Lexington, Ky.—July 20
$800 is a lot of money for a 13-year-old, but five years later Alexis Nelson is reaping the biggest reward of her investment in her Appaloosa Total Eclipse. They led the victory gallop in the CH-J* at the North American Junior And Young Rider Championships (Ky.) sporting both an individual and team gold medal, holding onto Area II's lead after cross-country.
Affinity Farm (Va.) where Nelson took lessons in her youth became home for the giveaway who started as a western pleasure horse, and a year later Nelson broke and trained the 5-year-old with the help of various professionals including current coach Lynn Symansky.
"I brought him up the levels; we went up together with a lot of struggles but also a lot of awesome, amazing moments," said Nelson of "Casper," who was a bit tired for show jumping but perked up in the big atmosphere.
They put in a double clear round to take the top spot in the Junior one-star when cross-country leader Moira de Ste Croix-Laframboise and Blue Ben took down two rails and dropped to fourth place.
"We are just the happiest people in the world right now," said Nelson. "We all cried, even the grooms."
Fellow Area II Juniors that helped earn the gold were Grace Fulton on Wild Orange, Margret Schaeffer on Grey Area and Madeline Mosing on Tako.
" 'Is this real life?'—that's what we were all saying as we were going around the outside [for the victory gallop]—'Is this happening right now?' " said Fulton, who took individual fifth place after a faultless round.
Richard Jeffery's track saw ten clear rounds of 31 competitors who made it past cross-country.
What's next for the team of NAJYRC Area II rookies? "Party!" said Schaeffer, who finished sixth individually. "Next week the horses are going to enjoy a long break; they deserve it. Tako was really tired—he's always tired though! And he loves food. He takes good care of me and we had a rail but it was my fault."
Ziegler Cuts It Close For Two-Star Gold
David Ziegler had three rails in hand heading into show jumping after his big cross-country lead on Critical Decision, and spectators at Rolex Stadium grew quiet as the rails kept dropping early on in his show jumping round. But the leeway he earned in dressage and cross-country afforded him the 12 jump faults he picked up, and when he came through the final combination a big cheer of relief erupted from the crowd.
"Geographically, Alberta is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, so I'm a team of uno," joked Ziegler, who didn't feel the added pressure of competing for a team.
"The first three fences felt fantastic to me, and then going down the line to the triple, I miscounted two strides in my head. Rider error completely—I don't do math, I ride!" he added.
"B.G.", who already has a great deal of four-star experience with Ziegler's trainer Missy Ransehousen, will retire soon, said Ziegler. "He's given me everything he needs to and he's obviously given my coach Missy everything as well. My dressage horse [Peninsula Top Man] I'll keep competing, and I have some younger prospects in Pennsylvania for the eventing that I'm working with."
The team gold medal went to Area III, made up of Emily Rusinyak on Reatta HW, Adrian Jones on Irish Odyssey, Calvin Ramsay on Flintstar and Nicole Doolittle on Tops.
"The course rode well to the riders that weren't riding backwards," said Ramsay, who rode a forward double clear. "My favorite part was being able to start from the bottom and climb our way to the top. It's great to have that experience in eventing because it shows that not everything is just about a dressage score."
Ramsay was 15th after dressage but finished on that score to earn the individual silver medal ahead of third-placed April Simmonds on Impressively Done.
Calvin and Doolitte, last year's NAJYRC one-star champion, gave the newcomers Rusinyak and Jones extra confidence. "Nicole is definitely in charge of us; she's awesome and we should be more like her!" said Rusinyak with a laugh after Doolittle humbly explained that there was no team leader but rather that they mutually supported one another when asked about the team dynamic.
"Nicole is an amazing teammate," added Jones. "She's always super optimistic and supportive to everyone. She's just a great friend.
"I thought the course rode really well," she continued. "It was flowing, and technical enough to keep you on your toes. My favorite part about the weekend was probably having a good team and being able to support my team, because even though my weekend didn't turn out as planned, we still came home with team gold and we were a good support system for each other."
Jones had a disappointing 40-fault cross-country run but jumped double clear in show jumping. Doolittle incurred 8 jump faults in her show jumping, and Rusinyak 12, but their 19-point lead after cross-country gave them enough leeway to still take the win.
To read more about all the winners at NAJYRC, check out the August 4th issue of The Chronicle of the Horse print magazine.