Earlier this summer, things weren’t looking too good for the U.S. Eventing Association Area VI teams. Jennie Branagan, who was short-listed for the one-star, lost her horse to colic in July, and two-starrider Rachel Lathrop lost Country Toad in a freak cross-country accident this spring. But the remaining riders pulled together during training sessions with Bea and Derek di Grazia to have one of the Area’s best showings ever at the NAYRC.
“Last year we didn’t even send a team,” said Cayla Kitayama, who led Area VI to the two-star victory and scored an individual bronze medal at the Maui Jim North American Riders Championships, Aug. 10-15 in Wads-worth, Ill. “We al-most never have two full teams.”
The Area VI two-star team of Athena Arnot-Copenhaver/ Double-O-Seven, Kitayama/Docksider, Adrienne Hillas/Tur-bonium and Loreen Kay/Russian was put to-gether at the last minute, but by the end of the competition, they couldn’t be closer.
“I would suggest everyone do [NAYRC], even if you come as a groom,” said Kitayama. “We are all so close now; after sharing beds and bathrooms and every meal of the day, we are like family.”
Area VI took the lead in dressage and never looked back. But while the win may have looked easy, it involved a lot of nervous moments along the way.
Arnot-Copenhaver, for instance, wasn’t sure how the event would go for her 14-year-old Thor-oughbred. “He raced a long time and has had leg problems, and he broke his withers two years ago,” said the 19-year-old who has tried to make the team for three years. “I’m really surprised we made it this far.”
She also overcame a broken leg, an injury that happened while schooling another horse cross-country in January. But she was back aboard in time to ride him at the Galway Downs CIC** (Calif.) in March.
Arnot-Copenhaver, 19, of Carmel, Calif., was just 14 when she bought Double-O-Seven, and he’s her first and only intermediate horse.
Kitayama, 18, of Orinda, Calif., was thrilled just to finish a three-day on her third attempt. “He was lame at my one-star, then at a two-star last year he flipped five fences from home,” she said.
She bought “Hogan,” an 11-year-old, Irish Thoroughbred, four years ago from Tom Waters and Sharon Blank in Maryland. With the help of her trainer Mogie Bearden-Muller and dressage trainer Gina Duran, she’s brought him up from the novice level. Now she’s headed to Villanova University (Pa.), where she will train with Phillip Dutton.
Kay, 15, of Los Angeles, Calif., had an experienced partner in Russian, a New Zealand Thoroughbred who’s completed five two-stars, but Kay, 15, had only done three intermediate events before the NAYRC. She would like to move up to advanced, but she has to wait three more years before the rules will allow her to compete at that level.
Hillas, 17, won the dressage but incurred one cross-country stop–at a large drop into the water just a few fences from home–with Turbonium in their first NAYRC and first two-star. She withdrew him before show jumping as he had kicked himself while stopping.
“If I’d seen his record I probably wouldn’t have bought him,” she said of Turbonium. “He had 60s in the dressage and no clear show jumping rounds. But he’s the best horse I’ve ever laid eyes on–he’s really special.”
Derek di Grazia had designed the cross-country course at Temple Farm in the past, before Tremaine Cooper took over this year, so he had some inside information to share with the Area VI riders. “Derek said the track would ride quick,” said Kitayama. “It was spot on. There was a water jump with a big drop near the end, so you couldn’t relax until the very end. Overall, it was a really, really good ride.”
Cooper was impressed with the quality of the field in both divisions. “They put on quite a show,” he said of the riders. “I was very impressed by the level of riding.”
There were more clear rounds–and more fast rounds–than he’d expected. “I wouldn’t necessarily make it harder,” said Cooper, who kept di Grazia’s track but added some questions, such as a corner to a bank bounce up to a “caterpillar” jump.
Only six of 20 starters incurred jumping penalties, and there were 10 rounds inside the time. However, only one rider–17th-placed Mikki Kapaun on Allstar–jumped a clear round over Michel Vaillancourt’s show jumping course.
Area II’s Jennifer Libby kept moving up the rankings to score the individual gold medal aboard Draco. After placing sixth in dressage, she advanced to third after cross-country and inherited the lead after dropping just one show jumping rail.
Libby, 21, of Branchville, N.J., thinks highly of her 7-year-old Thoroughbred. “He’s probably the best horse I’ve ever ridden,” she said. “He’s the most careful and forgiving and fun.”
Libby, who trains with Debbie Adams, competed the flashy chestnut last fall at the Radnor Hunt CCI** (Pa.) and finished 11th at the Jersey Fresh CCI** (N.J.) in May. “I don’t think it’s hit me; I’ve never won such a big show,” she said. “I’m shocked. He’s given me 110 percent. I’m very proud.”
Area V’s Jessica Pye took the silver on Carte Blanche, a horse she sent to retirement a few years ago, after winning the 2002 NAYRC CCI* aboard the gray gelding. But when a new horse
didn’t work out, she called back her faithful partner, now 15.
“He lost vision in one eye and has had trouble figuring out some of the questions,” she said. “He’s better now than he was two years ago in terms of soundness.”
In the fall, Pye, 18, of Denton, Texas, will attend North Texas University, selected be-cause of its proximity to Mike Huber, who was also the Area V coach. “I owe a lot of this to Mike,” she said. “He’s changing my mental game. I’m thinking when I’m riding now; I’m not just a passenger.”
Stars In The One-Star
Area V also won the one-star team competition. Amanda Allain, Jimmie Holotik and Keeya Jones had never competed in a three-day before, but the team managed to post three clear cross-country rounds, with the help of Lindsey Dickson, the only rider with three-day experience.
Dickson and Much Ado, a 7-year-old, Canadian Thoroughbred, were the top finishers for the team, in fourth place. Dickson, 18, of Dallas, Texas, has owned Much Ado since he was 3 and taken him up from the beginner novice level.
“He did one of his best tests,” she said. “He was really relaxed, and he flew around cross-country.”
Jones, 15, of Argyle, Texas, rode Primary Colors, a 7-year-old pinto gelding, by Domino, who she’s owned for four years.
“Cross-country was so much fun!” she said. “We were all about 30 seconds fast.”
Holotik rode Best Blend, a 13-year-old, Irish Sport Horse mare, to eighth place individually. “She’s super on show jumping and cross-country,” said Holotik, 17, who trains with Christy Kenyon. “She was flying around cross-country.”
Allain didn’t have her best show on Casey, since she fell cross-country, but she still enjoyed the team experience and completed the competition.
“We cheered each other on and gave pep talks,” said Holotik. “We gave each other massages, played pranks, and there was lots of music in the barn–lots of dancing and singing.”
A blow-up Frosty The Snowman served as the team’s mascot. “It was an awesome experience,” added Jones.
Alexandra Wikstrom of Area I won the dressage and never looked back. She said she just got lucky when she bought LeQuel four years ago.
“He was extremely green,” she said. “He knew how to walk, trot, canter and free jump. The two of us learned together.”
Wikstrom, 18, of Aurora, N.Y., had only gone novice on her pony before she came across the Holsteiner, by Landslide. The pair finished sixth in the Virginia CCIJY* in May, after spending the spring in Aiken, S.C., and Middleburg, Va., training with Mara DePuy Dean and Jan Thompson. They also earned wins at Plantation Field (Pa.) and Groton House (Mass.).
“I really liked the cross-country,” she said. “It was a rider thinking course, not trappy at all, and they did a great job improving the footing.”
And she didn’t let her nerves get to her as she entered show jumping in the lead..
“I just focused on the job at hand; I didn’t think of other things that might distract me. I tried to think of it as any other event,” she said.
Wikstrom will start the University of Rochester (N.Y.) in the fall and hopes to return to the NAYRC to compete in the two-star next year. “It’s definitely a great stepping stone,” she said. “I’m really glad I got to meet a lot of people and train with some great trainers.”