Jenni-Martin McAllister was one of a handful of Zone 10 trainers who ventured to Lexington for the North American Junior/Young Riders Championships this year. After a little coaxing she agreed to write about the experience.
Greetings of Grass and Horse Heaven
Landing in Lexington, KY is an experience in itself. Acres of green pastures and expansive barns greet you as you slowly descend. Driving from the airport to the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) confirms that this is horse heaven. KHP is an ideal place to host a championship competition, with 1200 acres, multiple arenas and fantastic footing. A competitor couldn’t ask for more, other than maybe a little California weather – cooler and a lot less humid.
As a former competitor at the Young Rider Championships, I return many years later in a different position, as a coach. I remember the excitement I felt, and the amazing amount of effort and hard work that went in to qualifying just to be there. To qualify and compete here is an honor. This is the only FEI championship competition held in North America for young riders and is a great stepping stone for young talent to gain valuable experience, before true international and team competition.
New this year, competitors at NAJYRC could not also participate in the horse show going on at the park. When the championship begins, there is no show jumping so we just school our horses and watch some of the dressage. Another nice aspect of this event is the opportunity for the young riders to have exposure to other disciplines. We took a tour of the KHP grounds. It truly is an incredible place, with miles of Kentucky blue grass, impressive cross country jumps from Rolex, plus great exhibits of art and horse history. I learn some very interesting facts about the evolution of the horse in the permanent exhibit. There is a lot to absorb here, even for experienced horsemen. The Alltech indoor arena is amazing. Again I have to say that it seems an ideal place for The National Horse Show coming here for the first time in November.
It’s a tradition to decorate a team golf cart, and to finish the first day, after the opening ceremony, there is a golf cart parade that ends at Spy Coast Farm with a small party. Team camaraderie begins as the girls, parents and trainers meet and enjoy dinner on the first night.
The second day starts with the jog and a warm up class. All eight of our Zone 10 riders jog and warm up without trouble. Our Junior team this year, Brittany Albreqc, Hannah Ward, Madison Bradshaw, and Kilian McGrath, is the most inexperienced team we’ve sent in a few years. But all are talented and well-mounted.
Our Young Rider team, Danielle Korsh, Kendall Skreden, Sage Flynn, and Cayla Richards are more experienced and act as guides to our younger group. Each one with the exception of Sage has been here before.
We sneak in some time to tour a few farms and end up on a fantastic country road. We drive by farm after farm that have giant gorgeous green pastures with horses grazing and playing. The barns are magnificent and the architecture blends nicely with the land.
Our first competition day starts with a speed class. The Junior Team is scored as a timed first round; basically the fastest with the least amount of jumping faults is the winner. However, each day’s faults are carried through to the individual final, without time being a factor. So a clear round today is important. All the girls ride well. Brittany, and Kilian come home with 4 faults, and Madison and Hannah are both clear. Hannah puts in a very solid round. Canasucre literally jumps out of her shoes, to take an early lead, but in the end two others are faster and she settles for 3rd place.
In the Young Rider division the class is scored as faults converted, so any knock down is 4 seconds added to your time. At the end of the class the winner receives a score of zero. Everyone else’s time is cut in 1/2 and the difference between that score and zero is converted to faults (it can be confusing, just like the World Cup Final). They carry that score through each round to make up an individual final score.
Cayla is our best Young Rider – she has a beautiful round adding no faults. She holds the lead for a while but in the end settles for 2nd place. Kendall also puts in a fabulous round and ends up in 10th place. Danielle has an unexpected spook and a drive-by at fence 3 but still does not touch a rail and ends with just her time score. Sage is the most nervous, lowering two jumps but still managing a good enough time to stay in the middle of the pack.
The courses are inviting, and the height not as daunting, since they are riding a speed format, but the next day will bring more technical questions, water with no rail, a tight time allowed, and of course all the nerves of riding for your team.
Team competition day starts at 7am in an attempt to beat the heat. Junior Teams ride first. First for our team is Kilian and my heart goes out to her as I see her struggle with her nerves; she puts in an uncharacteristic round and ends with 16 faults. Madison is next; she rides well and brings home a clear round. Brittany also rides well but two small mistakes leave her with a score of 8.
Hannah is last to challenge, and she is ready. She rides flawlessly and produces a clear round. We make it to round two.
The top six teams come back for round two. Kilian pulls it together and rides a respectable round with just a foot in the water and a light rail; she comes home with 8 faults. Madison continues her strong riding and has an unlucky rail for 4 faults. Brittany stays consistent, but is a little slower this time and brings home 9 faults. Hannah rides well, but a few small mistakes and maybe her shoe pull from the first day catch up with her – 12 faults is her final score.
The Junior team handles the pressure of the championships and riding for a team well, considering this is their first time. They end a very respectable sixth.
Zone 2 and 4 are very strong and end the day with a jump-off for Gold and Silver and in the end it is Zone 4 that is victorious.
Next is the Young Rider Team Competition. Cayla is first to go, a small mistake at the fourth jump and a touch too slow leaves her with 4 + 1 time. Next, Danielle rides a beautiful clear round but again just over the time for 1 fault. Sage, our least experienced rider, shows her nerves in this round. She struggles in the first half but then pulls it together, and completes the round with 16 faults. Kendall is last and she doesn’t disappoint. She turns in a respectable 4 fault score. We enter the 2nd round with 10 faults, sitting third.
Cayla starts Round 3 off well and turns in a score of 4 faults. Danielle is consistent, clear over the jumps but with 1 time fault. Sage pulls it together and rides like we all know she can, and gives the team a clear round! Last is Kendal who rides a nice round but lowers two fences for 8 faults. Our team total is 15 faults.
It comes down to the last riders for Zones 2 and 4 again. The Zone 4 rider produces a clear round and leaves them with an amazing 8 fault total, and the gold medal. A lot is riding on the shoulders of the last rider from Zone 2. A clear round would cause a tie and force a jump-off, 4 faults and they would finish with silver. She succumbs to the pressure, a difficult but important lesson of a championship like this, and turns in 8 faults making their final total 16 faults.
Zone 10 wins Silver!
Saturday is the farewell competition. Anyone who does not advance to the final will ride. Our only rider is Kilian. The weather is a bit crazy today, very hot and humid. Her horse is struggling with the heat and is not going as well as usual. She puts in a very respectable 4 fault round to end her first experience here.
As the day progresses thunder and lightning approach. We decide to hide out in the new USHJA building. We go on a tour of the small museum that is full of team memorabilia and it takes us back to our roots. We enjoy the fabulous thunderstorm from the safety of the building, and end the day with dinner downtown at a quaint restaurant well known in Lexington, a La Lucie.
Sunday morning comes early, again with a 7am start (even after all these years of competing, I still don’t like early mornings!) The Individual Competition concludes today.
We start again with the Junior riders. Today’s course is the most challenging thus far and the time is tight, with not many places on course to breathe. Brittany is first to go and leads us off. A good ride, but a couple of small mistakes, and she leaves the ring with 8 faults + 1 time. Hannah jumps a nice round and brings home 4 faults but catches one on the clock for a total of 5. She finishes with a total of 17, which ends up being one fault too many to advance to the final round.
Madison jumps last and rides well. She lowers the height of two fences though for an 8 fault score. She makes the final 15. In the final round she stays consistent and brings in a score of 8 for a 15th place finish, which is really great for her first year at NAJYRC.
For our Young Rider Final the course is the most difficult yet, now set at 1.50M and technical. You can feel the tension in the air as each score counts toward a medal. Sage is our first Zone 10 rider to go. She succumbs to the pressure, one more of the lessons of this competition. With two rails down and a miscommunication with her horse Hot Pants that leads to a refusal, she finishes with 12 plus time.
Kendall is next and she keeps her cool. She jumps a super round with one time fault. Danielle stays consistent and rides a careful, deliberate round; she leaves all the rails in place and comes home with just 3 time faults.
Cayla looks to be our hope for a medal. She rides beautifully all the way to the triple combination. She comes in with too much, hurries to the triple and jumps in too deep. She has to pull out of the triple and restart. Nerves appear to overtake her usually cool demeanor and she hurries back to jump through again with the same result. Unfortunately she is eliminated.
And the Final Round
The final round is upon us. The course is shortened but the track is large and the time very tight. It doesn’t look possible for us to medal. Sage starts us off, and she puts it all together. She rides a fantastic clear round to end with a positive experience. Kendall is next – she stays focused and jumps a clear round as well. She finishes as one of the few to jump double clear on the final day. Danielle follows with another clear round over the jumps just off the pace and adds 1 fault to her score.
We sit on the edge of our seats for the remaining riders. The pressure proves too much and rails are dropping. With each rider, our girls are moving up. In the end the two leaders prove to be strong and although they each drop a rail they have enough of a lead to stay on top.
Danielle’s consistency earns her the bronze medal. Her horse San Diego is the only one not to touch a rail all week.
Kendall’s persistence pays off and she slips into 4th place respectively. Sage ends in a respectable 11th place.
Goodbye Blue Grass
As we head to the airport, we go on one last driving tour. This time we take in the sights of Claiborne Farm and the famous Keeneland Race Track. There are no races here at the moment, but you can feel the energy in a place like this. Kentucky is a special place for horses and those of us who love them. Our trip ends here, but we feel certain that with the goals of our riders and all that Lexington has to offer, we will be back. And we can’t wait!