Lexington, Ky.—July 19
Nobody would have guessed that the Area II Junior eventing team was made up of all first-timers at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (Ky.) by the way they blazed around David O’Connor’s one-star track to take a 19-point lead ahead of Area VIII and the rest of the competitive CH-J* division.
And it's not every day you see an Appaloosa anchoring the top spot for such a team. But Total Eclipse did just that with rider Alexis Nelson when they put in a faultless round to place .2 penalties behind overnight leaders Moira de Ste Croix-Laframboise and Blue Ben, who held onto their dressage score of 49.2.
“I’ve never competed on a team, and I was crying before cross-country!” Nelson said with a laugh. “It’s very scary. I just want to do so well for everyone, and I feel bad if I mess up. But it’s also amazing because you have the best support team, and everyone’s there for you if you do bad. They’re going to be there and get you up, and if you do well they’ll make you feel awesome.”
Nelson, 18, found Total Eclipse at an Appaloosa breeding farm near her hometown of Purcellville, Va., five years ago and broke him herself; she never expected him to climb the ranks so far as NAJYRC. “We’ve gone up the levels together with a lot of struggles,” said Nelson. “But Lynn Symansky and Sinead Halpin and everyone has helped me through it all so much.”
Halpin, coach for Area II, ran the team’s training camp at Morningside Eventing (Va.) to prepare them for the championships in Kentucky, and the team gained more than just confidence over tricky cross-country elements while there.
“All week at camp we were joking about trying to get this great team bonding experience,” said teammate Grace Fulton. “And we found it when Morningside let us swim in their lake. We found out that some of us can’t swim as well as the others!”
Their laughing and screaming attracted a bit of attention, but they pulled each other out with a good laugh.
Fulton delivered a clean and clear cross-country trip to move up from 25th after dressage to 11th on her Wild Orange, and Madeline Mosing helped boost the Area II team up the leaderboard on Tako.
That pair didn’t have a lot of time to develop a strong partnership before NAJYRC. “I got Tako last April and we did two novices, and then he had colic surgery,” said Mosing. “He was off for the rest of the fall. So this year was really our first year competing a lot, so we’ve come along way. He’s an extraordinary horse; he’s taught me so much already.”
Margret Schaeffer also took individual third place on Grey Area, whom she and her mother found in Ireland just over a year ago, for Area II.
“We happened to stumble upon him, and he was in America two weeks later,” she said. “The first winter was really rough; he just wasn’t adapting well. But he’s come through it and he loves America now! He loves cross-country, and if anyone saw me today, you would agree with me!”
While hard work certainly helped Area II to the top, it was a light heart, sense of humor and team camaraderie that made all the difference to take the big lead.
“I think the support you get from having these other people on the team is incredible,” said Fulton. “When we were galloping down to the coffin today—you’re not supposed to take your eye off the fence—I took my eye off and I saw these guys standing down there. And when thankfully we went through clear, it was the biggest cheer I’ve heard in a long time.”
14AB, a coffin to brush vertical combination, was the biggest challenge on course, the team agreed.
Their plan heading into the final day of competition? Get through the jog first!
“We bought these dresses and we didn’t realize they were as short as they actually were,” said Schaeffer of the dresses they mistook for a bit longer when they bought them for the first jog. “Even David O’Connor said to Sinead, ‘Do you need some duct tape and velcro for these girls?’ So that was quite embarrassing, but we laughed it off!”
Fulton joked that they’ll show up to the final jog in long pants and turtlenecks.
Moira de Ste Croix-Laframboise piloted Big Ben around the cross-country track to earn the individual lead, but it wasn't easy.
“I lost one stirrup in the water but got it back before the skinny out,” she said. “And then the Head of the Lake was a bit rough. When I dropped in, I lost both stirrups and kind of slipped to the side, but I got back on, stayed on and squeezed as hard as I could to the horse and he jumped over it really well. I got my stirrups after that. Other than that it was really good!”
Ziegler Can’t Stay Out Of The Spotlight
“I’m getting to know you all so well!” laughed David Ziegler when he sat down in the press room for another post-win interview. A Young Rider competing in both the eventing and dressage championships, and succeeding in each, is unprecedented.
But he hung up his shadbelly and changed into his Tipperary, ready to switch gears for cross-country day. He maintained his 46.3 in dressage with the fastest cross-country run of the Young Rider division on Critical Decision, better known as B.G., to keep the top spot in the CH-Y**.
“B.G. obviously smoked around it; the cross-country’s what he lives for," said Ziegler. "Missy [Ransehousen’s] done a fantastic job of training him so I just head out the start box and as long as I steer him in the right direction and have enough gas on the pedal, he’s going to rock around it.”
This is the first time B.G. has been to the Kentucky Horse Park since running the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event with Ransehousen in 2011, and he recognized the venue.
“When we took him off the trailer and started leading him down, he was looking around at the field and just filled up,” said Ziegler. “Once we got back into the vet box, he was there for about a minute and he started looking around like, ‘Was this just the warmup? Where’s the rest of the fences?’ ”
Emily Rusinyak on Reatta HW, Adrian Jones on Irish Odyssey, Calvin Ramsay on Flintstar and Nicole Doolittle on Tops made up the Area III team that stood in first place collectively in the two-star after cross-country.
Ramsay took a spill off his dirt bike the day before, but pulled through for a top-10 finish on Flintstar nonetheless. The accident happened when he was passing a slower golf cart that unexpectedly turned.
“So it was either run into them or I had to crash into the side of the median,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to close my hand because I had some road rash on it. It was painful to put the gloves on [today] but it all ended up working out well.”
Ramsay competed last year at NAJYRC as an individual so this year he had to get used to the new dynamic. “You’re not just riding for yourself; you’re riding for other people,” he said. “You’re not trying to go for the individual gold, you’re overall trying to get the team gold.”
“The team dynamic is certainly an experience and really fun to participate in,” added Doolittle, who had a stop at fence 19, a roll top going into the Head of the Lake, but still landed in 11th individually. "There’s a lot of communication between the coach and the other riders. You always get the feedback from them, and depending on how their runs went you begin to shape the next ride from that.”
Emily Rusinyak, who's new to team competition, acknowledged the advantages of having support but also the added pressure of living up to expectations. But that didn't stop her from delivering the best score, a fifth-placed 60.6, for her team.
"I was the first one out on cross-country today for our team, so I had to come back and tell everyone how it rode. So there was more pressure for me to do well because I knew I had to come back and tell everyone else how it went, but my horse was great, he jumped around great and everybody else did a great job too."
Individually, April Simmonds on Impressively Done and Autumn Schweiss on Oakport Strauss placed second and third, respectively, behind Ziegler.