By Leslie Potter for the US Equestrian Communications Department
New for 2021, the Youth Team Challenge series came to its conclusion at Tryon, with teams and individuals competing for titles in the CCI1*, CCI2*-L, and CCI3*-L East Coast Final.
The formidable Area II contingent took the team title in the CCI1* division, show jumping under the lights to close out the busy week at Tryon. The team was composed of Ella Braundel and Categorically Cooley, Caroline Brown and Sydney, Grace Mykitshyn and MTF Cooley Classic, and Juliana Cassar and Cheranimo.
Area V’s Chloe Johnson had an outstanding first two phases with Chilli Bean, entering the show jumping phase on her dressage score of 26.3. She had one unfortunate rail, which dropped her down to second place in the class behind overall winner Boyd Martin with Gestalt, but still maintained her lead in the individual Youth Team Challenge standings.
“Chilli was absolutely a saint all through the weekend,” said Johnson. “In dressage, she perked right up as soon as we went in the ring, and put down our best test ever. Cross-country, she’s always on it. She loves it. She likes to go fast. She’ll cut any angle. She had no hesitation at all. I was really happy with her. In stadium, we took a rail, but that’s OK; that happens. And it was an honest rail, it’s all good.”
As part of the combined Area III/V/VII Team, Johnson took home reserve team honors as well.
“I really appreciate the combined area teams, because we get to know everyone in our area, but this lets us reach out a bit more,” she said. “I met new wonderful people this weekend and it was awesome to be on a team with them. Everyone was so helpful. We all talked through cross-country right before we went, and it was just a great feeling to know people had our backs the whole time.”
Canada’s Claudia Oppedisano finished second individually with God of Thunder, turning in a double-clear show jumping round after adding only 3.2 time faults to her score on cross country. The pair finished with a 31.7 overall.
“He was just on it for everything,” Oppedisano said of her horse. “He’s a Clydesdale/Thoroughbred, so cross-country’s not the easiest for him to run, and he was just locked onto everything. I couldn’t have asked for a better week here.”
Representing Area II, Grace Mykityshyn and MTF Cooley Classic added a third-place individual win to their team championship. Despite a couple of rails in the jumping, the pair stayed in the top three thanks in part to their excellent dressage score and solid cross-country effort, ending the weekend with a total of 37.5.
“Clark was amazing. I’m just so happy to have a horse that’s so awesome in settings like this. It helps me stay calm when I get nervous,” said Mykityshyn. “We’ve been working super hard on the flat and I felt like that really paid off and we scored a personal best. On cross-country, he was super brave and awesome. That was probably the best round we’ve had all season.”
With more than 70 horse-and-rider combinations starting, the CCI2*-L was a crowded field, and 27 of those riders were in the mix for the Youth Team Challenge. Area II showed its depth of talent again, winning the team title in the division. The team roster included Jackson Dillard and Layla Q, Mia Braundel and Junkanoo, Maddie Hale and Cinzano 87, and Kiera Kenny and FE Black Ice.
Dillard not only won the Youth Team Challenge individual championship with Layla Q, but also took third place with his individual horse, Elmo.
“I’ve had [Layla Q] for six years,” he said. “It was a really tough four-year-old, but it has really come into its own in the last two or three years, and she keeps impressing me. It was a wonderful experience to be here this weekend. She really showed me what she’s capable of and we’re just going to keep moving forward with that.”
Dillard has been working with Elmo for about two years, bringing him into the eventing world after his experience as a show jumper.
“Two years ago, he hadn’t seen a cross-country fence, and there were some quirks we had to iron out there at the beginning, but certainly in the last year and a half he’s really come into his own,” said Dillard.
Dillard is part of Clemson University’s Intercollegiate Eventing team, and he believes in the benefits of competing on a team.
“I think it’s interesting when you work around other up-and-coming young riders,” said Dillard. “They all have different backgrounds and different ways of interpreting the things that are asked all weekend. So being able to work with my teammates allowed me to learn a lot. I think I’ll take a lot away from this weekend as well.”
Dillard’s Area II teammate Kiera Kenny finished in second place individually after a double-clear show jumping round with FE Black Ice.
“It was my first two long, and I’m very lucky to be riding a very experienced horse,” said Kenny. “I have really good support, so my pressure was as much as I put on myself, but I was extremely happy with the outcome and really happy with my horse who has just been an amazing teacher this year. He’s very special.”
A scramble team with riders from Areas II, III, and VIII finished at the top of the YTC standings in the CCI3*-L. Alex Baugh and MHS Fernhill Finale, Elizabeth Bortuzzo and Belongs to Teufer, Benjamin Noonan and Keep Kitty, and Sarah Bowman and Altus Louvo were the members of the winning team.
On the individual side, Noonan and Keep Kitty had a double-clear show jumping round on Sunday to finish at the top of the YTC standings.
“I’ve had Keep Kitty for the past five years and it’s just wonderful every time I compete her,” said Noonan. “I’m very lucky. I would say I had a very good weekend. I was a little bit disappointed in dressage because I had not the test I was hoping for. But this time I tried to ignore that phase and just kind of move on through the rest and I had maybe the best cross-country round I’ve had in my entire life, so I was super happy with my cross-country. Show jumping is my favorite phase. It’s my horse’s favorite phase and it just all came together. I had a great weekend, and we love being at Tryon. It’s absolutely incredible being here.”
For Noonan, the team aspect of the YTC was a pleasant surprise.
“When I was a little kid, I was in every sport you can think of, and it just never clicked,” he said. “It was the horses that really clicked, because it was individual. So being on a team this weekend, it’s wonderful because I enjoy the people I’m around. [Being part of a team] is definitely a good teacher; it’s really enjoyable.”
Alex Baugh finished just 0.3 penalty points behind Noonan with MHS Fernhill Finale to take second place, and followed up in third place with her other three-star mount, I Spye. Baugh had a busy weekend, with four horses across three divisions, but enjoyed the Tryon and Youth Team Challenge experience.
“My team horse, Finn, is only nine years old and he missed quite a bit of last year, and we’re working on building back his strength and getting him going again,” said Baugh. “This was his third long-format this year, but he really felt like he came into himself at this event. It’s the best he’s ever felt. It’s the best he’s ever jumped–just a pesky rail–but I think he’s going to come out stronger next year.
“It was amazing [galloping around the cross-country course.],” Baugh added. “It’s so beautiful here. They do such a great job and Mark Phillips is such an amazing course designer, I always look forward to riding his courses. I wasn’t sure what my horse would think of the hill at the end, but he just kept running, and it’s great to be on a horse that does that.”
Baugh has previously competed in the previous North American Youth Championships format, and believes in the importance of team opportunities for young riders.
“I think it’s such good practice what the USEF is doing with Youth Team Challenge,” said Baugh. “I think what the Europeans get that the Americans don’t is all the Nations Cups to practice being on a team. The program they have set up here I feel really prepares everyone really well for future team events.”