By US Equestrian Communications Department
The first podium day for Gotham North FEI North American Youth Championships for jumping, presented by USHJA, took the form of the Children’s and Pre-Junior Team Competition. It was the combined Zone 8/9/10 team who claimed gold in the Children’s Team Competition, including teammates Lilah Nakatani, Leila Diab, Jordan Gibbs and Reagan Tomb. Emerging at the top of the podium during the Pre-Junior categories inaugural year, the United States’ Zone 4, made up of Mia Albelo, Caia Watridge, Trinity Beitler and Lawson Whitaker, landed on 10.79 total faults (after the Phase I conversion) to earn gold in the Pre-Junior Team Competition. Junior and Young Rider competitors debuted in their respective First Individual Qualifier classes, with Genevieve Munson (USA) and Mimi Gochman (USA) taking the top honors in the $5,000 Junior First Individual Qualifier, presented by Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, and the $10,000 Young Rider Individual Qualifier, respectively.
Gotham North FEI NAYC Children’s Team Competition, presented by USHJA
Taking to the International Ring first thing in the morning, the Children’s Team competition began with each rider from all six teams competing over Alan Wade’s (IRL) 12-obstacle track. USA’s Zone 8/9/10 and Mexico South led the way heading into Thursday’s competition, both coming in on 0 faults. USA’s Zone 1/4 and Mexico North followed closely behind on just 4 faults each.
Set at the 1.25m height, all 21 horse-and-rider combinations laid it all on the line to produce clear rounds for their respective teams. The pressure to maintain their foot-perfect work from Wednesday’s competition was on for the USA’s Zone 8/9/10 and Mexico South. In Round 1, the two teams were neck-and-neck, both posting a total of 4 faults to the scoreboard with their drop score considered.
“I went third for my team and I was really just focusing on having a smooth round. Today you didn’t have to go fast, you just had to be under the time allowed and preferably clear,” Gibbs, member of the USA’s Zone 8/9/10 team, added. “I had a nice first round and I was just thinking about how I could have an identical ride in the second round.”
In Round 2, Zone 8/9/10’s Gibbs, Nakatani and Diab rode to a team total of 4 faults. An unfortunate 12 and 4-fault finish for two athletes on Mexico South’s team would leave the door open for Zone 8/9/10’s final rider, Tomb, to deliver a clear effort in hopes of achieving team gold. Tomb and her mount Elba 41 were fast and clear in the second round, helping to clinch the win for the USA’s Zone 8/9/10 as the only team on just 4 faults.
Tomb spoke about her thoughts going in as the last rider for her team, “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!”
At the conclusion of Round 2, Mexico South and Mexico North would both sit on 8 faults, forcing a jump-off between the two teams to determine who would take silver and who would take bronze. Ultimately, it would be Mexico South’s Emily Cinnamon Alvarez Beltran, Lucia Michel Rodriguez, Jorge Maurer Buch and Sergio Nieto Rullan who would stand atop the podium in the second place position after riding their way to a fault-free jump-off. Mexico North, made up of Alessandro Neumann Priess, Alejandra Sierra Valenzuela, Lorena Nieto Rullan and Jimena Carrillo Watanabe, rounded out the top three to take home the bronze medal after producing a 4-fault jump-off.
“I think the [North American Youth Championship program] is fantastic. This is actually my first experience,” explained Zone 8/9/10 Chef d’Equipe Susan Hutchison. “I’m stepping in for Michael Endicott who has been the [Chef d’Equipe] all year for the team. He was unfortunately ill and couldn’t make the trip so I stepped in”
Leading the pack on the Children’s Individual card is Gibbs and Douwe. The pair’s win during Wednesday’s Gotham North/FEI North American Children’s Jumping Championship First Individual Qualifier, presented by USHJA, set a strong precedent for their performances. Gibbs’ continued clear round efforts aboard Mountain King Ranch LLC’s 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding proved to be valuable for her team, the USA’s Zone 8/9/10, and her individual win in combination with gold medal performance has placed her at the top of the ranking order headed into Saturday’s Children’s Individual Final.
“It feels amazing [to be the leading Individual Children’s rider]. It was way beyond my expectations. My horse Douwe is incredible and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. The last two rounds I was just hoping for nice, solid rides and it feels amazing to be able to go into the final with a strong position,” concluded Gibbs. “I’d like to thank all of my supporters, my mom, my groom Maddy, my dad, my trainer, Chef d’ Equipe Susie Hutchinson, and of course my team and Douwe.”
Gotham North FEI NAYC Pre-Junior Team Competition, presented by USHJA
Making its debut both in Traverse City and at the Gotham North FEI North American Youth Jumping Championships, the Pre-Junior category saw an exciting two rounds of competition from eight teams. Leading the way following their first round score of 4 faults and a total of 9.65 faults was the United States’ Zone 1/2 team members Mia Bagnato, Ava K Myers, Charli Maddox and Alexa Elle Lignelli. Sitting close behind on a first-round score of 0 faults and a total of 10.79 faults was the United States’ Zone 4, made up of teammates Albelo, Watridge, Beitler and Whitaker.
Mexico North made their way up the leaderboard following the second round with efforts from teammates Isaac Parada Urtaza, Lorenza Mena Rodriguez, Xaviera Maurer Buch and Federica Fernandez. After completing the first round with a total of 4 faults and carrying over just 7.09 faults from the previous day, the team managed to emerge from the second round with just 5 faults to place themselves in contention for a medal finish. Also moving their way up the leaderboard were teammates from the United States’ Zone 10, Caroline Mawhinney, Maison McIntyre, Zacko Hardin and Avery Glynn for their two-round total of 5 faults.
As the final rider to go for Zone 4, it was all up to Lawson Whitaker and Brownie and Cream, owned by Reynaldo Roberto Daza Cardozo, to produce a clear effort to push her team into the top spot. Though the duo had an unfortunate rail in the first round, they came back strong for Zone 4, crossing through the timers with all of the rails intact to ultimately clinch the gold medal.
“I’m very blessed and very honored to have this gold medal and to be on this team,” Whitaker commented. “It’s really a dream come true. I was the last to go, and the pressure was really on just trying to go clear and have a good time.”
In the end, with no teams tied on faults, no jump-off was needed to decide which podium spots were designated to each team. The United States’ Zone 4 would ultimately receive the gold medal honors after finishing on a total of 10.79 faults. Mexico North took home silver for their total faults of 16.09, with the United States’ Zone 10 finishing just narrowly behind them to claim the bronze medal on a total of 16.93 faults.
Zone 4 Chef d’Equipe Kim Land complimented her gold-medal team, saying, “This is the first year they’ve had this [Pre-Junior] category, the 1.30m height, so we’re really excited for these Athletes to come and compete. They have come together beautifully to work together as a team. 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. It was really a huge team effort and we’re so excited for them and the future of the sport because of them.”
After winning Wednesday’s Pre-Junior First Individual Qualifier coupled with her fault-free finish Thursday afternoon, Albelo currently sits in the leading position heading into Saturday’s Pre-Junior Final. As a previous FEI NAYC competitor, Albelo knows the pressure is on to maintain her leading spot in order to earn the individual gold medal. She said, “I am both nervous and excited for the rest of the week. I have a good amount of pressure to stay at the top, but everyone here is so talented. They deserve to be here and everyone is so competitive. Anyone can take the lead at any moment and I’m just grateful to be in that spot right now. I hope to keep it but I’ll keep jumping my best, my horse [Cocominka EST] will keep jumping her best and we’ll try to get another gold medal.”