Lexington, Ky. - July 20
For the first time since 1996, Mexico brought home an individual gold medal in the show jumping competition at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. A member of Mexico’s silver medal-winning team earlier in the week, Eugenio Garza Perez captured individual gold in the junior championship riding his 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Bariano, adding no penalties over the five-round competition.
After four strenuous rounds of jumping, Garza Perez and his partner of one year sat in first place on Saturday morning. “I knew they were very good riders and horses we were going up against. We knew that one rail could cost us out of the medals. I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous. I felt that in some way I could rise to the occasion,” said Garza Perez.
Despite the heat and the extra round Garza Perez jumped earlier in the week when the team competition came down to a jump-off, Bariano didn’t touch a rail, securing the gold. “Definitely the last round he felt tired, but you can work him two times a day and the next day he’ll be bucking and kicking and everything. He’s a big horse and he put his best out there and really gave it his all, so I trusted him,” said Garza Perez.
After growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, Garza Perez moved to Dallas two years ago where he began training with Guillermo Williams. “We really bonded as more than just trainer/student; he’s like an older brother to me and he’s taught me everything. Then we started working with Anne Kursinski and she showed us what it was to show in the United States and it became a kind of team,” said Garza Perez.
In preparation for NAJYRC the Mexican junior jumpers spent a week in Dallas to train for the championships. This gave the team a chance to bond with each other, focus on their horses and acclimate to similar footing and rings they would see in Kentucky.
“We knew we were going up against [pretty much the] best juniors in the United States. It kind of showed that hard work, preparation and doing things right really pays off. It was great for Mexico and it was great for all of us,” said Garza Perez.
Garza Perez, 16, also received the Style Award, presented to one rider from each discipline for his or her riding and overall manners and demeanor.
“All the coaches, parents, everyone who backed me up, I kind of felt that I could repay them in some way and show them that the hard work has paid off,” he said.
Katherine Strauss fought her hardest to catch up to Garza Perez all week and finished with a silver medal aboard her 10-year-old gelding, Chellando Z. Strauss, who won team gold earlier in the week with Zone 2, was tied with Garza Perez until the fourth round when she pulled a rail.
“I was really nervous going in to the first round because it was make it or break it time,” said Strauss.
The 14-year-old from New York City finished with just one rail on her cumulative record.
The bronze medal went to Sydney Shulman, of Greenwich, Conn., who put in a steady performance with Quidam 13 to finish one point out of second place.
Zone 2 Maintains Its Reign Over NAJYRC
Lillie Keenan and her new mount, Londinium entered the Rolex Stadium in second place behind fellow Zone 2 rider, Charlotte Jacobs.
Keenan, 16, put in a clean round and left the ring pleased with a silver medal. However, as Charlotte Jacobs jumped the troublesome last fence, her horse Kachina knocked the top rail out of place, adding 4 faults to her cumulative total and handing the gold medal over to Keenan.
“We had dinner last night together as a whole team. Overnight you turn into competitors,” said Keenan. “I’ve got to say I wasn’t thinking consciously, ‘I need to beat Charlotte,’ I was thinking 'I need to ride as well as I can.' ”
Keenan was excited to learn more about Londinium, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding, throughout the competition. “Even in the speed round the first night I actually didn’t even realize he could go that fast,” said Keenan. “He jumps best out of a gallop. Having the tight time-allowed worked in my favor because it forced me to ride forward.”
Jacobs, 18, was originally not on the schedule to compete at NAJYRC until a fellow teammate dropped out. After recovering from an injury, Jacobs’ 15-year-old Selle Francais mare has made an impressive comeback just weeks before the championships.
“Originally I wasn’t supposed to come here but someone dropped out and I got to go as the alternate,” explained Jacobs. “And I was very lucky in that situation that I even was here so I’m very thankful that she’s healthy again and that she’s here showing and that we got a silver medal.”
Longtime Zone 2 chef d’equipe Ralph Caristo commented on the success of his students throughout the week. “I think [it] comes from the support system that we have, starting with my wife [Holly],” he explained. “I think mostly it’s the zone itself and the committees and supporters, the parents, the trainers. They want to do it. I’m very lucky to have them all around me. I’m just the cheerleader here. These guys and their trainers, they’re the ones that should get all the credit.”
The bronze medal winner, Kate Morrison of Dublin, Ohio, was extremely pleased with her horse’s performance this week in both the team and individual competition. “He’s going to try as hard as I do and he jumped amazing for me,” she said.
For full results, visit the NAJYRC website.