For the California juniors and young riders it was a “sweet 16” finish for two team gold medals.
The Zone 10 show jumping riders traveled to the CN North American Junior and Young Riders Championships ready to mine gold, and they struck the mother lode. With four possible gold medals for the taking, Zone 10 took them all at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, July 29-Aug. 3.
They began the competition with dominating rounds, and they ended the week with the same force and determination, earning four gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
Although Zones 1, 2 and 3 didn’t send full teams, the competition was still strong, especially with teams from Mexico-South and Mexico-North. Many of the riders had honed their skills during the preceding four-week Colorado Summer Circuit.
Show jumping begins with a speed round that counts as the first individual score for the riders. In the case of the junior riders (ages 14-18) only the faults accrued carry forward to the following rounds; in the young rider section (ages 16-21) time is also a factor.
The juniors kicked off the first round and faced a challenging test set by Olaf Petersen Jr. Out of 33 riders, only eight managed clear rounds, and Shannon McGrath, representing Zone 2, laid down the fastest clear round of the day aboard Ancho de Pomme.
Juan Pedro Vazquez Arollo, representing Mexico-North, finished a close second with Montecristo. Rounding out the top three were Theo Genn and Cohiba of Zone 5. Lucy Davis and Savannah Carr, both of Zone 10, also finished with clear rounds, which put them in a eight-way tie for first.
After a course adjustment and walk, the young riders tackled their speed course. Petersen gave riders two different options: one at fence 2 and another at fence 5, and riders utilized both options.
Last year’s individual and team gold medalist Karl Cook showed that he arrived to win by blazing around the course with Notories Utopia. Cook finished with an almost four-second lead over second-placed finisher Kristen Vanderveen of Zone 5.
Because of the way the scoring is done, Karl carried 0 penalties as the winner of the first class. After dividing by a coefficient and then subtracting the difference of the scores, Vanderveen had a score of 1.85. Jaclyn Duff and Pan Tau 55, of Canada, took third, followed by two Zone 10 riders: Paige Dotson in fourth and Hannah Selleck right on her heels in fifth.
Team day at the championships is long and stressful, yet exciting. Not only do the horses and riders have to jump a long difficult championship course, but they also have to do it twice. For many riders this is their first opportunity to experience the pressures and rewards of riding on a team, and scores also count toward each rider’s individual standings.
The juniors led off first thing in the morning, and the water jump proved to be the biggest challenge.
Petersen intended to provide a related distance, but he didn’t factor in a tricky distance. “The juniors need more practice riding water,” said Petersen. “Even with a related distance they had a difficult time.”
Many riders took off too long or otherwise rode poorly to the water. The rest of the course proved challenging as well, and it wasn’t until the 31st rider (out of 33) that anyone saw a clean round.
Zone 10’s Davis executed a smooth, efficient ride aboard Mister Mind and posted the first zero on the scoreboard. She inspired Martin Guerra of Mexico-South, who also posted a clear round, but 1 time fault would come back to haunt him.
Despite Davis’ clear round, the Zone 10 riders finished the first round in third (16 faults), a rail behind the Canadian team comprised of riders from Alberta and Ontario (12 faults), and the Mexico-South team (13 faults) only a point behind Canada.
Zone 10’s Annie Laurie Cook posted a four-fault score, and Carr added 12 more to the team’s score. Alec Lawler provided the drop score of 16.
Three of the Canadians—Braden James, Taylor Bland and Rachel Schnurr—each accrued a rail. Stephanie Lewis provided their drop score of 8 faults.
“We were in third after the first round,” said Davis. “We knew we had to do better.”
And better they did.
With settled nerves and experience over the course, five riders posted fault-free rounds in the second round, and Davis did it for a second time. Both Annie Laurie Cook and Carr were fault-free, which added nothing to Zone 10’s first round score of 16. Lawler once again had the drop score.
The Canadians couldn’t match the consistency of the Zone 10 riders and settled for the silver medal with a second round score of 17 and an overall score of 29. Mexico-South took the bronze with 37 penalties.
Young Riders Rally
With the juniors setting the pace, the Zone 10 young rider team had their work cut out for them. In addition, they had the added pressure of being the defending champions.
As a veteran from last year’s gold-medal team, Cook rode anchor and Selleck led off. Chef d’Equipe Butch Thomas’ choice proved fortuitous.
Selleck set the tone by posting a four-fault round, one of only four riders to do so. No rider managed a clear first round. Teammate Dotson also managed a four-fault score, and Karl Cook dropped two rails for a team score of 16.
Despite a team total of 16 faults, Zone 10 was significantly ahead of the other teams. Mexico-North had 21 and the Zone 5/8 team was third with 28 faults.
The course proved difficult, and all those weeks of jumping tracks bigger than high junior jumper classes paid off for the Zone 10 team. Zone 10 requires their young rider candidates to compete in 1.45 meter trials. Many horses and riders from other teams were over-faced.
Zone 10 had the luxury of going last in the rotation for the second round, and Selleck buoyed spirits when she posted the first clear round of the day.
In the second rotation, Sarah Tredennick of Zone 8 posted one of five clears of the day, and Zone 10’s Dotson followed suit. With no penalties so far, Zone 10 had a comfortable lead at the end of the second rotation. In the third rotation, Benjamin had 16 faults with Marga, yet Zone 10’s lead was so strong that even if Karl Cook hadn’t ridden, the team was assured the gold medal. Individual points were still on the line, however.
Meagan Nusz of the combined Zone 7/9 team posted the fourth clear round, and then Karl Cook went as the last of the class. Notories Utopia jumped great, and they logged the fifth and final clear round of the day.
Like the Zone 10 juniors, the Zone 10 young rider team finished the competition on their first round score of 16. The silver medal went to Mexico-North with 45 faults, and Zone 7/9 finished with the bronze medal and a score of 56.
“It feels really good,” said Karl Cook of his third gold medal. “We went into the second round only 5 points ahead of Mexico-North, and for us to get around the course, which was really, really hard, is really gratifying.”
Zone 10 had three junior riders qualify for Sunday’s individual championship, and all four of its young rider team members earned berths, with Karl Cook, Selleck and Dotson in the top three positions.
Davis led the juniors with three perfect rounds, and Karl’s younger sister, Annie Laurie, was in a three-way tie for second.
Davis went into the final two rounds of the junior championship with a two-rail lead, but it proved unnecessary. She and Mister Mind continued to post clear rounds, and with nary a rail all week, Davis clearly earned the individual gold medal.
Annie Laurie Cook was also in medal contention, and a clear round in the first round kept her in the hunt. Unfortunately, nerves came into play in the second round and a stop at the first jump proved costly. Although she re-grouped and jumped the rest of the course with no faults, the 4 faults for the stop and 3 time penalties dropped her out of the medals to fourth.
Aley Russell of Zone 4 rose to the occasion with a clear first round and a single time fault in the second round, giving her the silver medal with a final score of 9. Martin Guerra of Mexico-North carried 8 faults and added only a rail and a time fault, respectively, to finish with 14 faults and the bronze medal.
For the young rider championship, the jumps went up and the riders faced a course equivalent to a small grand prix. Karl Cook, Dotson and Selleck were no more than 2 points apart at the top of the leaderboard. Tredennick, of Zone 8, was a rail behind them.
The gap between the three Zone 10 riders and the rest of the field widened after the first round, but the gap between the Zone 10 riders closed.
Tredennick accrued 5 faults, so she carried a score of 17.09. Karl Cook galloped around and left all the rails up, and he maintained his score of 8. Selleck caught the final rail in the first round, and the additional faults left her with 11.76. Dotson was last to go, and she too had a rail, which resulted in a score of 10.73.
The gold medal would come down to the last riders in the last round.
Tredennick gave a valiant effort aboard Special Verdict, but she added 4 faults to finish with 21.09 for fourth.
Selleck was first to go of the three Zone 10 riders. She put the pressure on by posting a clear round on Bauer and finished with 11.76 faults.
Friponnier II CH jumped so hard in the warm-up that Dotson was jumped off. She was unhurt, but her horse refused to be caught.
Karl Cook graciously moved up and posted a solid round, but 4 faults midway through put him just behind Selleck with 12 faults.
The question was, would he be silver or bronze? Re-grouped and re-mounted, Dotson rode into the ring with a narrow lead over Selleck. She could afford 1 time fault but nothing more.
Despite his gallop around the warm-up ring, Friponnier II CH jumped effortlessly and Dotson rode without reservation. Coming down the last line, Dotson knew the gold medal was possible.
“I was thinking that I was almost there, and I just needed to leave that last fence up. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. I just needed to give him a little more leg,” she said of her heartbreaking rail at the final jump.
The 4 faults gave her a final score of 14.73, which put her in the bronze medal position, behind Karl Cook.
Benjamin was the fourth Zone 10 rider to make the final round, and she had a clear first round that propelled her up the standings. A four-fault second round left her just a rail out of the top 10.
“We got off to a rough start,” said Benjamin of her performances with Marga, “but it was great to finish up with a clear round. This whole experience has been great.”
No young rider team in recent history has clinched all three individual medals, and Selleck was further honored with the style award, which was determined by the show jumping jury.
Sonia Rabbow (Mexico), who served as president of the jury, said, “She rides beautifully. She’s forward, soft and very accurate. It’s a pleasure to watch her. We noticed her the first day, and she continued to impress us.”
Selleck was overwhelmed with all of the accolades and thrilled with her horse. “Bauer has been amazing, and this has been a great week for all of us,” she said, noting that riding in several grand prix classes before traveling to Colorado really helped her to prepare.