Two U.S. athletes clinched the final gold medals at the Gotham North FEI North American Youth Jumping Championships on Sunday, bringing this year’s event to an exciting conclusion at Flintfields Horse Park in Traverse City, Michigan.
NAYC FEI Junior Jumping Individual Championship
Carlee McCutcheon (Aubrey, Texas) expertly piloted Coco Mercedes, a 2013 Westphalian mare owned by McLain Ward and Old Oak Farm, through five rounds with no jumping penalties to secure individual gold. With a team gold for Zone 7 earlier in the week, McCutcheon ended her first complete NAYC experience as a double gold medalist, which she said was an unexpected surprise.
“I definitely didn’t think that was going to happen,” she said. “I was just trying to have fun and take it day by day. I’m so lucky to have Coco Mercedes as my partner. She’s the best partner I could ask for. I think she’s better at it than I am,. And for so many rounds, for her to perform so well is just such a great feeling.”
McCutcheon had plenty of praise for her horse, whose reliability in the ring helped temper some of the pressure for the final round.
“She’s so brave, I never have to worry about it,” said McCutcheon. “If I don’t see the perfect distance, I know she’ll take care of me and I think having a horse with so much confidence has definitely given me a confidence boost and improved my riding all year.
“I was glad there was no water in the second round,” she said, adding that round B of the two-round final day of competition was a bit easier than the first. “More than anything, I was just trying to get in range of the jump. So it was pretty scary, but I think the pressure is good for me, and it’s definitely good for her, so it worked out well.”
Zone 2’s Stephanie Garrett (New York, New York) also came into the final round of the day having no jumping penalties all week. She rode Darius de Kezeg Z, a 2011 Zangersheide gelding owned by Postage Stamp Farm LLC.
“This has been a pretty big goal of mine,” said Garrett. “Last year I was able to compete on the Zone 2 team, which was a phenomenal experience. The outcome might not have been what we were looking for, but it gave me a good experience and coming back this year, I kind of knew more about what to look for and how to prepare, so that’s been super helpful.”
Garrett also credits her horse with giving her the confidence in the ring that makes a successful championship outing possible.
“I’ve had ‘Darius’ for about a year and a half now, and he has been the absolute best,” she said. “He has taken me up the levels a little bit. He’s given me a lot of confidence in the highs, and I’m hoping to step up a bit more to the U25 with him. We’ve done a few national grand prixs as well. He has far more experience than I do, and he can really help show me the ropes as I step up.”
First-time NAYC competitor Elise Stephens (Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin) from Zone 6 had solid rounds all week to win individual bronze with O’Mega H & DB, a 2014 Belgian Warmblood mare owned by Rendezvous Farm.
“I really just wanted smooth, hopefully clean rounds,” said Stephens. “Especially after the first round when I had one down, I just wanted a really good, clean second round. I think the first course had a lot of tests in it. The water to the vertical, a lot of people were having issues with that, and I’m really lucky that my horse is a good water jumper.”
FEI NAYC Young Riders Jumping Individual Championship
Baylee McKeever (Brewster, New York) came into the final two rounds ready to fight for clear rounds with her own Formidable, a 2010 Dutch Warmblood mare.
“I was just trying to take it jump by jump, and obviously try not to get caught up in how the other class was going,” said McKeever. “I just wanted to focus on my round and how my horse was going—everything I could control because I can’t control anything else.”
McKeever has been riding Formidable since January 2022, when her trainer, McLain Ward, gave her the mare as a graduation gift.
“I’d say we have a pretty strong partnership,” said McKeever. “She’s special to me. She kind of brought me up the levels from the medium juniors all the way up to here.”
McKeever said her coaches helped keep her calm and focused ahead of the final round where she entered in gold-medal contention.
“My trainer was talking about how nice it was that we were in this situation,” McKeever said. “Everyone wants to be at the top, and you’re going to lose sometimes, and it’s just where you are right now. You just have to appreciate that.”
Augusta Iwasaki (Calabasas, California) stayed near the top of the standings throughout the week, and finished with the individual silver medal riding Fresca, a 2010 KWPN mare owned by Chris Iwasaki and Elizabeth Reilly.
“She’s been amazing all week,” Iwasaki said of her horse. “This is my first championship with her, and my first championship in general. Team day was incredible. It kind of caught me by surprise; I wasn’t expecting it to go so well, so that was really amazing. Today I wanted to just have consistent rounds. She’s not a super hot horse to begin with, so I knew I was running out of steam a little bit, but she was amazing, and she really fought for me, so I couldn’t be happier.”
Canada’s William Martin finished with the bronze medal riding Ricore Courcelle, a 2008 Selle Français gelding owned by Lesley Martin.
“It was a super week for Canada. It’s been a while since we won [team Young Rider gold],” said Martin. “Winning the team gold medal is a great feeling, and I was just happy to put in a few clear rounds to help that, and fortunately I ended up in bronze position overall.”
Junior Freestyle Dressage Championship
After winning two silver medals in team and individual competition, Madison Sumner (Wellington, Florida) and Briar, the 2007 Dutch Warmblood gelding she co-owns with Wayne Sumner, struck gold in the freestyle. The pair posted a 73.54% to top the leaderboard in the FEI freestyle competition for Juniors.
“After my final centerline, I was very proud of my test,” said Sumner. “He was with me the whole time, and I was just so grateful.”
Sumner pointed to the changes on a circle as one of the high points of her test as a difficult movement that she and Briar execute well.
“His strengths are definitely in the canter work,” said Sumner. “Definitely his changes. He has some big, expressive changes. Also his trot work, some of the extendeds and half-passes were also really good.”
Sienna Rowe (Urbanna, Virginia) and Lightfire Just Do It, a 2010 Westphalian gelding owned by Jason Rowe, won silver with a close second-place score of 73.32% for her freestyle to Michael Jackson’s music. In addition, Rowe and “Nike” were awarded the Amanda Johnson Award for their consistently excellent performances over the course of the week.
“We thought that [the music] fit Nike very well, because he’s a little mover,” said Rowe. “I was very glad we had a clean test because he can be a little bobble-y sometimes. I’m very happy that we won that award.”
Allison Berger (Chicago, Illinois) secured the bronze with her ride on Delacure, a 2014 Hanoverian gelding she co-owns with Marianne Berger. The pair scored a 72.91% from the judges.
“The whole freestyle was really fun,” said Berger. “I love riding to music. My favorite part was the extended canter. He’s so powerful, and I just laugh out loud every time. It’s so fun. I was really confident going in and going last in the order was nice because I had some time in the morning to prepare.”
Dressage Young Riders Freestyle Championship
The podium looked very familiar during the awards presentation for the FEI Young Riders Freestyle as three athletes received their third medals of the week. All three medalists were part of the gold medal-winning Region 3 team, and all three medaled in the individual final earlier in the week.
Mary Claire Piller (Oakdale, Tennessee) and Caterina, Emily Brollier’s 2011 Hanoverian mare, finished their hat trick, earning their third gold medal of this NAYC with a 73.54%.
“We set NAYC as kind of a light goal, just really trying to develop the mare properly, bring her up the levels in a good program, and just keep her as happy as possible bringing out as much excellence in her as we could,” said Piller. “We just tried to work on that over the last few months and just really honed in on it the past five or six months really thinking about the CDI in mind and just almost using every show we went to for qualification as a schooling, saying how can we make it better in the ring, how can we make things easier for her to do the job for me, and she has delivered 100%.”
Piller and Caterina have been building a partnership for several years to reach this point.
“We acquired ‘Karma’ back in 2020, and she had had kind of a rough start,” said Piller. “It took a while for me to get her trust. I started her on the longe line myself, and we’ve just been trying to keep her as happy as possible to move her up the levels. We never had any expectation of her even showing. I got my [USDF bronze, silver, and gold medals] with her and now bringing me to [NAYC] and winning three gold medals has been such a blessing, and I feel very honored to be able to work and prepare and grow from there.”
Kat Fuqua (Atlanta, Georgia) and her own Dreamgirl, a 2008 Dutch Warmblood mare, added a silver medal to their team gold and individual bronze from earlier in the week. They scored a 72.39% with their new freestyle, which is set to music by Tears For Fears.
“After our European tour, we realized that in my old freestyle, the degree of difficulty wasn’t as high as it could be,” said Fuqua. “It was a little bit too slow moving and didn’t show off Dreamgirl’s ability enough. I’m a big fan of Tears For Fears and so is my whole family, so we thought that would be a good kind of neutral music to choose since everyone kind of knows it.”
Fuqua said that Dreamgirl is a steadfast partner who always tries her best.
“She doesn’t give up on you or ever try to be bad. She’s always on my side,” said Fuqua. “I think for next year we’re planning to do the Prix St. Georges/I1 small tour because she really shines in the I1.”
Celsiana William (Ocala, Florida) and her 2013 Oldenburg mare, Prima Ballerina, added a bronze medal to their collection with a 72.39% in the freestyle.
“I did the choreography myself, and I decided to start with the canter work because she tends to get hotter as the test goes on,” said William. “We’ve had some problems with that over the years, and I wanted to make sure that the canter work was nice and calm and controlled. Then, I could just let her shine in the trot work and be as fancy as she wants.”