This past summer the North American Junior Young Rider Championships were held at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Co and I was fortunate enough to be selected to represent Ontario and Canada in the Eventing 1* division. Having competed at NAJYRC in Kentucky in 2015, I knew what a challenging and rewarding experience this would be. A goal that I had been training for had come to fruition and it was exciting to be part of such an incredibly talented Ontario team. My horse Sophie was excited at first until she learned she had a 2 day, 2000 km trailer ride to get there, but I promised her she’d get to run around a really fun x-co track and she was back on board with my plan. I left out the part that she’d be competing at 5900 ft elevation and figured I’d break the news to her once she was on the trailer and half way across Iowa.
Princess Sophia and I have been together for 4 1/2 years. I bought her from Karl Slezak and picked her up on New Years Eve. It was an awesome way to ring in the new year and set goals for the future. With Karl’s guidance and coaching Sophie and I moved up the ranks from entry to the preliminary level. In the first few weeks I had Sophie I quickly learned that she was a fiery little mare with lots of sass and I was excited for the challenges and adventures that the future held for both of us. In the early stages of our partnership, I got a good taste of her lively personality… and the dirt. Things really came together for us in the 2013 season and we were the 2013 Ontario Pre-Training division champions. Since then we have gone on to accomplish being the 2014 Ontario Training Champion and was top placed Ontario Young Rider at NAJYRC in Kentucky in 2015. As a young aspiring event rider, I was often asked the question of why I didn’t buy something with more experience that could show me the ropes of upper level eventing? I would tell them that the opportunity of being part of a horses journey of progressing through the levels and turning into a true competitor, and knowing that you did it all yourself is a feeling I wouldn’t trade for a four star horse. Still to this day I would not change my answer, as the lessons that my little mare has taught me and the people I’ve met along the way are priceless.
In preparation for NAJYRC 2016 in Colorado, I headed south at the beginning of December 2015 to Ocala, Florida to continue my training and working student program with Jon Holling. I worked and trained with Jon in the winter/spring of 2015 and although there was a steep learning curve, I looked forward to being immersed in the environment that only a top level competition program can provide. Location at my home base in Belle River, is one of my biggest challenges as coaching and shows are very far away. I knew that taking time off from school to head south to train was a must if I wanted to accomplish the goals I had for NAJYRC 2016. Sophie and I had a great winter season competing in the CC1* at the Ocala Horse Properties with our personal best score of 45 penalty points in dressage and a clear showjumping round. It seemed as though a winter of working and training hard was paying off. When I got home I stationed myself at Holly Jacks Equestrian to train until I was named to the Ontario 1* team and excitably, alongside an incredibly talented team with some good friends, I was off to compete again at NAJYRC.
Young Riders is always an experience like no other. It’s a competition that tests your ability to deal with the pressures of being on a team, the focus required to compete your best and the courage to put it all on the line. I couldn’t have been happier with Sophie in the dressage phase as she was more relaxed and obedient then ever. We did not score as well as I had hoped, but our score was still competitive enough to help put the Ontario 1* team in gold medal position at the end of day two. Next was cross-country day. Sophie tore around a difficult one star championship track, doing what she loves best to finish double clear, adding no penalty points to her dressage score. Showjumping lead to an unfortunate two rails down for Sophie and I, however the rest of the round she jumped her socks off for me. The team finished just a fraction of a point out of bronze medal position to finish fourth in the team divisions.
The relationship you have with your team truly is a unique experience. The pressure comes from not wanting to let your teammates down with a bad score and still wanting to preform at your personal best. At the end of the day, whether somebody had a good day or a bad day, you know your team was there to support you. When I watched my teammates compete I would be just as nervous for them then I was for myself!
Overall the North American Young Riders Championships is, as always, the highlight of the summer for many future top event riders and an experience to remember.