There was no stopping them. An irrepressible tide of parents, friends, and other supporters swept into the ring for the awards ceremony of the Hollow Creek Farm Children’s Nations Cup. Cell phone cameras working overtime, they took over. Hugs, tears, kisses were non-stop. It was the best awards ceremony I’ve ever seen.
Awards ceremonies are usually pretty staid, boring affairs. Step up on podium, smile awkwardly at the gaggle of photographers pointed at you. Rinse, repeat.
This one was different. It was unabashed chaos. When the Mexican, Brazilian and Venezuelan teams first stepped up onto the podium, they didn’t face toward the herd of official and professional photographers; they turned their backs to them and faced the sea of well-wishers that had followed them into the ring. It was hard to get a shot of the teams without a gushing dad jumping into the frame. There was absolutely no doubt how joyous the occasion was.
By the time the Brazilian team took the top podium for the Junior Nations Cup, things got a little more conventional, and at the end of the night, when the U.S. team stepped up for their Young Rider gold, it was back to the norm. But I won’t soon forget just how much fun all of these kids, parents and supporters were having.
Standing by the in-gate during any of the rounds, it was hard to tell where to watch—the rider jumping in the class or the teammates, coaches and parents urging them on from the sidelines with whistles, groans and shouts in Spanish, Portuguese and German.
Yes, the U.S. team of Michael Hughes, Lillie Keenan, Wilton Porter and Frances Land won the Young Rider gold by just one rail over the German team in a nail-biting finish. The U.S. team of Lucas Porter, Hayley Waters, Sophie Simpson and Chloe Reid came in an achingly close second place in the Junior Nations Cup. The children’s team flying the Stars and Stripes—Addison Piper, Sophie Howell, Mackayla Langmeier and Madison Goetzmann—finished in fourth.
But that really tired cliché of “everyone won” kind of rings true. I’ll not soon forget the awed look on the Mexican team’s faces sitting in the press conference. Franco Antonio Gama Quadrin, Mauricio Huesca Perez, Nicole Meyer Robredo and Carlos Hank Gonzalez—all 12 or 13 years old—didn’t have much to say in the way of quotes, but they didn’t really need to speak to communicate their sheer joy and how much they’d soaked in of their week at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival.
U.S. Chef d’Equipe DiAnn Langer agreed that the competition wasn’t just about the medals, that the experience stretched far beyond what went on in the ring. “It came out for all of the juniors I think across the board, that it’s different, and that is what this experience is all about,” Langer said. “I could not be more proud of all of them, and the experience that they got. They just could not believe what was going on. I think all in all this was just a positive experience for them and the sponsors [Hollow Creek Farm] were just fabulous in making this happen.”
In these three Nations Cups, riders of different age groups competed under Fédération Equestre Internationale rules in the same format as senior Nations Cups—two rounds over the same course, with teams of four and a drop score. Some countries, such as Ecaudor and Colombia, fielded three-man teams. Under FEI rules, young riders are between the ages of 16 and 21 and jump a maximum of 1.45 meters. Juniors are between the ages of 14 and 18 and jump a maximum of 1.30 meters. Children’s competitors are between the ages of 12 and 14 and jump a maximum of 1.25 meters.
At the CSIOYR/J/C at FTI WEF, the riders jumped their first rounds during the daylight afternoon hours and their second rounds under the lights at night. The children’s competitors went early enough that the artificial light wasn’t a factor, but the junior and young rider horses had to jump Round 2, which included the open water, under the lights. It was a learning experience for many of them, and there were some problems at the water jump due to the reflection of the lights.
"I think the course was a bit spookier under the lights,” said Michael Hughes, who anchored the U.S. young rider effort with two clear rounds on Luxina. “Some horses dealt with it differently than others. Some rose to the occasion, and some just got a little bit greener than others, and experience in some horses came out tonight.”
”The experienced horses really were comfortable under the lights, but because we had two rounds and the atmosphere was different, I think that actually worked in the favor of some of us, at least I know it did for my horse," said Lillie Keenan of the U.S. young rider team. “It can be hard to jump the exact same course twice sometimes because the horse knows where you are going, they know when you are going to turn tight, and they may not be as impressed. To have the added element of the lights, for some horses it could work against you, but I think it definitely worked in our favor tonight.” The riders and horses on the U.S. young rider team have been jumping at the FTI WEF for weeks now; some of their competitors flew in just for the week.
Keenan, who competed for the United States on the junior team in this competition, got her first taste of international competition through the Hollow Creek Farm Nations Cups. “I have never shown outside of the U.S. and until last year I really had not shown against most of the countries that had come,” she said. “The young riders and really all of the teams are really strong and last year I think it was a little bit of a shell shock. Coming from the U.S., we usually have a very strong team and I think it is an amazing experience.
“We have to thank the Andrade family for putting this together,” Keenan added. “It is an invaluable experience to be able to compete against riders that we don’t know—just because we don’t know them does not mean that they aren’t better than us. I think tonight we really showed that we have a great program in the United States, and we are capable of putting together awesome teams.”
Read all about the Canadian team victory over the U.S. team in coverage of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup the night before.
For more in-depth coverage of the CSIO weekend of FTI WEF Week 8, see the March 17 print issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.