Lexington, Ky.—July 17
Waiting to enter the ring for the speed round of NAJYRC, Young Rider Taylor Alexander knew she was not on the fastest horse. Aboard G&C Flash, a mount she’s only just started riding at the end of this March, 20-year-old Alexander of Castle Rock, Colo., went in the ring and laid down a clean, quick and precise round.
Were there faster times? Sure, but those horses had rails down. Alexander left Steve Stephen’s course the way she found it, coming out on top of the field of 26 Young Riders in the indidvudal qualifying class.
“I was just honestly really happy with my horse, just to put in a nice round,” Alexander said of her winning ride. “There’s a lot of pressure to start off on a good note, because if you get yourself in a hole it’s a little hard to dig out. I think everyone wants to start off on a really good note because this sets the tone really for what you carry into all the next rounds.”
"Doing well" meant different things to different competitors in the qualifier—some were riding at NAJYRC for the very first time. Nerves played a big part in their performance, and it was not uncommon to see a few missed distances and stops. Their rounds were conservative, with wider turns and steadier speeds, and golf carts full of parents cheered wildly when they finished, regardless of the scoreboard.
When someone with their eye on a blue ribbon entered the ring, however, the atmosphere changed in an instant. There was nothing conservative about their rides—they picked up a gallop to the first jump and did not slow down until they broke the timers. Spectators and fellow exhibitors chatting on the rail or sitting in the stands would stop mid-sentence, turning around to watch the round unfolding behind them. Some riders are here to win, and you could tell from the first fence.
“Mikey was flying,” Alexander said, referring to third place finisher Michael Hughes and his mount Luxina's round.
The crowd picked up on Hughes no-holds-barred approach to the speed round right away, gasping at the more impressive fences and distances, and chuckling at his mare’s feisty bucks after a particularly sharp inside turn.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be the fastest horse like Mikey and Christina [Firestone],” Alexander continued. “They were at 65 seconds, but they had one down unfortunately.”
Those rails were converted to seconds, and added on to Hughes and Firestone’s times, leaving Alexander’s time of 69.34 seconds the fastest clear effort. Katie Cox took second in the class aboard Twilight, Hughes and Luxina captured third, and Firestone took fourth with Arwen.
Today’s win is a new high point in Alexander’s climb up the ribbons at NAJYRC, this being her third year competing at Young Riders.
“The past two years have been nothing superb,” Alexander said. “My first year I didn’t medal at all, last year I was lucky to be on a really good team and we silver medaled, but nothing individual. So this year I really wanted to set some goals for myself and see what I could do.”
The winner of the Junior Rider individual qualifier was not in the same boat Alexander was at the in-gate. Lucy Deslauriers knew her horse, Hester, had a fast ground-covering gallop. They didn't have to run or turn on a dime to post the fastest time—15-year-old Deslauriers of New York City relied on Hester's natural gait to carry her quickly through the course. She chose not to do an inside turn most others took, including second place finisher Lucas Porter, who she bested by almost 2 seconds.
You could say Deslauriers’ round was very similar to her interview demeanor: no nonsense.
“My horse has a really great gallop, so for example going around the oxer to jump 3, I think that was really an advantage for me because I could really open up his stride,” Deslauriers said. “I tried to stick to my plan when I went in the ring.”
This is Deslauriers’ first time competing at NAJYRC, but her professional composure makes you think she’s been here for years. The competition is unique in the fact that it features four different disciplines (reining was not included in the championship this year due to low entry numbers), along with a slew of social activties, including the traditional golf cart decorating contest and opening ceremonies party. You could not fault a teenager for getting distracted by friends and festivities, but Deslauriers is all business.
“I think that once you’re in the ring and once you walk the course, you know your plan,” Deslauriers said, explaining how she stays focused on competing at NAJYRC. “You just have to focus and pay attention to yourself and worry about what you’re doing.” Deslauriers' parents—Mario and Lisa Deslauriers—are both grand prix riders, so she's got a pretty good idea what needs to be done to win.
That’s not to say Deslauriers has not enjoyed the social component of NAJYRC—all of the competiors are stabled in the same barn, and stalled next to other riders from their zone. The team competition, which follows the same format as a FEI Nations Cup, will begin tomorrow, with Deslaurier competing for Zone 2.
"It’s a really big team vibe and gets you into whats going on," Deslauriers said of the team stabling. "I’ve never done any Nations Cups before, but I know what its like and both my parents have done it so I know what it should be like, and I’m excited for my first team experience.”
The individual competition for Juniors and Young Riders will conclude on July 20, with the top 25 riders from Thursday's speed round qualifying for Sunday's class.
To read more about all the winners at NAJYRC, check out the August 4th issue of The Chronicle of the Horse print magazine.