Monday, May. 27, 2024

The NAJYRC Is A Vital Stepping Stone

What do dressage rider Martina Pracht, show jumper Greg Best and eventer Missy Ransehousen all have in common? If you’re familiar with the history of the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships the answer should jump out at you—they’re past individual gold medal winners in the NAYRC who went on to represent their respective countries in Olympics, Pan Am Games or World Championships.
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What do dressage rider Martina Pracht, show jumper Greg Best and eventer Missy Ransehousen all have in common? If you’re familiar with the history of the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships the answer should jump out at you—they’re past individual gold medal winners in the NAYRC who went on to represent their respective countries in Olympics, Pan Am Games or World Championships.

The North American Young Riders Championships, in the current three-discipline format, was established in 1982 and has become a popular and prestigious competition for riders ages 16 to 21 (see p. 8). Beginning last year, fully recognized championships for junior riders, ages 14-18, were added, which increases the opportunities available for riders advancing up the levels.

In addition to the above-mentioned riders, many other accomplished competitors—U.S. riders McLain Ward, Nicole Shahinian Simpson, Gaby Salick, Virginia Jenkins, Allison Springer, Nathalie Bouckaert, Will Coleman, Todd Fletterich, Kathleen Raine and Canadians Laura Tidball Balisky, Lisa Carlsen and Jonathan Millar—have earned team gold. The NAJYRC has long been considered an important stepping stone for future international riders to get their feet wet in a team championship setting.

Often, riders find that the NAJYRC is their first exposure to a Fédération Equestre Internationale Championship, and the education they receive in preparation and during the competition becomes critical as they rise to the senior level. Because the championship is under FEI rules, it’s a drug-free competition, and proper preparation and horse management is added to the challenge. In addition, young riders must observe the FEI stabling rules, learn how to present their horses for the pre-competition inspection and jog, and carefully follow the mandatory schedule of briefings, draws and course walks. The carefree days of hanging out in a golf cart by the rings until your class started or riding your horse whenever or wherever you feel are over at this level, and even these types of lessons are best learned at a young age if a rider’s ultimate goal is to ride internationally.

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Each year, of course, there are many reasons some youngsters are unable to attend the NAJYRC. A horse or rider injury, financial constraints or other unforeseen circumstances can disrupt a rider’s plan. But, unfortunately, this year there were a significant number of riders—especially well-known show jumpers—who didn’t attend the championships because of conflicts with other competitions. This is a shame; the NAJYRC is an invaluable tool for young riders and should be considered as such. If we’re going to field the best teams possible on the future international stage, our young riders need the best preparation possible, and that includes international competitions such as the NAJYRC.

The NAJYRC wouldn’t be what it is today without the many, many dedicated adults who have supported the competition for decades. From organizers to chefs d’equipe to coaches to volunteers to parents, there are countless people who have dedicated themselves to improving this competition. Yet more can be done. Next year’s NAJYRC is being held at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, and I would encourage parents and trainers to include the championships in their summer schedules for 2008. Even if your junior or young riders don’t qualify to compete, this is a tremendous educational opportunity, even from the grandstands.

For instance, this year the Virginia Horse Center stands had many open seats. It would be wonderful for these talented young riders to hear more cheering and support as they strive to become the next NAJYRC gold medalist and future Olympic star.

Tricia Booker

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