All of us at PS.com are excited to have Taylor Land joining the PhelpsSport.com team for our coverage this week at North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. She will adding a daily column and will be interviewing the top finishers in our major events.
She’s eminently qualified…….
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Taylor is currently studying journalism as an undergraduate at New York University. She has been riding since the age of 2 and has competed at many junior and young rider events. As a member of Zone 4 Prix de States and Young Rider teams for the last five years, Taylor anchored her team to double Gold at Prix de States in 2008. She was also the Individual Gold medalist at the Australia Youth Olympic Festival and participated on the U.S. Young Rider tour in Europe in 2009.
PhelpsSports' Taylor Land with Master Chef Ralph Caristo of Zone 2
The show jumping at Young Riders wrapped up this afternoon after three days of tough jumping. The Nation’s Cup competitions yesterday were intense, and the battles for individual medals in both the Junior and Young Rider sections today were even more heated!
The Junior Nation’s Cup was scheduled to begin yesterday at 4:30 pm. There was a thirty-minute delay to the start because… you guessed it! Another rainstorm arrived. I was busy making orange and blue signs to support Zone 4 before the class, so I failed to see the clouds rolling in and my signs ended up with a rather drippy, watercolor look as a result. Luckily for everyone, the thunder and wind stayed under control and the show was able to proceed as planned. The Junior riders’ course for the Nation’s Cup was somewhat bigger and more difficult than the speed round on Thursday, and only four riders- Abby McArdle, Charlotte Jacobs, Kalvin Dobbs, Lillie Keenan- managed to jump two clear rounds.
The last line of the course proved to be the most challenging portion for most of the riders. The large, square oxer against the rail leading into the line caused a lot of problems. There were six strides between that oxer and the final triple, which was a vertical-vertical-oxer combination with only one stride in between each element. Many of the horses got strong towards the end of the course, and the final line was coming towards the gate. This caused many of the horses to get flat in the six and have rails down in the triple, which rode very tight. Two riders had all four jumps down in the last line.
As the final round came to a close, Zone 2 led the pack, Zone 5 was in the silver medal position, and Zone 4 clinched the bronze. Zone 2’s team of Charlotte Jacobs, Kira Kerkorian, Katherine Strauss, and Lillie Keenan finished with a grand total of nine faults. They maintained their lead throughout the competition, and when Lillie went in for the final round the team was already guaranteed the gold medal. Lillie said, “everyone was telling me, ‘don’t worry, you guys have already won gold!” but, like any good competitor, she already had her eye on the individual championship and insisted, “don’t tell my horse that, we could still have rails!”
I asked Abby McArdle how she felt after going clear in the first Nation’s Cup round and she replied, “I don’t want to say anything cause I don’t want to jinx myself!” I guess her secrecy strategy worked because she proceeded to have another clear round to take the individual lead as the only rider with no faults after the first three rounds of competition. Zone 5’s silver medal placing was particularly impressive because they only had a three-person team. Zone 4 also made a big comeback in the second round to move up from sixth place to the bronze medal position.
Night was falling as the Junior award presentation came to a close, and the Young Riders walked their course in the twilight with classic rock, including Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith, playing over the loudspeakers. It was such a lovely summer night that I think all the trainers, Chef D’Equipes, and parents were ready for a cool drink and some barbeque, but there was no time to relax before the excitement started again. The Young Rider course included some very intimidating jumps and complicated lines. Mr. Jeffery tended towards very tough last lines in his courses this week, and the Young Rider Nation’s Cup was no exception. The final line featured the open water, six strides to a tall vertical, then four steady strides to a big oxer-vertical one stride combination, all heading straight towards the in-gate. Jumping under the lights in the Rolex Stadium also proved to be a challenge for many of the competitors. There were a lot of refusals and eliminations, and Madison Cameron and her horse Winberra (left), hailing from Zone 9, were the only pair to jump clear in the first round.
Zone 2’s team of Meg O’ Mara, Lydia Ulrich, Callie Smith, and Mattias Tromp persevered to win the gold medal with a total of twenty-one faults. The three riders from Zones 3, 7, and 8 kept their cool in the second round to snatch the silver medal from the Zone 10 team, who ended up with the bronze. All the Young Riders agreed that the course was quite difficult and that they felt pressured to perform well for their teammates. Charlotte Gadbois from Zone 10 stated, “I’ve never had team experience, so I loved this. It’s definitely added pressure because you not only want to do well for yourself, you want to do well for your team and prove that you’re meant to be here.” The exhilaration of team competition is an incredible experience, and I can testify that several of my closest friends are girls who I’ve been team mates with. As team mates, you can’t help but support and cheer for each other, and I think every rider should participate in team competition if they have the opportunity.
The Young Rider Nation’s Cup finally wrapped up around 11:00 pm. The riders only had time to take naps last night because a second FEI jog began at 6:30 this morning to ensure the horses’ soundness and ability to continue showing. This is the first time there has ever been a second jog for the show jumpers at NAJYRC, but it is also the first time the schedule did not provide the horses and riders with a day off before the individual final. Understandably, the show was filled with many tired and grumpy teenagers this morning. However, Charlotte Jacobs said that once she started riding, “the adrenaline kicked in,” and Abby McArdle coped with her sleepiness by eating Doritos and drinking Red Bull. “Not sugar free red bull! I needed all the sugar I could get,” Abby laughed.
The Junior individual started at 7:30 am. After the top four all jumped clean in the first round, Charlotte Jacobs, Shawn Casady, and Lillie Keenan were tied for second place with four faults each, and Abby McArdle was in the lead with no faults at all. An unlucky rail for Lillie in the second round and perfect performances from the other three riders left Charlotte and Shawn to jump off for the silver and bronze medals, and Abby as the outright victor. It is very rare at NAJYRC for the winner of the speed class to win the individual final because he or she usually cracks under the pressure of being in the lead. Abby, however, looked more confident in every round and her horse (Cosmo 20, below left) could not have jumped better. She really proved herself to be a cool-headed and determined competitor this week.
As Abby began celebrating her victory, Charlotte and Shawn (pictured above) were busy preparing to jump off. Charlotte rode first and laid down a very fast time, but a speedy rollback to an oxer-vertical one stride resulted in a four-fault score. Shawn rode more conservatively and executed a beautiful, slow clear. When I told Shawn after the class that I thought he had nerves of steel, he jokingly replied, “Nerves of steel? Nope, I just don’t have nerves at all!” All three of the top juniors rode beautifully today and refused to cave into pressure.
After the Junior jump off, the excitement continued with the Young Rider individual final. For as cool, calm, and collected as the Junior riders were today, the Young Riders were quite the opposite. The first course was not massively high, but it was very demanding and required a confident ride. Rails flew left and right as the morning wore on, and not a single rider finished the first round with no penalties. Kilian McGrath and Salerno were the only pair to leave all the jumps up, and they crossed the finish timers with just a single time fault. This impressive performance rocketed Kilian from fifth place all the way to second going into round number two. There was also a change at the top of the leader board when Mattias Tromp picked up twenty faults, dropping him from first place all the way to fourth. Mattias handed the number one position over to his teammate Callie Smith, who finished the first round with eight faults.
The championship was far from over, and the placing continued to shift in the second round. Lydia Ulrich, who had climbed from seventh to third in the first round, maintained her position by posting a four-fault effort and earning a grand total of 27.28 faults. Kilian almost managed another round without rails, but just ticked the last jump out in the second round to finish with a total of 22.92 faults. Callie Smith was last to go and had a six-point lead going into the second round. However, the pressure of being in the gold medal position and needing to perform well took its toll on Callie just as it had on Mattias, and she had the last two jumps down. This gave her a total of 24 faults and earned her the silver medal, leaving Kilian McGrath as the victor.
When asked if she imagined she would win individual gold when she woke up this morning, Kilian (pictured right, with a high five with teammate Charlotte Gadbois) replied, “No, I really didn’t. I just wanted to be consistent and give my horse a good ride.” This year’s individual results are definitely a testament to the unique challenges that a championship format poses for both riders and horses. Many top horses were eliminated today simply because they ran out of steam, and many top riders made big mistakes simply because they were nervous. Kilian and Abby both proved this week that championship riding is all about consistency and perseverance. Anything can happen, so you have to ride your best in every round and let the chips fall where they may.
Horse show moms from left - Joyce McArdle, Kim Land, Tricia Boone, and Taneen Dobbs
Shawn Casady giving Yogi Bear a drink of water
Today was definitely more successful than yesterday at NAJYRC if solely for the fact that all the riders actually competed. The 8 o’ clock start this morning allowed enough time for both the Juniors and Young Riders to show before thunder clouds rolled in again in the afternoon. Despite the rain, no jumps or tents blew over today so everyone seems happy.
The Junior competition started the day off with the same Table A. speed class that was set yesterday. When I first walked up to the ring, I thought to myself, “wow, this course looks really similar to yesterday…” and then I remembered it was the same class. The course featured an unimposing meter 1.35 verticle to start, a quick turn back on another verticle, and a long gallop to a normal four-stride line. Jump five was a turn back on a big oxer in a difficult setting with a liverpool underneath. A lot of horses had that jump down. After that was a curving seven strides to an oxer-verticle-oxer triple, then a bit of a gallop to the open water. After the water, the riders had to get their horses back under control for a skinny verticle and a 180-degree rollback on another verticle. Then they galloped forward to another big oxer and made a turn to the last line, which was comprised of an oxer and five strides to a vertical-oxer one stride in-and-out.
Overall, the course, designed by Richard Jeffery (right), was not trappy or overly difficult, but it definitely posed a challenge and only the top four riders jumped it clear. Shawn Casady of Zone 4 took an early lead, which Abby McArdle (left) of Zone 5 snatched from him towards the end of the class. Abby won by an impressive five seconds, with Shawn in second, Gabrielle Basauno in third, and Ashley Foster in fourth. When I asked Shawn if he was mad about Abby beating him, he replied, “well, no, because I was still clear!” In the Junior section, the riders with the same number of faults in the speed round, no matter what their placing, are currently tied in the individual standings.
The top three finishers all started the morning off a little differently today. Abby drove to the show while listening to “really bad radio music,” which she didn’t think helped pump her up for the class. Her fuel for the win this morning was a few bites of a caramel apple her boyfriend Martin brought her yesterday. Shawn (below right), on the other hand, had a much heartier breakfast. He claims, “I just opened the fridge and ate whatever I could find.” This turned out to be a Greek yogurt, pepperoni, and bruschetta, which he washed down with “a 20 oz. coffee and a free Krispy Kreme donut from the FEI credential-checking lady’s outpost at the show” as well as several handfuls of peppermint candies. He claims this was the breakfast of champions, stating, “Krispy Kremes are really good donuts.” He also took his horse for a walk and listened to Led Zeppelin to get in the zone before showing. One thing the top three Junior finishers had in common this morning besides clear rounds was a massive craving for sugar. Gabrielle Bausano began the day with cake batter frozen yogurt with cookie dough and chocolate shavings. She admitted, “that probably isn’t the ideal breakfast of champions, but it worked for me this morning!” Gabrielle cited the Beach Boys as her go-to tunes before competition because “their music helps me relax.”
The early start for the Juniors meant the Young Rider Table C. speed class began around 10:15 am. Luckily, the weather was much cooler after yesterday’s rain, so it was still in the mid-80s when the Young Riders jumped. Richard Jeffery built another smooth yet deceptively challenging course that ranged from meter 1.40 to 1.45 in height. The speed class for the Young Rider section is scored differently from the Junior section. For each rail a horse and rider have down, four seconds is added to their score. At the end of the class, the riders’ final times are divided by half, the winner is given a score of zero, and all the other finishers are given faults based on how close their halved times are to that of the winner.
Meg O’ Mara (left) of Zone 2 took an early lead with a very fast time over the course but one rail down and a foot in the water. One of her teammates, Callie Smith, rode a beautiful round with a slower original time but no jumps down to take over the top spot. Mattias Tromp rounded out the top three with nothing but the very last rail down. He told me hearing the last rail fall made him “want to scream!” Kaitlin Campbell was fourth with two rails down. Less than four faults currently separate the top four, so the individual championship win is still anybody’s game.
As for the Young Riders’ pre-show antics, today’s winner claims she gets her edge from drinking Mountain Dew, saying, “My friend’s call it my ‘jet fuel.’” Callie (right) loves riding under pressure and she listens to music with good beats, like “Feel So Close” and “Levels,” before she shows to get her adrenaline going. When I asked about her horse, Upstaire, she said she loves horses who are a little mouthy and fell in love with him instantly when he bit her the first day she tried him. I guess it really was a love bite! Meg also shares a special bond with her horse, who she calls “Snotty,” and yesterday I saw him lift his head and whinny when he heard her walk in the barn. Meg started off today with a Special-K bar. She definitely won the award for the healthiest breakfast! She also said she loves getting pumped up to music in the car on the way to the show, and her go-to song is “Let’s Go” by Matt and Kim.
Today was really exciting to watch! The dressage riders were kind enough to change their schedule around for tomorrow, so the show jumping nation’s cup has been moved back to the Rolex Stadium and will start at 4:30 pm. The Juniors will compete first, and the Young Riders will show in the evening under the giant stadium lights. I can’t wait to see what happens! I hope all the riders eat a little bit healthier breakfasts tomorrow… If they don’t, everyone might have a massive sugar crash in the afternoon and fall off in the water jump. I will keep you updated!