Sometimes a group is bigger than its individual pieces, and that was certainly true for the girls from Region 7. Their teamwork, which started with arranging for transportation from California to Lexington, Va., was the key to their win in the young riders dressage portion of the CN North American Junior and Young Riders Championships, Aug. 1-5.
“I don’t think we could have done it without each and every one of us. We all contributed,” said Crystalyn Hoffman, 20.
Although Hoffman, Jaclyn Meinen, Emily Tears and Amanda Harlan didn’t really know each other before the trip started, they were best friends by the end, finding time to paint pottery and get their nails done together before heading home.
“I really felt like we all came through as a team,” said Harlan. “The team test was good. It was everyone’s first test here. We were all there to support each other for every single ride. It really felt great to know that you had a whole team behind you, no matter what happens.”
But the bonding started long before the girls walked away with team gold on Aug. 1. The first challenge was getting to Virginia. Meinen and Harlan flew their horses last year, but that arrangement didn’t work well after a cracked airplane wing kept the horses grounded an extra day. They barely arrived in time for the horse inspection.
This year three of the four girls shipped their horses with a commercial transporter, and Tears rode in
the van with her trainer Karen Ball for 21⁄2 days.
“I had my Harry Potter book,” said Tears. “I went and got it at midnight, and then we left the next day in the evening.”
Harlan chose to fly her horse again, and they all met at Fancy Hill Farm in Natural Bridge, Va., several days before the competition started.
“When we were leaving Fancy Hill to come here, and we were packing all our stuff, it was like, ‘Wow we made it.’ This is for real,” said Meinen.
For Meinen, 19, the highlight of her trip was simply trotting down centerline in her team test and halting at X. “I can’t pick out one moment,” she said. “Being able to enter the arena was just the greatest feeling.”
Meinen, Dana Point, Calif., qualified at the last minute because she didn’t start riding Rockette DG, owned by Sandy Harper, until the end of April.
Meinen said she had an instant connection with the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood. “I’m a short person, and she’s only 15.3 hands. I was more than happy [with my rides]. She’s one of those horses that tries so hard, no matter how tired she is. I couldn’t be more happy with her.”
Tears, 20, also rode a borrowed horse. She’d planned to ride at the NAJYRC next year with her own horse but didn’t realize this was her last year to qualify since she turns 21 this fall. So Ball, who’d been riding Luciano at Grand Prix, asked his owner, Jill Cordsen, if Tears could ride him.
“My trainer did everything possible to give me the opportunity to come here,” said Tears. “I’m so thankful for that and to Jill Cordsen.”
It took a while for Tears, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., to learn to ride the 13-year-old Holsteiner (Lasandos—Petunie). “There were a lot of ups and downs,” she said. “It was getting the harmony. It was my first time riding Prix St. Georges too, so that was a new level. We figured it out in time.”
Tears finished with the team’s high-score team test (69.86%). “My rides were good. I’m so happy to be here, no matter what happened,” she said.
It was also Hoffman’s, 20, first year at the NAJYRC, and she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “I was very happy with my ride on the first day,” she said. “Everything fit together. I don’t know how, but it did.”
Hoffman, Santa Clara, Calif., called it a mini-vacation because she got to go away with her horse, Diamo 10, a 16-year-old Westphalian (by Diamantino).
Harlan, St. Helena, Calif., earned the individual silver medal last year at the NAJYRC with Liberte, and while she couldn’t repeat that accomplishment, team gold was no disappointment.
“Last year was a good year, but every year is different, and you’ve just got to take it for what it is,” she said. “This year has been fabulous. It’s been such a great learning experience. There are always ups and downs, but having everyone to support you, my teammates, my trainer, my family, our chef d’equipe, everything has
Harlan, 17, has been riding Liberte for two years. She bought the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood from her coach, Jan Ebeling.
“It’s taken us a while to bond and really get to know each other,” said Harlan. “He’s such a fun horse, and he has such a great personality. He pours his heart and soul into it, and I know he just loves being in the arena. It’s been a fun learning experience getting to know him and figuring him out.”
A Lot To Manage
Figuring out how to manage her horse has been a learning experience for individual test champion Devon Kane (69.55%). She bought Douwe five years ago from Karen Lipp but couldn’t ride him much because of health and soundness issues.
“We found out that he doesn’t metabolize sugar very well,” said Kane. “He can’t metabolize glucose. So we switched his diet, ran a bunch of tests, and he’s on a very specific diet now. Ever since that we’ve kept him in steady work and kept everything consistent with his diet. He’s been doing great. I’ve been riding him consistently now for almost two years.”
Kane was concerned that the rising temperatures might affect the 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Damiro—Eronette). “It got pretty smokin’ after a while,” she said. “But my horse was great. He’s very fit. I think he took the heat a little bit better than I did. Our warm-up went really well. I got him where he needed to be and then went in the test and tried to ride as hard and as well as I could.”
Kane, who earned team bronze with Region 3, was able to improve for the Prix St. Georges by using the judges’ comments.
“I tried to keep him a little more open in the changes,” she said. “His walk isn’t fantastic. It’s good, but it’s not mind-blowing, so I worked on that. I feel like it was better today. He gets so excited when we go in the ring, which is fantastic to work with, but when we get to the walk it can be kind of tough to contain and keep the energy moving in the right direction.”
Kane trains with Michelle Gibson, who works out of Kane’s Wellington, Fla., barn. Kane, 21, manages the barn fulltime while taking online college classes and caring for her 3-year-old son, Colton.
“My son goes to school in the morning, so I get to ride in the morning,” said Kane. “Then he goes back to the barn with me in the afternoon if he needs to. If not, I try to spend time with him, and then once he goes to sleep I do my classes and homework.”
The transition out of young riders is looming large for Kane, who hopes to tackle the small tour next year with Douwe.
“Next year’s scary,” admitted Kane. “We get thrown in with the professionals. I have nightmares about it. If I can go in and ride and feel happy, then we’ll be happy.”
Alexandra Duncan, the freestyle young rider winner (72.95%) and silver medalist in the Prix St. Georges, also has high hopes for next year.
Duncan was on the gold-medal team last year at the NAJYRC and went on to place fourth in the FEI Young Riders World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, last fall.
Now the 17-year-old from West Vancouver, B.C., is thinking about Grand Prix with her mare Elektra. She said that the trip to Germany gave her a lot of confidence coming into the championships. “It made me realize there’s a bigger picture out there. More mileage and international experience helps,” she said.
For Duncan, the challenge is always to keep her 12-year-old Holsteiner mare (by Columbus) quiet in the ring. She’s had Elektra for seven years.
Their freestyle music was put together by Karen Robinson and featured musician Chris Spheeris. Duncan changed the canter tour just before the competition and only had the chance to ride through it once.
“I was having problems with the changes in my canter before,” said Duncan. “When she’d get tense, I couldn’t get clean changes. So I came up with this pattern and worked with choreographer Karen Robinson to help me make it more rideable for her.”
Duncan carefully planned her strategy to keep her hot mare quiet for freestyle night. “I worked on trying to get her calm,” she said. “I rode her earlier, walking her down here, trying to get her more relaxed. She just sucked it up a bit, I guess. It just kind of came together.”
And although Elektra initially backed out of her first halt, she proceeded to put in a magnificent test with huge extensions and a high degree of difficulty.
Duncan trains with Leslie Reid and plans to return to Germany this year to work with Ellen Bontje. She takes correspondence classes to keep up with her schoolwork.
Duncan wasn’t the only Canadian to impress the judges. Team Canada took home the junior team gold medal, and Jade Deter was the star of the team, winning all three junior tests aboard Mastermind.
Deter, 16, prepared for the competition by riding during the hottest part of the day at home in Ottawa, Ont. “I was concerned coming down here that he wasn’t going to be energetic because it’s such a difference,” she said. “We were a bit worried that the heat would affect him, but luckily it hasn’t.”
Winning the team test gave Deter confidence that she would be competitive among the U.S. juniors. Although Deter had been undefeated at every CDI she’d attended with Mastermind, she only started riding him last fall after a strong career showing FEI ponies.
“I was very happy that he pulled through in the individuals, kept his energy and he wasn’t too tired,” she said. “I was also happy that he stayed up in his poll, and that we had a really clean test.”
The 10-year-old, Westphalian gelding was slightly more tense for Deter’s freestyle, but she managed to ride through it.
Deter and her coach, Ruth Koch, created the difficult choreography to enhance Mastermind’s talents. She showed off his lead changes by performing them across the diagonal and on the centerline.
“I didn’t practice,” said Deter. “I just ride it at shows. The flying changes were really good today. He was on my aids for the changes. The trot half-pass left was good. In the extended trot he was up more today. He was perky.”
Deter had competed against teammate Jaimie Holland before riding at the NAJYRC, but she didn’t really know her or her other gold-medal teammates, Sara Regehr and Lindsay Seidel-Wassenaar.
“Now that Jaimie and I know each other, I think at shows it’s not going to be so competitive for each of us,” said Deter. “We’ll probably help each other.”
Holland added, “We were basically the only ones that qualified in Canada. We had a lot of energy and spirit going into it. We all wanted to medal, but we didn’t have a lot of expectations because we weren’t sure what the American teams were like.”
Holland, 18, had personal best tests throughout the week on her mare Fleurina (by Florestan I). “I loved my team test,” she said. “Going through the whole test I was so in the zone that I didn’t know what was happening really. Every now and then I’d think, ‘This is going well; this feels really good.’ But I didn’t look at the scoreboard and didn’t really know how I’d place here. It ended up being a personal best by 4 percent.”
Holland, Caledon, Ont., started riding the 9-year-old, Westphalian mare five years ago just after she’d been imported from Ger-many. “She was basically just backed and going around on the bit a little bit when we bought her,” said Holland. “She was the first horse we looked at. I loved her, so we bought her.”
Tom Dvorak coaches Holland, which made things difficult since he was away at the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the weeks leading up to the NAJYRC.
“We only had seven days to get into it and prepare,” said Holland. “We really pushed hard when he was home and rode every day.”
For Regehr, Vernon, B.C., the highlight of her team test was at the beginning when she scored a 9 for her first halt aboard Danika. “We worked hard on that at home,” she said. “I think the extensions felt really good too.”
The youngest member of the team at 15, Regehr was the only dressage rider wearing a helmet instead of a top hat. “I always ride with a helmet in Canada,” she said. “In Canada you’re not allowed to compete without one until you’re 18, and you’re not allowed to wear a top hat until you do young riders.”
Regehr has ridden the 9-year-old Canadian Sport Horse for a year. Last year she practiced the junior tests on her pony.
Seidel-Wassenaar earned the ride on her horse, Oslo, through a happy accident. “We have friends who were going on holiday, and the girl who was riding him wanted me to ride him for a couple of weeks while she was gone,” explained Seidel-Wassenaar. “He had major contact issues. We worked on that a bit, and when she came back she couldn’t believe the difference.
“She said I could show him at the provincials in Alberta,” she continued. “We did third level, and we didn’t really have changes, but we ended up being reserve champion. She said I could keep riding him because she couldn’t really deal with his hotness. He’s mentally a little bit fragile. He really has to have a partnership. We just really clicked together. Last year I got him as a birthday present.”
Seidel-Wassenaar thanked the Canadian young riders for their emergency braid job for the individual test awards ceremony. “I didn’t know I was coming back for the awards ceremony, and I’d unbraided,” she said. “As soon as I announced it they all came running over. There were five people braiding my horse!”
• Junior rider Bonnie Efird won the Style Award in dressage. The award goes to the rider who showed style throughout the week, not only when mounted, but also in the form of manners and overall demeanor around the competition grounds and at the organized competitions. When Efird’s horse began to misbehave during her individual test, she merely smiled and patted her mare, Maggie Noir, to reassure her.
• Julie Watchorn was a little surprised to hear her freestyle music playing during the ride just ahead of hers. Lee Cross had also chosen the popular Mission Impossible soundtrack for her ride. But Watchorn made the best of it and performed a spectacular freestyle that carried her into third place and encouraged the spectators to clap along with the music as she came down her final centerline, and “This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds,” was heard over the loudspeaker.
• Greta Barringer-Richers received the Capt. Andrew B. de Szinay Memorial Sportsmanship Trophy. Barringer-Richers was not able to ride because her horse didn’t pass the first horse inspection.
• Canadians swept the top three spots in the young rider freestyle class. “We didn’t want to celebrate too soon,” said Chef d’Equipe Tina Irwin. “When we heard, we just lost it!”
• Holly Bergay placed fifth in the junior freestyle and tied for fifth in the junior individual test. Born without her left hand, she was the first disabled rider to compete in the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships.