse that has won multiple junior hunter titles throughout the country with owner Ariana Marnell, as well as professional and derby accolades with John French. “He has such a history with Ariana and John, it’s really something to be able to be a part of.

“Today has definitely given me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the week,” concluded Walkenbach. 

Later in the day, 49 competitive pairings set their sights on an early week win in the 3’6” Large Junior Hunter Classic. Leading the class by five points, Brianna Cooper of McLean, VA, and Golden Eye produced the win with an overall score of 261 points. 

Brianna Cooper & Golden Eye. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

“I was partnered with him in December, but he hasn’t been doing the hunters for very long,” Cooper explained of the 12-year-old Anglo-European gelding by Fantaland. “He was competing as a jumper and just started doing the hunters in August of last year so this is his first time doing this. He is so forgiving and no matter what I know he is going to help me out.” 

While Golden Eye may be a newcomer to both the discipline and the championship, Cooper is returning for the third time. 

“I wanted to make sure I was really there for him today,” explained the 17-year-old. “I made sure he saw the jumps and that he could make it over and have a good experience going around. He’s come a long way and today’s success just reminded me to relax and continue to ride like I did today.”

Opening competition concluded with the largest field of the day as an impressive 76 entries lined up for the 3’3” Large Junior Hunter Classic. The competition was fierce, but 17-year-old Jole Kosloske of Tampa, FL, held onto her high score of 261 points throughout the class, when she and Financier took home the final blue ribbon. 

Jole Kosloske & Financier. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

“I’ve had him for two years now and this is my second [Junior Hunter National Championship] with him,” she commented of her 14-year-old Irish-bred Raddin son. “I think the judges really enjoy his jump because he’s always so correct in his form.” 

The key to winning for Kosloske was all about knowing the best track for Financier, something she said she spent the whole day mapping out.

“I got here early this morning to watch all of the rounds so I could see what the track rode like,” she explained. “For example, I knew the ten-stride line rode quite long, which I’m glad I knew because his stride isn’t that big, and there were some issues with lead-swapping down the seven-stride line. I knew to really focus on holding my lead there.

“Starting the week off in the lead feels incredible,” she concluded.

Classics for Younger 3’6” Small and Large Juniors; 3’3” Small and Large Juniors; and Older 3’3” Small Juniors take the spotlight on Friday as under-saddle phases also get underway. All eyes are on overall championship titles at both the 3’3” and 3’6” heights, which will be awarded upon completion of all phases on Sunday, June 30. Live coverage of every round is available on USEF Network

View complete results, here.