Thursday, May. 23, 2024

California Strikes Gold In Show Jumping


In 1994, a team of young riders from Zone 10 traveled to the CN North American Junior And Young Riders Championships and returned home with team gold. It’s been a 13-year drought for young riders from the West Coast zone, but the gold rained plentiful this year.

Both junior and young rider teams stood atop the podium at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, draped in team gold medals, and 16-year-old Karl Cook earned individual gold.
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In 1994, a team of young riders from Zone 10 traveled to the CN North American Junior And Young Riders Championships and returned home with team gold. It’s been a 13-year drought for young riders from the West Coast zone, but the gold rained plentiful this year.

Both junior and young rider teams stood atop the podium at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, draped in team gold medals, and 16-year-old Karl Cook earned individual gold.

The young rider lineup consisted of Cook aboard Uno de Laubry, individual bronze-medalist Aurora Griffin with Tucker, Katie Harris on Billy Orange, and Megan Edrick riding Kendel.

When the teams saw the exceptionally technical Anthony D’Ambrosio courses in the Anderson Coliseum, the breadth of their transcontinental journey somehow felt small in comparison. Throughout five rounds of competition, dirty rails were not lacking.

During Friday’s team phase, the competitors figured out how to ride D’Ambrosio’s courses. “I think the first round a lot of people were pretty hesitant,” said Edrick, 21. “In the second round, everyone seemed to change their plans and had better results.”

Griffin and Tucker posted one faultless round for Zone 10. The Zone 8, Zone 4/5 and Mexico North teams fell out of the running after one rider from each three-member squad was eliminated because of a fall or refusals.

Six clean rounds lit up the board during Round 2, however, including one from Cook and Uno de Laubry.

“I think individually we all just wanted to improve from the first round, fix our mistakes and learn,” said Edrick. “I think we all did that, and it was our day.”

Harris, 17, who had 17 faults in the first round, agreed, “In my [second] round, I definitely didn’t want to make the same mistake twice!”

“The combinations were very technical,” added Griffin, 16, who also referred to the difficulty of the liverpool-to-vertical plank question. “It made the rider want to override, and that was tricky.”

But perhaps the California-based riders of Zone 10 rose to the top in part because of a trial process unique to their area. Zone 10 is the only zone that holds a series of point-based trials for the NAJYRC teams.

“We run the last trial as a young rider event with the same format and kind of atmosphere we get here,” Edrick said. “I think it helps a lot in making our riders confident and able to handle ourselves under pressure. We want to bring our young riders’ competition level up, so hopefully we can develop riders for World Cups and Nations Cups to represent the United States.”

Chef d’Equipe Butch Thomas couldn’t have agreed more. “I think the West Coast will be becoming very hard to beat for some time,” he said. “These riders handled themselves incredibly well. I have never had such a
positive team experience.”

He gave his gold-medal junior team—Paige Dotson/Caretano B, Danielle Korsh/San Diego, Meredith Hursh/Runaway, Saer Coulter/Paddington—and 16-year-old Dotson, in particular, an exceptional congratulatory nod. Dotson brushed herself off after an upsetting fall at the third fence in Round 1. After a deep breath and some extraordinary resilience, she returned to jump a faultless second round.

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“To me, she was the star of the round,” Thomas said. “But the rest of the team picked her up, and she came back with the only clear second round. They all were fantastic!”

Dotson added, “My team really was amazing. The way they picked me up after Round 1 really shows how well we worked as a team. It just helped having them there and being nice to me.”

The junior team agreed that Zone 10’s trial competition boosted their preparation and confidence coming into the NAJYRC.

But the camaraderie from junior to young riders took front stage above all. “We all became closer friends just going through this together,” said Coulter.

The Gold Rush Continues

Already elated with Zone 10’s perfor-mances in the team competition, Cook’s fortune was only just beginning. He had been the second-fastest behind Griffin in Thursday’s speed round and added only 4 faults through both phases of team competition. While Griffin’s tally nearly mirrored Cook’s, Tucker’s speed kept Griffin atop the class by 0.06 points.

With each new course, both riders grew more nervous. Cook cleared his mind and thought of past vacations while letting strategies spark here and there in preparation for the next round.

“I try not to think that I have to go clear or I won’t win,” Cook said. “And I don’t really sit with all of the other girls. I mean, they’re cool, but they’re distracting. Once I go clear, then I can hang out with girls!”

Laura Teodori and Kasaar D’Uselles, of Zone 8, picked up 6.84 faults in the speed  round, but jumped clear in Rounds 2, 3 and 4 to remain in medal contention.

While D’Ambrosio and crew set the final course and the tractors dragged the ring one last time, Cook sat alone and cleared his mind. Teodori did everything she could to remain focused under the pressure and fatigue that five rounds of strenuous show jumping can inflict.

“It’s definitely mentally and physically exhausting, and I was just repeating to myself, ‘One more round,’ ” said Teodori, who then thought, “Oh my God. This is the first time Zone 8 would ever get a medal! I better keep it together.”

Cook had faith in his 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood. The gelding won the 5, 6-, 7- and 8-year-old jumper finals in Europe before Cook got the ride. He remembered Thomas, his trainer, dropping everything and booking a transatlantic flight for both of them to try “Uno” the second he heard about him. He was the very grand prix prospect for whom they’d been searching.

Ironically, Teodori’s trainer, Ilan Ferder, originally tipped off Thomas about Uno. “After we tried him,” Cook remembered, “my coach said, ‘We’re buying this horse, and you’re winning Young Riders on him.’ ”

They did just that. After posting the final clear final round, Cook was at a loss for words. “It’s one of those goals you set for yourself, and when you actually do it, it’s just amazing! It was just an indescribable feeling to land from that last oxer and realize I just won!”

When Teodori and “Luc” also jumped clear, they earned the individual silver medal and took home a historic medal for Zone 8.

Griffin was thrilled with her individual bronze and team gold medals. “Tucker has been fabulous!” she said sincerely. “From the first day I came and jumped the speed round, he felt better than I’ve ever felt him before. I couldn’t be happier with him.”

A New Ride, A New Experience

For individual junior gold medalist, Zone 3’s Katherine Newman, Upperville, Va., this most prestigious win of her young career was least expected, especially with a horse who’s been a little challenging to learn.
About a year ago, Costa Sur, an 11-year-old, California-bred Holsteiner stallion by South Pacific, came to Newman and shook up her riding a bit.

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“It’s taken [a year] get to know him and figure him out,” she admitted.

He was previously ridden at grand prix level by David Jennings but is now giving Newman a whole new perspective on her own riding.

“It was all new to me when I got him because I’d never really ridden a stallion before,” she said. “Before I got him, I was told a lot of different things about how stallions are. But he really pays attention and does everything I ask him to do. He has improved so much and tried so hard here. I think he knew it was important. He gets pumped when he’s indoors, and this is the best he’s ever done.”

This was 17-year-old Newman’s first NAJYRC and first encounter with the five-round international format. By the end of the week, “Sugar” was growing weary, and so was she. But they’d already accomplished a phenomenal feat by jumping faultless through four rounds. What was one more round?

Her thoughts flashed back to her first grand prix at the Vermont Summer Festival this year and that double-clear performance. Her confidence elevated, and they took to the ring.

The two-rail cushion she held over eventual silver medalist David Arcand and Santo’s Utopia even further calmed her nerves. So she took her time with constant attention to her and Sugar’s quickly draining gas tanks.

“I actually expected to have more rails because we were both so tired,” she said. “But I was just so happy he tried so hard. I just had to help him out as much as I could.”

When they finally cleared the second-to-last fence, Newman and the spectators finally exhaled, knowing she’d be wearing gold despite rubbing a rail out of the final oxer’s cups and finishing 1 second late.

“The last jump was the easiest because all of the pressure was gone,” she said. “I didn’t even mind that the last one fell down. After the first round, I was already proud of myself and my horse. But this is just incredible. He picked this event to go the best he’s ever gone since I’ve had him.”

Show Jumping Tidbits

•    The Howard B. Simpson High Five Trophy was presented to Tami Nicholes, Diane Boyd and Gammon Nuckols, all of whom “best exemplified Simpson’s spirit of giving back to a sport that he loves so much.”

•    The Baretta Style Award was presented to junior rider and individual gold medalist Katherine Newman for showing “style throughout the week, not only when mounted, but also in the form of manners and their overall demeanor around the competition grounds and at the organized functions.”

•    The Caristo Cup was presented to Dr. Jorge Berganza, who “exhibited the utmost spirit of sportsmanship, horsemanship and enthusiasm” as the three Mexican show jumping teams’ Chef d’Equipe.

•    Throughout the five rounds of competition, there were 22 clear trips in the young rider division. Laura Teodori, of Zone 8, was the only competitor to finish on her speed round score of 6.84.

•    Zone 10 won individual gold five years in a row from 1990 to 1994. 1990 was the last time Zone 10 won both team and individual gold.

Joshua A. Walker

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