A dream came true for Erin Nichols at the 2022 FEI North American Youth Championship when she won gold Saturday in the individual Young Rider dressage division.
Nichols (Yorba Linda, California) expertly guided her own Handsome Rob AR, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, through a precise and flowing test that earned a 69.00% from the judges. The victory comes after Nichols and her Region 7 Young Riders team took team silver earlier in the week.
“I was just so proud, and hearing that final score was so exciting,” she said. “I’m super thankful for my ride that I did today and all of the moments leading up to this.”
Nichols has developed Handsome Rob AR since he was a 5-year-old.
“I definitely didn’t imagine this moment,” Nichols said. “I was optimistic and excited for what was to come when we first got him, and to be able to come and be individually gold at this championship is so exciting. It’s a total dream come true.
“We’re hoping to keep developing up the levels and see how much he can do,” she added. “He’s still young—he’s only 10—so he’s still got some talent. We’ve still got to teach him some new things, and I’m excited to see where we go next.”
Gemma Starn (Putnam Valley, New York) finished in second place with her own Diamond First Choice, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding, scoring a 68.20%.
“‘Theo’ is a really kind horse,” Starn said. “He’s often compared to a pet or a dog, but he’s a very talented pet! He tries so hard every single day. There’s never a day where he says no to me.”
At age 21, Starn is in her final year of eligibility for Young Riders, and she reflected on the impact of the NAYC experience.
“[NAYC] is a really special event,” she said. “Being around a lot of people who are super passionate about riding and dressage and are coming up through the levels is really special.”
Another Region 7 athlete, Ellanor Boehning (Rancho Santa Fe, California), took home the bronze medal with Sir Junior, the 11-year-old Rheinlander gelding she co-owns with Ann Boehning.
“I think the Region 7 team this year has a really strong team, both in the Juniors and the Young Riders,” Ellanor said. “Having a team that’s there to support you, cheer you ringside, even when there’s mistakes, they’re there to cheer you up, it’s a big part of what goes into all of this. I think it makes a big difference to have people there that you know from home there to cheer you on and support you.”
After winning team silver and scoring a 67.11% for the individual bronze, Boehning is looking ahead to the upcoming U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions.
“Next up for ‘Junior’ is going to be to head up to Lamplight,” she said. “To be honest, this was our first year doing Young Riders and I wasn’t sure if I was going to move up or not, so just to be up here and be on a team—let alone be a podium finisher—is amazing in and of itself. So, now [our goal] is just fixing everything up and smoothing it all over.”