Caitlyn Shiels of USA Zone 2 made her first and last appearance at the Maui Jim North American Young Riders Championships count, taking home both individual and team gold.
The 21-year-old from Sheffield, Mass., and her ride Memphis were on top going into the final two-round individual competition, but less than 1 fault separated her from Abigail Carpenter of Zone 1 aboard Rosanne Van de Witheove.
A heartbreaking rail in each round dropped Carpenter to the bronze position and opened the door for Shiels. Seizing the opportunity, Shiels put the pressure aside and collected just 4 faults over the two rounds to capture the gold.
“I was getting up [the final] line and just overrode the in-and-out a little bit. He was spooking away from the crowd,” she said of her only error. “Then I thought to myself, ‘Just race over to the last jump.’ “
Shiels had the time allowed on her mind, since a time fault relegated her to individual silver in the Young Rider CSI/Y at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) last winter.
“If that had happened I think I would have been pretty upset!” she said wryly.
Zone 2 teammate Leigh Healey aboard Laurin posted two stellar double-clean rounds on the final day of competition, allowing them to “leap-frog” from sixth position to individual silver.
“I knew if I could just sit still and keep my nerves down she would go clean,” said Healey.
Sheils’ win was a culmination of years of work with Memphis, a 9-year-old warmblood. She purchased the chestnut gelding as a 6-year-old from Eddie Horowitz. He had just been imported from Europe, and Sheils has brought him up through the ranks herself.
“When I bought him he really knew nothing. He was really green,” she said. “He could barely chip a fence and didn’t know where to put his legs.”
Shiels started out in the low schooling jumpers and moved up as soon as Memphis’ education would allow. “It was a really, really long haul, but we kept at it.”
She also kept at it in the stable as a working student for Andre Dignelli’s Heritage Farm. “She has worked really hard, and her parents have given her the same opportunities as every kid that has more,” said Dignelli. “It is very different than your normal story.
“She has come really close to winning a few big events, equitation finals and things. This was sort of her moment,” he added.
Now Shiels will turn her attention to her business studies at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Memphis will also get some well-deserved rest before contesting the amateur-owner jumpers at the Pennsylvania National in the fall.
All four members of the USA Zone 2 team (Shiels, Healey, Brianne Goutal and Katrina Woods) were making their first start at the NAYRC.
“We were all rookies coming in here. Technically we had nothing to lose,” said Healey. “I don’t think it has hit any of us that we just won a gold team medal!”
Healey, Lumberton, N.J., contributed 4- and 12-fault rounds riding Laurin, an 11-year-old, Belgian Warmblood mare she inherited from her sister, Mary Alexis, two years ago.
“In the second round my mare was really head strong. She knew where she was going so there wasn’t an element of surprise for her,” said Healey, 18.
Zone 2 entered the final round in second, 5 faults behind Zone 10. After a few rails hit the dirt for each team, it all came down to 15-year-old anchor rider Goutal, who had posted a shaky 9-fault first round, having to circle and regroup after the water jump. “I didn’t have gloves on, and my reins just got away from me,” she said.
Knowing her team was counting on her to score fewer than 8 faults in the final round, Goutal made it happen, posting just 4 to clinch the victory.
“I was discouraged after the first round,” she said. “But I had the entire team depending on me. I tried to pull it together.”
Chef d’equipe Ralph Caristo went with the youngster from New York, N.Y., as his anchor rider after watching her solid performances all season aboard Onira, an 8-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding purchased last year from Sulu Rose.
“She was very focused, and the horse and her gelled just the way I wanted,” he said of Goutal, who also placed fifth individually.
Gelling with the team helped Sheils rise to the occasion, posting just 4 faults in the two-round team competition. “It made me ride better and harder, for my girls,” she said of their team spirit.
While Woods, 19, of Bronxville, N.Y., may have been a rookie, her 13-year-old Russian Warmblood Susdal had plenty of miles.
“He’s very experienced. He’s been all over the world. Name a country, he’s done it,” said Woods of the small chestnut gelding that used to jump grand prix classes with Nona Garson.
The pair logged 12 faults in each round and placed seventh individually.
In the end, the jubilant teammates all agreed that their ability to come together as a team sealed the victory. “We all show against each other so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Healey. “But we can put our competitive sides away and just support each other.”
The team, which also clinched the gold medal in the Young Rider CSI/Y at the WEF, will now disperse, with Healey heading to Georgetown University (D.C.), Woods to Lafayette College, (Pa.), and Sheils to Lynn University. Goutal will enter her sophomore year of high school at the Professional Children’s School (N.Y.).
Repeat Victory For Zone 10
USA Zone 10 took a decisive lead after the first round of the junior show jumping competition and never looked back on their way to repeating last year’s win. Jessica Helms, Nicole Adamson, Torie Immel and Katherine Brandes finished the two-round competition with just 12 faults.
“We have been a close team. We all get along really well,” said Brandes, 19, of Newport Beach, Calif. “One of my teammates has actually been documenting the whole thing on videotape. It will be edge-of-your-seat entertainment, let me tell you!”
Brandes, also a member of last year’s winning team, was partnered with Sarah’s Pride, a 12-year-old Thoroughbred she purchased from Peter Charles in England last November. A sore back kept the 15.1-hand gelding out of the ring until March, giving Brandes just a few months to get to know him.
“He just stepped up to the plate and has been really fantastic,” said Brandes, who also placed second individually. “He’s become one of those horses that people dream about getting once in their lives.”
Brandes will now turn her attention to freshman studies at Princeton University (N.J.) where she will likely major in political science. “I’m going to put horses on the backburner for the first semester,” she said, adding that she hopes to return next year on the Zone 10 Young Riders team.
Helms, 18, also of Newport Beach, Calif., would also like to be on next year’s Young Riders team. She and her 8-year-old Holsteiner Calira jumped five brilliant clean rounds, leading the team to victory and taking the individual title.
“We’ve developed a really strong bond. She’s my baby,” said Helms of the gray mare she has ridden for four years.
With little more than a four-fault lead heading into the final two individual rounds, Helms, who trains with Joie Gatlin and Morley Abbey, was kept on her toes.
“I was nervous just because she’s been so great and I love her. I didn’t want to let her down,” said Helms, who will study creative writing and philosophy at Chapman University (Calif.).
Being part of a team for the first time kept Adamson’s nerves on edge, but she and Adarco, a 10-year-old gelding by Darco, logged consistent four-fault performances in both rounds.
“Zone 10 has always done fairly well, especially on the [junior] team, so you want to uphold the legacy,” said the 17-year-old from Los Angeles, who was third individualy. “You don’t want to disappoint your teammates.”
Adamson picked up the ride on Adarco, owned by Judi Cattaneo, in the spring during the Indio Desert Circuit (Calif.).
“He’s really kind. He just tries and tries and tries,” she said. “I used to get a little nervous before I would go in the ring, seeing these big jumps. He gives me so much confidence. I just love riding him.”
Immel, 14, was the youngest member of the Zone 10 squad. ” I was so excited to make it this year,” she said.
Immel bought Regal, a 10-year-old, Belgian Warmblood gelding last year from Ludo Philippaerts of Belgium and started in the junior jumpers over the winter. “He’s just 16 hands, but he is like a bull dog, big and strong,” she said. “I just love him. He’s been the best teacher for me.”
Immel, Newport Beach, Calif., trains with Karen Healey and hopes to contest the medal finals on the East Coast circuit this fall.
From Illinois To Athens
Keith Newerla is hoping that his individual win in the Mills Team Challenge at the North American Young Riders is just the beginning. The 21-year-old now heads to Athens, Greece, where he will compete in dressage at the Paralympics, Sept. 10-16.
Mills, of Seaford, N.Y., also took the gold in 2002. He believes that competing at the NAYRC helped him to prepare for his first Paralympics. “Just the show environment being as big as it is gives you a feel for big competitions [like Athens],” said Newerla, who rode the 17-year-old Lipizzan Pluto IV Sabadilla or “Pumpkin” borrowed for the week from owner Ann Shanks.
Born with cerebral palsy, Newerla began therapeutic riding on the advice of a doctor. “The horse’s gait is a lot like a human’s. It helps with balance, motor skills and coordination,” he said.
But Newerla’s hobby became a competitive passion when he started to ride dressage four years ago. “It turned from recreation into a sport that I love,” he said.
Newerla, who is a broadcast journalism student at Minnesota State, is the youngest member of the four-person team competing for the United States in Athens. He will be in Athens with Lumberjack, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood, whom he has been training with all summer.