Twice is Nice for Paige Walkenbach During 2024 Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships

The first of the division champions at the 2024 Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships were crowned on Saturday as the penultimate day of competition kicked off. Throughout the entirety of the week at Flintfields Horse Park, competitions drew the country’s most esteemed young hunter combinations to the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International Ring in hopes of taking home a tri-color. 

Three divisions reached completion throughout the course of the day and it proved to be a historic occasion for Paradise Valley, Arizona’s Paige Walkenbach who sealed the deal on two out of the three champion finishes. 

In the day’s debut event, 22 pairings put on their final performance in the Small Junior 3’6” 16-17 Handy round. Walkenbach and partner, the Marnell Sport Horses’ nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding Babylon (by Crumbie), made their way around the course towards the end of the order and the round was enough to impress the judges and catapult them straight to the top of the class. Paired with their win in Thursday’s Classic round and a second-place result under saddle, victory in the handy round meant a no-contest claim to the division’s champion honors. 

Paige Walkenbach and Babylon. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

“I’m not going to lie, I was about to have a heart attack going into the ring,” Walkenbach exclaimed. “I definitely get nervous, but I think it’s all about trusting him; he knows what he’s doing and wants to win as much as I do. To have another championship in the books is pretty unreal; I was almost crying coming out of the ring.” 

While Babylon is a known hero in the hunter arena, Walkenbach herself has produced multiple top finishes in prior experiences at the championships and clearly has a gift the judges appreciate. 

“I think I’m just very soft with the horses and, honestly, a lot of the success comes from the trust and love behind the scenes,” she explained. “It’s all about your confidence with your partner going in, not being overly confident, but knowing you’ve done it before and can do it again.”

Kate Hagerty & Magic Moment. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Kate Hagerty of Terrebonne, OR, and The Hagerty Family’s 13-year-old Furch Warmblood gelding Magic Moment (by Diarado), concluded the division with the reserve champion title honors as they cleaned up with placings of second, fourth, and fifth throughout the week. 

Paige Walkenbach & San Pedro 15 stand for presentation. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Walkenbach wasn’t done winning yet, however. Against a field of 46 other entries, the talented junior once again donned the tri-color ribbon at the completion of the Large Junior Hunter 3’6” 16-17 division. In the handy round, she and San Pedro 15, Walkenbach Equestrian LLC’s 10-year-old  Stakkato son earned a score of 244.5 and a tenth-place ribbon out of the competitive field. Walkenbach’s consistent placement in the ribbons with the gelding, including a second in Thursday’s Classic round and a win in the Under Saddle, gave her the scores she needed to ultimately take the title of champion yet again. 

“I’m feeling pretty incredible,” she admitted. “I’m mostly just proud of this horse because he’s a little nervous in this ring, but he tried his best anyways. He’s come so far in the time that we’ve been together and I just love him so much.

Paige Walkenbach and San Pedro 15. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

“I wanted to give him a smooth and confident ride today,” she added. “I wasn’t going for the handiest or boldest round but just something we’d both feel confident coming out from. He comes from a jumper background and I think he kind of remembers it when he comes in this big ring, so it’s up to me to help him stay relaxed.”

No stranger to the winner’s circle at the championships, Djuna Lauder of Los Angeles, California and the Roaring Fork Farms LLC’s 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Estimated Prophet (by Cornet Obolensky) earned the second tricolor ribbon of the division as reserve champions. 

Djuna Lauder & Estimated Prophet stand for presentation. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

The third and final division championship of the day went to Caroline Olsen of Sherborn, MA, and Spencer, owned by Andesite Equestrian. To secure the championship, Olsen and the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding bested a stacked field of 76 horse-and-rider combinations across the handy round for their final test of the 16-17 3’3” Large Junior Hunters. The pair’s final score of 259.25 boosted them to champion standing. 

“His canter is unbelievable,” said Olsen of Spencer. “He’s always got the right rhythm and the jumps come right out of stride for him. He’s incredible.” 

Caroline Olsen and Spencer. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Returning for her fourth Junior Hunter National Championship, the 17-year-old was no stranger to the International Ring; her confidence showing through every fence in the handy round. “It’s really the best of the best during this week of competition,” said Olsen. “And the course today allowed you to showcase what you’re best at. It gave the opportunity to show off whatever you wanted to do whether it was playing it safe or taking a risk. It was really nice.” 

Olsen and Spencer earned themselves no lower than second all week, coming home with red ribbons in the classic round on Thursday and under saddle on Friday. 

Caroline Olsen stands for presentation with Spencer. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Taking home the division’s reserve ribbon was Jole Kosloske of Tampa, FL, and her own Financier. The pair earned the reserve championship after winning Thursday’s classic round and taking sixth in the handy with a point total of 256.30. 

Jole Kosloske & Financier stand for presentation. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

The final day of the Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championship will commence on Sunday with the final handy rounds taking place in the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International Ring. The 3’3” and 3’6” divisions will crown their Grand Champion riders in addition to the remaining overall junior champions for the week. Live coverage of every round is available on USEF Network

For Saturday’s full results, click here.