Even though the members of this year’s Region 7 young rider dressage team had a lot of history riding on their shoulders, they refused to let the pressure get to them. Their exemplary performance won their Region’s 12th team gold medal at the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, held July 21-26 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
“Every year I’ve been here has been a totally different experience and atmosphere,” said young rider veteran Amanda Harlan. “The families people, and team you are on are different. Each year is special and unique. You put the past behind you and bring what you have and do the best you can.”
Harlan, 19, St. Helena, Calif., who was a member of the 2007 Region 7 gold-medal team and also competed in 2006, had a solid ride on Liberte and scored 65.68 percent.
“My ride went really well,” Harlan said. “We made a couple bobbles here and there, but he was a really good boy. I couldn’t be happier. And going into a test knowing you’re on a team is really fun.”
Christine Stephenson, Mission Viejo, Calif., and Brianna Dutton, Tracy, Calif., were members of the 2008 Region 7 gold-medal team and happy to be part of the experience again.
“Being here before helps you know the process and how things work,” said Dutton, 20, who rode Tibet to a 64.10 percent. “It’s always fun to come and be involved with people your own age who are here for the same reason.”
Stephenson had the worst of the weather during the team rides and competed in the pouring rain, but similar weather conditions in June at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Festival of Champions (N.J.) prepared her.
“I made some mistakes, but everyone did,” she said of her ride on Markant, which scored 62.52 percent. “It was raining pretty hard. It wasn’t distracting, but it was a pain.”
Despite being one of the first riders of the day, Brian Hafner, San Marcos, Calif., and Lombardo LHF ended up being the top scorers for the Region 7 team. They posted the highest mark of the day of 68.84 percent.
“My ride went really well; we got lucky,” said Hafner. “My horse was super relaxed and really on, and I was super pleased with how he handled the big competition and the pressure of being here.”
Hafner, 20, contested his first and last NAJYRC and was ecstatic to be a part of the winning team.
“It was a little intimidating to be a first-year rider,” he admitted. “Region 7 is a tough team to qualify for to begin with, so I was nervous that I wasn’t going to come here and hold up to those standards. I was happy to come here and help the team out and that my horse was solid. It was really stressful watching the board all day and seeing my score hold.
“The entire experience has been unbelievable,” continued Hafner. “In a normal dressage show there’s usually only a few juniors and young riders around, but here that’s all there is. That’s a whole different atmosphere. To come and have fun at a dressage show is a new thing!”
But winning the gold medal, with a combined score of 198.63 points, wasn’t the only thing that the Region 7 team enjoyed about the NAJYRC.
“It’s fun to come here and see all of the other disciplines. We get so caught up in dressage because that’s what we do,” said Harlan. “To see the jumpers and eventers—everyone has their own style and their own way of doing things in the horse world. It’s really cool to see that.”
Region 2 (Brittany McCarthy on Gabelle, Kristen Becker on Ramses, Ashlee Todosijevic on Sjoerd and Kassandra Barteau on GP Raymeister) earned the silver medal with 197.31 points, while Region 3 (Amanda Sterns on Revance, Mary-Cameron Rollins on Rose Noir 2, McKenzie Jenkins on Tsarina Bint RII and Caroline Roffman on Accent Aigu FRH) won the bronze with 194.57.
A Sweet Victory
Mary-Cameron Rollins also did her homework after the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Festival of Champions in June.
“I rode in the mud,” she said with a laugh. “I waited for it to start raining, and then I rode her in it. When I went into the ring [for the young rider individual test] I pumped myself up and said, ‘You know what, I can do this. She can do this. Let’s make this happen.’ I think that really helped to give her confidence and helped her know that she really could make it happen.”
That confidence proved to be enough to win, as Rollins, 21, Lillian, Ala., and Rose Noir 2 posted a score of 70.26 percent and walked away with a gold medal.
“My horse is quite complicated and is a little spooky and hot,” said Rollins. “She was really on today, and I was very proud of her. I was really happy with my pirouettes, and I thought my extended walk was exceptional. It was a fun, easy, enjoyable ride.”
Rollins said she was also pleased with the way Rose Noir “kept her head on” despite the raucous applause for the eventing dressage tests taking place merely yards from their arena.
“I heard the clapping going into my first shoulder-in and thought, ‘Oh no, please stay with me,’ ” said Rollins. “She did, and once I got through it the first time I knew she was really there working with me.”
Kristen Becker, Lemont, Ill., and Ramses entered the ring on a mission but settled for silver after a powerful performance that earned them a 68.68 percent.
“At this competition anyone can win it,” she said. “You go for it, you have to, and he was on today. He felt good, and I thought I might as well push him for what he has.
“His trot work was his highlight and the extensions were great today,” she added. “He put a lot of effort into them, which was great, as he’s been a little timid with them in the arena.”
Becker and Ramses had no major mistakes, which kept them in front of Hafner and Lombardo LHF, winners of the bronze medal.
DelGiorno Dances To Double Gold
While many competitors in the junior individual dressage test had problems with the windy conditions on Saturday morning, Nicole DelGiorno used the weather to her advantage.
“The wind worked in my favor—he felt like he was dancing,” said DelGiorno of her mount Lamborghini Dane. “He can get a little bit nonchalant since he’s been there and done that. With the wind and the flags fluttering and everything moving, he was just more sparkly. It was a definite advantage to be able to go in and keep my leg off and have a really good horse for the test.”
DelGiorno, 17, Hammonton, N.J., only began riding the 10-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding in March, but they’ve developed a solid partnership after contesting the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions in June.
“It’s interesting because you stay in your Region and know how everyone rides there, and then you go to Gladstone,” said DelGiorno. “You sit down and watch all these fantastic riders and see the best junior riders in the country, and it’s very motivating. It helps you see what you need to become in order to win. I was motivated when I got home to ride better.”
Indeed, Gladstone proved to be the turning point for DelGiorno, as she topped the junior individual test with 66.31 percent over Lauren Knopp, Wellington, Fla., on Rho Dance (65.84%) and Megan Lane, Collingwood, Ont., on Caravella (65.84%). DelGiorno also won the freestyle with 68.55 percent over Lane (68.00%) and Heather Ots, De Pere, Wis., on Varekai (68.00%) despite a big spook when she entered at A.
“It started off a little shaky,” DelGiorno said of her freestyle set to music from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. “I turned into the arena, and he kind of flew to the left. It started out crazy, kind of like a rodeo, but then it got better. I think that [spook] actually helped him relieve some of his energy, and that was really good for the rest of the test.”
Because of those unpredictable moments, DelGiorno was one of the few riders in the dressage competition who chose to wear a helmet rather than a top hat.
“I’ve always been told to wear it often and always,” said DelGiorno, who is a C-2 Pony Clubber. “When I’m a young rider I have to wear a top hat, and I’m looking forward to that, as I’ve always felt it is a coming of age sort of thing to wear your top hat and tails. But it’s a dangerous sport, so I’m going to keep my helmet on as often as I can and protect myself.”
DelGiorno hopes to move up to the young rider division after competing “Lamborghini” at Dressage At Devon (Pa.) in September, the original goal for owner Kathleen Faltz.
“Devon is how this whole thing started; his owners really wanted to see him show there,” said DelGiorno. “I mentioned the championships, and she said, ‘Go for it!’
“Lamborghini is quite the character and a very smart horse,” she added. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on a horse that genuinely likes to go and show and be places like he does.”
Lamborghini Dane and DelGiorno were also part of the bronze-medal Region 1 team that included Melanie Montagano on Ga Deva, Alison Coyle on Bariton, and Kaitlin Blythe on Daverden.
Team Canada Trots Away With Gold
While it’s not surprising that the team from Ontario, Canada, was ecstatic with their victory in the junior competition, their second-favorite moment was more unusual—their celebratory ice cream after the awards ceremony.
“We were like little kids,” said Maura O’Sullivan, 17, Toronto, Ont., with a laugh. “We all had our top hats and ribbons on with ice cream cones trying not to drip on ourselves.”
Teammates Megan Lane, 18, on Caravella and Alexandra Dvorak, 18, on Fling had competed at NAJYRC in 2008 as individuals, but the remaining two team members hadn’t shown together before this year. They all embraced the experience.
“It was nice having [Alex and Megan] around to guide us,” said O’Sullivan. “They had everything under control and were very organized.”
Even though they hadn’t competed as a team, all four members, including Zachary Ball, 16, Mountain, Ont., on Karajan, knew each other from the Ontario dressage circuit.
“There’s not a lot of shows to go to in Canada,” said Dvorak with a laugh.
The junior team competitors had the benefit of good weather on Thursday and only had to deal with the intense atmosphere of the newly built stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“It’s different than anything we’ve ever experienced before,” said Dvorak, Hillsburgh, Ont. “There are actually people watching, which we don’t normally have, and you’re in a stadium, which none of us had ridden in before. There’s a lot to look at in there.”
“My horse was a little tense,” admitted Ball, who finished in the middle of the pack with Karajan. “But it was good, and I learned a lot from it.”
Lane and Caravella had the winning ride with 67.18 percent, and O’Sullivan finished third with Pik Czar with 65.56 percent. Dvorak’s score of 63.67 percent on Fling boosted the team to the gold medal with a combined score of 196.43 points.
“I had one of my best rides [on Caravella],” said Lane. “I was lucky to have had it here.”
Ball and O’Sullivan have another year in the junior division and hope to qualify for next year’s team. Lane and Dvorak plan on moving up to contest the young rider division.
“We’re really happy to have such a great group of people backing us and making this possible,” said Dvorak.
“And we have fabulous horses,” finished O’Sullivan. “That also helps!”
Region 3 finished in the silver-medal spot with a combined score of 190.59.
“We’re all best friends,” said Knopp of her Region 3 teammates. “We hang out a lot and talk on the phone. We already knew each other, and we were supportive.”
Knopp posted a score of 63.45 percent on Rho Dance, and combined with Jessica Deimler on Ragtime V (62.81%), Ellen Wall on Tvauri (64.32%) and Katrin Dagge on Dream Of Love (56.27%), they clinched second.
“This is the junior Olympics of our age, and it really gives you a feel of what it’s going to be like if we ever make it there,” said Knopp of her NAJYRC experience. “It gives us a sneak peek into it. The people are nice, and all of the competitors are kind of friends even if we don’t know each other. It’s a great experience to be here.”
Barteau Ends Storied Young Rider Career With Gold
Kassandra Barteau’s career has been nothing short of a fairytale experience. With three national young rider titles under her belt and various medals from the FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships—including team gold (Gabriella, 2005), two team silvers (Bentley, 2006 and Gabriella, 2007) and individual bronze (Gabriella, 2007)—the only thing missing from her collection was an individual gold medal.
GP Raymeister’s performance in the young rider freestyle changed all that, how-ever, and their graceful, flowing test to music from the movie The Man From Snowy River earned them a 73 percent and lifted them into the top spot. Barteau was also awarded the Fiona Baan Memorial Trophy.
“I’m overwhelmingly happy,” said Barteau, Maple Park, Ill. “ ‘Ray’ finally calmed down and relaxed, and he was really with me even though it was windy and things were blowing around. He was so focused on me and felt the best he felt all weekend. I was super proud of him; it’s definitely the best young rider test I’ve ever done.”
Barteau is no stranger to riding to music, as her parents, Yvonne and Kim Barteau, often perform at exhibitions all over the country.
“We have a lot of different horses doing a lot of different freestyles,” said Barteau, 20. “My mom cuts all the music and does all her own choreography.”
GP Raymeister, a 9-year-old Holsteiner stallion, made his debut with Kassandra in March of 2007 at first level, and they’ve moved up the levels together. Just this spring they began competing in Intermediaire I.
“Ginna Frantz, Ray’s owner, has given us all the support we need. She’s a wonderful owner,” said Kassandra, who also credited her parents, as well as trainer Cathy Morelli. “Cathy’s help over the last couple years has been really huge in my riding.”
Brian Hafner on Lombardo LHF (69.60%) narrowly edged out Kristen Becker on Ramses (69.60%) for the silver.