Athletes at the Gotham North/FEI North American Youth Jumping Championships rode for medals and team pride on Friday as the team competition for juniors and young Riders concluded. The team from Zone 7 emerged victorious in the junior division, while Canada won young riders gold.
Juniors Team Championship
The leaderboard for the juniors saw a significant shake-up during the two rounds of team competition on Friday. Zone 7 rode to the win, adding no penalties to their score in the first round and just 4 penalties in the second. It was good enough to move the team of Tessa Downey and Isabelle, Carlee McCutcheon and Coco Mercedes, Ava Myers and Chico P, and Laurel Walker and Armani up from fourth in the standings to gold-medal position.
This year’s team from Zone 7 saw three returning athletes from last year. Downey, Myers, and Walker were all on the 2022 team. The fourth member of the 2023 team, McCutcheon, proved to be an excellent addition, turning in two clear rounds in Friday’s competition. McCutcheon (Aubrey, Texas) rode Coco Mercedes, a 2013 Westphalian mare owned by Old Oak Farm and McLain Ward.
“I started riding Coco in Florida with McLain. She’s been an incredible partner for me,” said McCutcheon. “She makes me very brave and she’s very good at her job. She gets better for her second round; she’s a little more relaxed and she jumped better. She wasn’t so quick off the ground and I was able to relax a bit more, so I think our second round ended up being smoother than our first round. I think that’s very important for a championship, to have a horse that gets better as it goes on.”
The camaraderie among Zone 7’s juniors was a benefit as they competed this week.
“Horse riding isn’t usually a team sport, so it’s really unique when you can qualify for these teams,” said Walker. “A lot of times, you’re with your friends—people you know, people you’ve shown with—and you can all work together for one goal. It adds a new bond that we don’t get to experience a lot. It’s a super fun environment. I think they do a great job putting this on, and I was really thankful to have gotten the opportunity to compete.”
The Zone 4 team also pulled off a significant climb on the second day of team competition to clinch team silver. Mia Albelo and MHS Cardenta, Taylor Cawley and Corlencia BC, Mustafa Shah and Harakiri Z, and Olivia Sweetnam and HDB Quality added just 4 penalties in each of Friday’s two rounds and moved up from fifth place to second.
Sweetnam currently stands atop the individual leaderboard after two clear rounds on Friday with Sweet Oak Farm’s 2013 Westphalian mare.
“I was quite nervous going into it, but it was good nerves,” said Sweetnam. “It helped me stay sharp and focused on our plan that we developed and executed properly. My family has owned ‘Quality’ for three or four years, and I only started riding her about a year and a half ago. It was really special because my dad used to ride her, and we have a really great bond that we’ve formed both in and out of the ring.”
Zone 2 held on to their third-placed standing from the first day of competition to secure the team bronze medal.
Young Riders Team Championship
The young riders’ competition also saw an influential second day, with only two competitors out of 36 starters achieving two penalty-free rounds and three new teams taking over the leaderboard. The Canadian team of Quintyn Werner Baeumler and Haydn, Halle Duke and Ilana, Lily Elliot and Pesgo Adelheid Z, and William Martin and Ricore Courcelle were in the seventh spot after the first day but rocketed up the leaderboard on day two to win team gold.
“I think anytime you can represent your home country, it’s always a big deal, and I think Canadians will really take pride in that,” said Martin, who is currently the top-ranked member of the Canadian team on the individual leaderboard, standing in third position. “This is a show we look forward to all year long, mainly for that reason, because we get to represent our home country. To bring back a medal means a lot.”
The Zone 7 team of Sofia Cady and ZG Bella, Hallie Grimes and Malissa de Muze, Luke Jensen and Bigstar, and Stella Wasserman and Eldorado Wp Z secured their silver-medal win, moving up from fifth place. The team dynamic was an important part of the experience for the Zone 7 athletes.
“I’m 21, so this is my last year competing [as a young rider],” said Grimes. “For me, the main reason I wanted to come back was what it means to compete with these people. It means a lot to compete on teams with people that you care about, and it certainly is added pressure. I’ve never felt more pressure than I do at [NAYC], and that’s the truth. I jumped my first five-star last week, and today was incomparable to that. It’s unbelievable, because I really want to show up for these people. They mean a lot to me.”
The team from Zone 5 moved up from fourth to third to win the bronze, an impressive feat given that their three-member team didn’t have the benefit of a drop score.