Monday, May. 27, 2024

Coluccio And Champigny Win By A Whisker

When Evan Coluccio entered the ring for the fifth and final round of the CN North American Junior and Young Riders Show Jumping Championships, he knew that time was on his side: Coluccio and Champigny led the competition by 1 time fault.

When Maggie McAlary aboard Pedro, Natalie Johnson riding Crockett 16 and Javier Berganza with HBC Haume Des Malais jumped clear before Coluccio's turn, less than a rail separated the top four competitors.
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When Evan Coluccio entered the ring for the fifth and final round of the CN North American Junior and Young Riders Show Jumping Championships, he knew that time was on his side: Coluccio and Champigny led the competition by 1 time fault.

When Maggie McAlary aboard Pedro, Natalie Johnson riding Crockett 16 and Javier Berganza with HBC Haume Des Malais jumped clear before Coluccio’s turn, less than a rail separated the top four competitors.

“When they [McAlary and Johnson] put in clear rounds, I knew that’s what I had to go for,” said Coluccio. “I knew I had 1 time fault to spare so I told myself, ‘When in doubt, take a deep breath.’ “

The plan for a quiet clear paid off as Coluccio took individual gold at the CN North American Junior/Young Rider Championships, held Aug. 1-6 at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Va.

“I was the only person to do eight strides down the middle line,” Coluccio noted. “I didn’t want to push for seven and pull the front rail of the oxer coming out, so I took my time and added.”

With a clear round within the time allowed, Coluccio went home to USA Zone 3 with gold. He was especially proud of Champigny’s stamina and composure throughout the week.

“I wasn’t sure how well he would do a second full round on Friday,” he admitted. “He’s used to doing grand prix classes, with one full round and one short one, but he jumped better and higher as the day went on. That gave me a lot of confidence. I knew he could do it if I could keep him calm.”

Champigny, 14, a Selle Francais gelding, has always had an issue with nerves. “He has more scope than any horse I’ve ever had,” Coluccio said. “It’s his head and nerves that have always been the hardest part about him. But I think he’s starting to realize he can do it. He seemed proud of himself today.”

McAlary and Johnson finished just behind Coluccio for the individual silver and bronze medals, respectively. The two Heritage Farm barnmates finished 0.01 faults apart. Like Coluccio, the two girls aimed to keep nerves at bay and put in a clean final round.

“Before I went in, [trainer] Andre [Dignelli] told me, ‘You’ve got it. Just chill out,’ ” McAlary said. “So, I just took a deep breath and went in.”

Johnson agreed, “I’d been clear in each round so far, so I was just trying to focus on not changing anything. I have so much faith in my horse. I knew he would always pull through; I just tried to keep myself calm and stay out of his way. The two of us finishing so close is a good ending.”

And that tiny difference in time?

“Maybe I should have kicked a little harder in the speed round!” Johnson said with a laugh.

Gold, Silver And Bronze
Coluccio’s individual gold for USA Zone 3 was something of a surprise for the dominant USA Zone 1 riders. McAlary and Johnson had joined Julie Welles with Felix Des Noues and Cody Auer aboard Okido to easily win the team gold medal for USA Zone 1. With a final score of zero, the four riders proved again how well they work together–this was their third time together as a team.

“We have a really good team dynamic,” McAlary said proudly.

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McAlary was the first rider for her team and also, by luck of the draw, the first young rider to contest the class.

“I was so glad the juniors did the same course first,” she said thankfully. “I just wanted to do a good job, to give the team a good start.”

The initial round wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for Zone 1, though.

“Jump 8 was a little hairy for me,” Johnson admitted. “We sliced into it on an angle, and he didn’t see the jump until quite late. He tripped on takeoff, twisted his legs in every direction, but, somehow, he missed all the poles and stayed clear.”

Auer’s horse also put in a few kinks of his own. “I think he was thinking, ‘Jump-off!’ in the second round,” she said with a smile. “But it worked for us.”

After the last rider for Zone 1 crossed the timers, there was no way any of the other teams could beat them. So, the race was on for silver, and it ended in an all-member jump-off between USA Zone 2 and Mexico North.

Addison Phillips aboard Flight returned from last year’s winning team to ride for USA Zone 2, joined by Carolyn Kelly on Omona A.W., and members of last year’s junior gold-medal team Hillary Dobbs with VDL Lotus Excel and Miasha Fischer with Kitty 41. Their competition included Alfredo Miguel riding Accolino, Jose Alberto Martinez with Leonard, Andres Torres Hernandez with Libero and Berganza with HBC Haume Des Malais.

Dobbs, Kelly and Fischer turned in three consecutive clear rounds, eliminating the need for Phillips to jump again. They won the silver when Miguel and Hernandez each had a rail and relegated the Mexico North team to bronze.

Battle To The End
Not to be outdone by their older counterparts, the junior show jumping entrants gave them a run for the money in suspense and excitement. Going into the last team round, the combined team from USA Zones 2 & 5 (Nicole Lakin/Alaska, Hilary Vijon/Gandolf, Clementine Goutal/Rastalla, Catie Boone/ Naleida) stood second, carrying 4 faults to Zone 10’s zero.

Knowing that the gold medal was in reach, Zones 2 & 5 put on the pressure, earning a zero in the second round to pull off the come-from-behind win when the riders from Zone 10 pulled one too many rails and dropped to silver.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking to come from behind,” Lakin said afterward. “We were so nervous, but we each wanted so badly to do well for the coaches and our teammates.”

They did a banner job of focusing on the job at hand.

“You have to look at it knowing it can be done if you lay down the good rounds,” Goutal said. “Trying to come from behind gives you a big push. In this competition, it becomes much bigger than just a class because you’re riding for the whole team.”

Although the team medals were settled, the rivalry between Zones 2 & 5 and Zone 10 wasn’t over as the top three individual riders were from those teams as well. After five rounds of competition, Lakin and Boone stood tied for first with 12 faults.

So, once again, a jump-off ensued.

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Boone went first aboard Naleida, pulling one rail in a blazing time of 29.45 seconds. With her hopes resting on that performance, she was forced to watch and wait during Lakin’s trip.

Like Naleida, Lakin’s Alaska had one rail, but he couldn’t catch the speedy mare’s time, finishing in 31.15 seconds and giving Boone gold and Lakin silver.

“I was really nervous in the jump-off,” Boone admitted. “I knew that if Nicole went clear, she had it. I didn’t know what would happen if she pulled a rail because Naleida was very fast for me.”

Lakin was thinking the same thing.

“I knew if I could go slow and clear, I could win it,” she said. “But, I had to keep going in case we had a rail. Alaska had the same rail in the jump-off that he had in the fifth round; I just got him there a little too deep and he couldn’t get all of himself out of the way.”

Both teammates were thrilled with being the top two, regardless of who won. “I knew that whichever way the jump-off went, I would be happy,” Boone said with a smile.

Of course, that jump-off only settled gold and silver. Only 1 fault behind gold and silver were Paris Sellon riding Aurora of USA Zone 10 and Katie McDaniel with Quasar of USA Zone 4, both with 13 faults.

This time the jump-off was for the bronze medal. Sellon jumped first, pulling one rail in 32.56 seconds. Then, it was a watching game. But McDaniel, going for the careful clear was much slower and paid the price.

“I saw Katie have a rail, and I knew she had been trying to go clear,” Sellon said. “It was just nice that I was that little bit faster.”

One For All
Spectators watching the CN North American Junior/Young Riders Championships in show jumping were treated to close competition in all five rounds. However, one moment of suspense few spectators will forget was provided by Mexico’s junior team member Alberto Balas in the first round of team competition.

Landing off balance from the triple combination, Balas was swung onto his horse’s right side, his left stirrup across the saddle. Trying to stay on, Balas and Ravena cantered around the end of the ring in this precarious position, missing the rollback turn to the next jump. Knowing one of his teammates had already been eliminated and that a fall would eliminate the entire team, Balas managed to swing his left leg back over and regain his seat, minus the left stirrup.

In an amazing display of horsemanship, sportsmanship and courage, Balas kept riding. Finding another route to the next oxer, he never completely circled, avoiding a refusal, and completed the last six jumps with only one stirrup, which fell off the saddle entirely by the end of the round.

As he and Ravena crossed the timers with only 4 faults–which occurred before his mid-course detour–the crowd erupted with cheers, giving the pair a standing ovation.

“I don’t know how I did it,” Balas said with a smile. “I just knew that my team would be eliminated if I fell down, so I just did all I could to stay on.”

At the awards ceremony on Sunday, the show jumping ground jury surprised Balas by presenting him with the Baretta Style Award. Given to a rider from each discipline, the Style awards are presented to competitors who have shown “style throughout the week, not only when mounted, but also in the form of manners and their overall demeanor.”

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