Winners of the Children Team Jumping, USA zones 8/9/10 – Dianette and Lilah Nakatani, Douwe and Jordan Gibbs, Elba 41 and Reagan Tomb. FEI/Georgie Hammond – Phelps Media Group.
The FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) 2021, formerly the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, continues to evolve. After a year hiatus, the prestigious event returned with a new location in Traverse City, MI as well as a new category in the Pre-Junior Championship. But the abundance of talent remained the same.
The USA’s Zone 4 — made up of riders hailing from the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina — dominated jumping competition, claiming three of the four team Championships, while the American west coast shined brightest in dressage.
The Children’s category of Jumping made its debut when this event was last held in 2019, and the division has grown, with Mexico sending forward two teams for the first time. Mexico North and Mexico South would take up two-thirds of the team podium, but both would fall just short of USA’s Zone 8/9/10.
The pressure was on anchor rider Reagan Tomb (Elba), who needed to produce a clear effort to secure a victory. Tomb delivered, clinching the gold medal for teammates Lilah Nakatani (Dianett), Leila Diab (Unang de Kergane), and Jordan Gibbs (Douwe) on a collective score of just four faults.
“It was kind of a lot of pressure, because I didn’t know how I was going to win. After the last jump, I sat up super tall, and everyone started clapping and were all really happy.” — Reagan Tomb (Team USA)
That left Mexico South and Mexico North — both on eight faults — to jump-off for the remaining medals, and Mexico South ultimately earned silver, with Mexico North bronze. However, Mexico would get its turn atop the podium in individual competition, with Jimena Carrillo Watanabe (First Time LS) of Mexico North emerging victorious from another jump-off.
At the conclusion of individual competition, six riders remarkably sat on perfect “0” scores. Carrilo Watanabe proved fastest in the tiebreaker, and all three individual medalists completed the competition without touching a pole. Lenir Alejandro Perez Facusse (Di Vadine) of Honduras received the silver medal, with Carrillo Watanabe’s teammate Alessandro Neumann Priess (Corlinus) finishing as the individual bronze medalist.
The addition of the Pre-Junior category to jumping competition further enhanced a gradual pipeline of rider progression in the sport in North America. With fences set up to 1.30m, the Pre-Junior division bridges the gap between Children’s (1.25m) and Junior (1.40m) competition.
The USA’s Zone 4 rallied for a come-from-behind victory, with teammates Mia Albelo (Cocominka EST), Caia Watridge (Iselle van Orshof), Trinity Beitler (Coconut), and Lawson Whitaker (Brownie and Cream) each producing at least one clear round for the team. The squad completed the final round of team competition without a single fault, which would comfortably propel them ahead of Mexico North and USA Zone 10, despite Mexico North solidly holding an early lead.
“All of them contributed to the team score, and it was very tight going into the last round today, and they pulled it out with three clears,” said Zone 4 Chef d’Equipe Kim Land. “It was really a huge team effort, and we’re so excited for them and the future of the sport because of them.”
“I’m very blessed and very honored to have this gold medal and to be on this team,” Whitaker added. “It’s really a dream come true.”
Zone 4’s Mia Albelo added a second gold medal with the individual title. Having won the opening qualifying competition, the 16-year-old rider entered the individual final on a flawless score. Albelo delivered under the utmost pressure, jumping yet another clear round aboard her 10-year-old mare Cocominka EST to clinch gold. Zone 10’s Caroline Mawhinney (Stella Levista) received the silver medal, with Xaviera Maurer Burch (Con Rouet) of Mexico North bronze.
“I’m so lucky to have come back today in the top spot,” Albelo said. “Going through those timers, keeping all the rails up was pretty emotional.”
Zone 4 jump-started a winning streak with another gold medal-worthy performance in Junior competition. The group of Hailey Royce (Sonic Boom), Ansgar Holtgers Jr. (Elina), Reid Arani (Ziezo), and Zayna Rizvi (Excellent) finished the team final impressively, with two rails in hand.
Called the “Zone 4 Dream Team” by Chef d’Equipe Kim Land, Holtgers, Jr. and Rizvi produced critical double-clear efforts for their teammates, which put Zone 4 on a total score of 10.15. Canada jumped onto the podium with the silver medal (20.62), while USA Zone 5/6 earned team bronze (27.48).
“I went last, so I had a lot of pressure on me, but I had faith in him, and he was so good, at every single jump,” Rizvi said of her mount.
“Words can’t describe this feeling,” Holtgers, Jr. added.
Proving the merit of Land’s words, Rizvi and Holtgers, Jr. went on to claim the top two individual medals of the competition. Rizvi and Excellent jumped to their second gold medal, finishing the competition on just 2.46 penalties. Holtgers, Jr. (Elina) took the silver, with Canada’s Lea Rucker (Evita) bronze.
A year hiatus did not change much for Region 4, who rode to a second consecutive title in the Junior team Dressage competition. With just three riders, the Region 4 squad did not have the luxury of a drop score, but it wasn’t needed, with sisters Kylee (Honor) and Lexie (Montagny von der Heide) Kment and Ella Fruchterman nearly five percentage points better than runners-up Region 7. USA Region 3 rounded out the podium.
“I am elated to see these girls up there, because it is the second year in a row that we’ve been atop the podium at NAYC,” said Nancy Gorton, who, alongside Ann Sushko, served as Chef d’Equipe for Region 4. “Region 4 has always been the underdog — we’re the flyover states — but I think that what we’re seeing is the dedication to the sport that’s been passed down over generations.”
The Kment sisters again shared the podium in the NAYC Junior Individual Championship, with Lexie and Kylee finishing first and second, respectively. The sisters were separated by just one percentage point. Kat Fuqua, who competed in both dressage and jumping at NAYC, received the bronze medal.
In her NAYC debut, Lexie Kment rode to a third gold medal by week’s end, topping the Junior Freestyle Championship with a score of 74.775 percent. Julia McDonald (Lehndorff van de Vogelzang) of Region 2 received the silver medal, while Fuqua claimed her third bronze medal of the week aboard her own Dreamgirl.
Zone 4 emphatically capped its week with a third gold medal in Young Rider competition. Erika Jacobson (Everton), Riley Delbecq (Julesraimus de Brisy), Violet Lindemann Barnett (Alanine de Vains), and Ashley Vogel (Bellissimo Z) brought their team from fourth to first with just a single rail and a time fault against them over the course of the two rounds of the team final.
Zone 2 would make it close, and while anchor rider Mimi Gochman (Celina BH) delivered with a double-clear performance, it wasn’t quite enough to overtake the lead. Zone 2 settled for silver, with Canada bronze.
“From the [opening] speed and today, through each round, they just got better and better,” Zone 4 Chef d’Equipe Kim Land said. “They moved up. They were fourth, then they were second, and then they won gold. I’m incredibly proud of them for their accomplishment.”
After riding to individual gold in the Junior championship two years ago, Gochman claimed her second individual title at NAYC, this time in the Young Rider Individual Championship aboard Celina BH. Gochman led from start to finish, completing the competition on a perfect “0” score. Mexico’s Daniel Rihan Goyeneche (Chousa Sho Z) and USA Zone 4’s Violet Lindemann Barnett (Alanine de Vains) completed the podium with individual silver and bronze, respectively.
“Jumping this many rounds is tough on any day, and it’s really important this week,” Gochman said. “I was super thrilled to continue to jump clear throughout the whole week.”
Region 7 received the gold medal in the Young Rider Dressage Team Championship with a dominant performance. Erin Nichols (Handsome Rob AR), Miki Yang (Donavan), Katherine Mathews (Soliére), and Christian Simonson (Zeaball Diawind) were so impressive, the team’s drop score was higher than two of the three scores on Region 1’s silver medal-winning squad.
It was much closer for the remaining medals, with less than two percentage points separating silver and bronze. USA Region 2 just edged Region 4, who received the bronze medal.
Simonson was also the individual champion — and the only rider to score above 70 percent in the competition. In the individual final, Simonson also rode to a personal best score of 75.353 percent. The 19-year-old has had the ride on Christina Morgan’s 9-year-old gelding for two years.
“When I was on the podium, I was thinking about the fact that the last time I rode the individual test at a NAYC, I was disqualified,” said Simonson, who trains with U.S. Olympian Adrienne Lyle. “Thinking about that and the fact that I’m here now with a different horse, one that we’ve brought up and shown step by step and I’ve been a part of the whole process — to be able to redeem myself in that individual test was an amazing feeling.”
Simonson’s successful week concluded with an exclamation point, as he rode to one last gold medal in the Young Rider Freestyle Championship. Simonson and Zeaball Diawind continued to bring their scores up, this time receiving a 78.935 percent from the judges — setting a new record for the highest score awarded in the FEI Young Rider Freestyle Test. The judge at B even awarded this pair an 81.375 percent. Region 1’s Allison Nemeth (Tiko) received the silver medal, finishing less than two-tenths of a percentage point ahead of bronze medallist Tillie Jones (Qi Gong TF) of Region 4.
View full results from NAYC here.
By Catie Staszak
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