Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 5
For Jennifer Gates and her horse, Alex, jumping clean around grand prix tracks to earn the $30,000 USEF Under-25 National Championship was the easy part. It was the victory gallop around the ring that proved tricky with the quirky bay gelding! The win cooler-clad horse threw Gates off the first time she tried to mount for the victory gallop.
“He’s so sweet but he’s very sensitive, so he’s very sensitive when you get on his back. Once you’re on, he’s fabulous, but getting on is a bit of a struggle sometimes,” Gates, 21, said with a laugh. “Especially when you’re in the ring, he gets amped up and is like what are you doing to me, why are you getting back on?”
Gates was a very good sport about it—she remounted outside the ring, sandy white breeches and all, and successfully navigated a lap around the ring.
“I’ve done this level for a couple years and I don’t usually place very high, it’s a goal of mine to place high,” Gates said. “When we got the horse they said he can be really difficult in the prizegivings, and I said well if I ever win anything, I am getting on him and I am doing it!”
It’s that kind of gumption that has helped the Kirkland, Wash., based Gates get to the level she is at now. To clinch the U25 championship, Gates jumped four fault-free rounds and had a single rail in the final round to win on a score of 4 faults over Madison Goetzmann and Prestigious, who came into the final round with 2 faults and added another 4 with a rail. Along with her win in the U25 division Sunday, on Saturday night Gates was the first rider to log a clear first round in the $250,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping qualifier riding her other mount Pumped Up Kicks, eventually placing fourth.
Gates credits her experience in the U25 division for helping up her game in the big leagues.
“The U25 classes have added a lot of depth to my learning,” Gates said. “It’s an incredible format; it gives us young riders an opportunity to jump some really hard tracks and puts us under a little bit of pressure in a similar format to a World Cup, so it’s been a priority of mine to hit as many U25s as possible.”
Gates’ mount for the U25 championship, Alex, has been on her radar for years but only just joined her string in July of this year. Alex had been competing at the 1.60-meter grand prix level with another young American rider, Audrey Coulter, before Gates purchased him this past summer.
“It’s a funny story, my trainer Hardin [Towell] had seen the horse maybe four years ago when I was jumping a 1.20-meter and said this would be a really great horse, but you’re not jumping 1.50-meters yet, so you don’t need a horse of that caliber,” Gates said.
“I’ve always watched the horse with Audrey and she was kind enough to let me try him and it worked out really well, so I’m just really grateful to have the opportunity to have him,” Gates said. “He’s super sweet, down to earth and easygoing but you can also go fast and have a lot of confidence with that, and he’s really a sweet heart. He really tries his heart out for you and even if you make mistakes he generally leaves the jumps up, so that’s all I can ask for really.”
Annabella Sanchez Guides A Feisty Cassano Z To Junior/AO Jumper Championship
You could just gallop along through your jump-off, jump the fences, do some turns and call it a day, but where’s the fun in that? Cassano Z threw in a little extra pizazz on his way to the win in the Show Jumping Hall Of Fame Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic with a few bucks and victory zip around the ring.
“He’s younger and he’s definitely a little feisty,” Sanchez, 16, said of the 9-year-old gelding. “He’s so mischievous, he’s like a little boy but I love him for it, and he has a heart of gold in the ring.”
Sanchez outran her barnmate Gia Rinaldi and Always Me to take the win in the class and secure the overall junior/amateur- jumper championship at the CP National Horse Show.
“Gia is an amazing rider, I always look up to her, and she had an amazing jump-off and I kind of saw it on the screen and was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to really have to go for it,’ ” Sanchez said. “So when he jumped Fence 1 and he was already a little left we went for the [leave out]. I thought what do we have to lose, and he was amazing. I’m so grateful for him.”
Sanchez has never won a championship at the National Horse Show before—in fact, she’s never even competed there!
“This is actually my first indoors season, it’s amazing. I did [thePennsylvania National] and here and it’s just surreal,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t expect it to happen, but my horses were so on top of it.”
Chicago-based Sanchez has two jumpers she rides with the Jayne family out of Our Day Farm in Elgin, Ill.
“I just do jumpers now but hopefully in the next two years I’ll get into the hunters and the equitation,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez got her start in horses thanks to an entirely different discipline her father partook in as a young man.
“My mom used to ride a little and my dad was actually a cowboy. He’s from Mexico and he did rodeos and bull riding and stuff, so he knows a lot about the horses and loves them,” Sanchez explained. “I had always shown an interest in horses, and my neighbors rode and suggested a barn for me to start riding at in Illinois.
“They had no idea it would come to this,” Sanchez continued with a laugh, gesturing at the horse show in progress behind her. “They thought it would be a side hobby, but it’s my full-time thing and I do online school.”