At the conclusion of the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program National Training Session, Sunny Drescher, 16, finished the four days of immersion in horsemanship, riding and training with a battery of USHJA clinicians with the win.
Drescher is a high school junior from Hinesburg, Vt., and a student of Annie Dotoli and Aster Peiters at Tibri in Chepachet, R.I. She owns one horse that she shows in the 3’6” equitation division and also catch-rides sales horses for Dotoli and Peiters.
“I loved being here this week. One of the main things I took away was that things can’t be perfect all the time, so it’s important to take a less than perfect situation and work to make it come out positively, such as turning a bad distance into a good jump or taking a bad situation and turning it into a better situation,” Drescher said.
“Sunny’s the whole package. She’s another kid whom we admire in all aspects of her horsemanship,” said show jumping Olympic gold medalist and lead clinician Peter Wylde. “She’s an exceptionally good rider, and she’s exceptionally good in the stable, that’s clear. She’s astute, she’s on the ball, she’s sharp and she knows what she’s doing.”
Drescher began riding at age 6 at Mindy Hinsdale’s Steeple Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vt. A friend suggested that she try riding camp. “The camp actually got cancelled, but then Mindy asked if I wanted to just take some lessons, and that’s how it started,” Drescher said.
This was the second year she has participated in USHJA’s Emerging Athletes Program, having attended the 2012 EAP regional clinic at Coker Farm in Bedford N.Y., and this year at Mount Holyoke (Mass.) with Karen Healey. “It’s still unreal,” Drescher said about the win.
She was the top finisher in the National Junior PHA Final, held at HITS Saugerties (N.Y.) in early September. She was third in the Horsemanship portion of the New England Equitation Finals (Mass.). “That was really important to me because I’ve always worked at being a good horseman, on a daily basis, working for the horse, always making sure that the horse is taken care of,” Drescher said.
EAP National Training Session runner-up, Sean Leckie from Reno Nev., first participated in the EAP in 2009, its first year, and has done so every year since. He expressed his appreciation for “everyone who has put their time and effort into this program. The growth that it’s gone through is amazing. It’s amazing to see everyone ride and grow through the week. I could feel the horse I was on was learning as I was riding it,” he said.
Wylde praised all the riders in the program. “The quality of riding that went on here this week was fantastic. You are all exceptional horsemen,” he said. He stressed that the relationships forged during the course of the year would be enduring ones. “We encourage you to reach out to us in the future.”
By virtue of their first- and second-place performances, Drescher and Leckie earned spots in the 2014 George H. Morris Horsemastership Clinic in Wellington, Fla., on Dec. 31 – Jan. 4. Drescher also picked up a $3,000 training grant for future instruction, a $1,500 gift certificate from Dover Saddlery and a year’s membership to USHJA educational partner equestriancoach.com.
The Final Showdown
Individual top placings were decided after the Nations Cup competition that traditionally concludes the session. Drescher, Leike, Erin Bland and Emily Sowski all mounted back up on unfamiliar horses to ride the jump-off course, though not against the clock.
The riders, and the horses they would return to the ring with were:
- Emily Sowski on Belvue Ben (from Michaela Wood)
- Erin Bland on Mike (from Lizzy Traband)
- Sunny Drescher on Skylar (from Erin Bland)
- Sean Leckie on Turtle (from Sunny Drescher)
Sowski, the first to go, dropped a rail with Belvue Ben and then neglected to jump the last fence of the jump-off course. Next in was Erin Bland, on Mike. The horse was somewhat stiff, but compliant for Bland, who worked to produce good jumps nonetheless.
Drescher’s execution seemed effortless, as she found all the jumps with an open yet relaxed pace on Skylar. Leckie rode to the first jump with confidence and style but didn’t find the best distance to the second, before continuing on flawlessly.
A banquet dinner attended by EAP and Horsemanship Quiz Challenge finalists and their guests on Saturday evening provided a festive backdrop as team names and chefs d’equipe were chosen (Abdullah/Mary Babick, Touch of Class/Kip Rosenthal, Gem Twist/Anne Thornbury, Snowbound/Sally Ike).
After seeing to every detail of care and management of their horses all week long, each EAP rider was on Sunday paired with a groom for the day from the pool of Horsemanship Quiz Challenge finalists. Quiz finalists who were not assigned to an EAP rider served as jump crew in the arena.
Riders in each rotation schooled briefly over a limited number of jumps in the competition arena; it was evident that each of them were putting what they had learned during the week into practice.
Throughout the EAP National Training Session, the finalists were judged on their riding skills, as well as their horsemanship in the barn and in the ring, and a written exam. Emerging Athletes Task Force members and clinicians evaluated the riders and met each day to analyze the competitors and, finally, to select the overall winner.
The riders drew for their horses and then spent three days getting to know them through flatwork and over-fences training with Wylde. They also participated in stable management lessons with Anne Thornbury and instruction from specialists Janus Marquis, an equine physiotherapist, and Kip Rosenthal, a sport psychologist with a PhD in clinical counseling psychology.
On the third day, the riders showed in a Nations Cup-format competition over a course set at 1.10 meters. Their riding skills, knowledge and understanding of their horses, performance under pressure, and teamwork were evaluated.
Team Snowbound (Stephanie Whitworth, Gabby Conte, Drescher and Leckie) dominated the Nations Cup with 0 faults over the two-round competition. Drescher, as the third rider in the line-up, cemented their title in the second round before their anchor rider, Leckie, even entered the arena.
The team silver medal was decided in a jump-off, with Team Touch Of Class (Jackie Flynn, Michaela Wood, Marissa Degner and Connor Siegel) clinching silver after Siegel’s winning tie-breaking performance.
Team Abdullah took the bronze medal (Katharine Carroll, Bowers Cone, Megan Thomas and Erin Bland) and Team Gem Twist earned fourth (Jesse Fortier, Lizzy Traband, Izzy Gabriel and Emily Sowski).
Other award winners included:
- Sportsmanship – (tie) Kiersti Wylie and Izzy Gabriel (voted on by riders)
- Best Written Test – Emily Sowski (99%)
- Stable Management – Lizzy Traband
Best Horse – Sailling, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, owned by Cris Chastain
Horsemanship Quiz Challenge Results:
1. Georgia Skelton, Perryville, Ky. (Zone 5)
2. Sara Sprague, Richmond, Mass. (Zone1)
3. Morgan Bullock, Mount Ulla, N.C. (Zone 4)
Highest score on written test: Anna Meurer, Barea, Ky. (Zone 5)
Highest score on practicum: Morgan Bullock (Zone 4)
1. Zone 9
Bailey Fuller, Tualatin, Ore.
Rachel Pekala, Portland, Ore.
Rebekah Polacek, Salem, Ore.
2. Zone 4
Hannah Bentz, Boca Raton, Fla.
Asley Braddom, Owens Cross Roads, Ala.
3. Zone 5
Stephanie Prince, Carterville, Ill.