With two rounds of jumping action left for Sunday, the last day of 2008 NAJYRC competition, Zone 10 riders were breathing down each other’s necks for the gold medal, all three separated by less than two faults total. Going in reverse order of standings, the California trio was last to enter the ring for a double-dose of well-designed Olaf Peterson Jr. courses. Big oxers, technical lines, and another water jump greeted the twenty contestants left standing after the first three runs earlier in the week inside the Colorado Horse Park’s main Grand Prix ring, and they appeared determined to make it interesting.
The top ten riders saw just two go clean in the first round over a longer course, with time allowed playing a role and the water claiming a victim or two along the way. Fourth place rider from Zone 8, Sarah Tredennick, was unable to gain any ground on the west coast challengers when she tipped the water and also incurred a time penalty for five faults. Tredennick needed Selleck, Cook, and/or Dotson to help her case for cracking the top spots by putting down more than a rail of their own. Trouble was, someone forgot to send them the memo.
Karl Cook competes in the final round for a chance at a gold medal
“These kids have been fantastic the whole week, especially in the Young Rider division,” said Butch Thomas, their Chef d’Equipe for the Rocky Mountain experience. “The three that were in contention all the way were within a rail of each other the whole time. Brilliant jumping and brilliant riding,” Thomas added with pride. “They’re tough.”
They showed just how tough when the shorter second course was unveiled for the last round of Young Riders jumping action in 2008. After Tredennick provided more breathing room with a rail down in the final round, the Zone 10 riders were left to compete for all the medals. It just hadn’t been figured out who was getting what, and the gold wouldn’t be assayed until the very last contestant arrived on the scene.
Selleck was third from last, and she made things interesting with a zero on the board accompanied by a loud cheer from the gathered crowd. When Cook rode next, he put a rail down, losing his bid for back-to-back Individual titles and leaving Dotson an opportunity to either grab the gold with a clean round or let Selleck enjoy the spoils of victory for herself.
Dotson was late getting to the in-gate, leaving spectators buzzing, but she eventually arrived aboard Friponnier II CH for the moment of truth.
“I had a little spill in the warm-ups,” Dotson explained later about her tardy arrival to the ring. “I was jumping my last vertical and my horse jumped it so high that I fell off.”
After collecting herself, Dotson took on Olaf Peterson Jr.’s course with determination, leaving everything up and getting the crowd excited as she rode toward the last two fences. She easily cleared the vertical and then sped toward the very last obstacle, a gold medal within her grasp, until the final fence fell and replaced it with bronze.
“I was thinking, I’m almost there, just leave it up,” described Dotson about nearing the final obstacle. “And I didn’t manage to do that, obviously,” she finished with a good-natured laugh at her own expense.
“I thought she was going to jump clear,” said Selleck about her thoughts during Dotson’s last performance.
Asked if there were any conflicting thoughts of whether to root for or against her teammate, Selleck admitted to none.
“You always have to root for your teammates,” she answered. “If you jinx them, that karma is going to come back to you,” she added with a laugh. “I don’t try and wish them ill. I’m not going to do that.”
When a follow up question was posed regarding her feelings about NAJYRC gold, Selleck had an easy answer.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said with a pleased expression. I’ve had some disappointment before, like last year I wasn’t able to do it because my horse got hurt. That’s a big disappointment, but it kind of makes it all the sweeter to be able to come back and do this.”
“We were so close,” offered Cook about the competition between teammates over the last four days. “You saw how Hannah was like a quarter of a fault less than me at the end. And if Paige would have had one less rail, she would have been a fault better than Hannah. So it was so close and there was so little room for error, it just gives you that drive to really focus hard.”
“We know each one of our teammates can go out there and do it well,” said Selleck. “So it puts the pressure on. I think it makes me ride better when I know there is someone there who can do just as well.”
The team performing so well after last year’s top finishes provided a measure of satisfaction to Cook, event though he lost his bid for four gold medals and had to settle for three golds and one silver.
“This year was kind of to prove that we are doing well,” said Cook about wanting to show Zone 10 was for real. “We wanted to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. It is just me and Paige who are on the team this year that were also on last year’s team, and we want to prove that we have more than just those riders who can win the gold like we did last year. It is almost a completely different team this year and we still got “B” Team Gold and we did it again in “A” Team,” he added. “It is solidifying that we have the riders of a certain caliber that many people didn’t think we had.”
“They are unreal. Unreal,” said Thomas about his pupils for the competition. “They’re pretty hard to beat.”
With all the positive experience he has had over the last two years, Cook was asked if he would recommend the NAJYRC to anyone who is wondering whether it is worth attending.
“Yes,” he said in reply. “Regardless of how well you do, it just gives you so much experience to move forward, if that is your goal. Since we get to work as a team I think it builds character, as well. It gives a different side to each of the disciplines because you are representing your area and so you feel pride when you do well. Even when you don’t do well, you come out of it with so much more experience because you don’t get this kind of atmosphere anywhere else,” he added. “The only way to get this exposure for the Olympics or World Cup is that you have to come to this, because then you know how to handle yourself when you are in those situations.”
“It feels great because everyone is so good,” summed up Selleck about her experience of being on this talented team from California. “No one cracked and it just puts the pressure on and makes you do better.”
2008 proved Zone 10 is no fluke when it comes to winning medals. Now it’s up to the rest of North America’s Young Riders to rise to the challenge and see if they have a bigger taste for some precious metal of their own.