Whitaker and Conway Earn Individual Gold at North American Youth Championships in Pre-Junior and Children’s Categories

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Lawson Whitaker and D'artagnan. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Edited Press Release

Jumping athletes in the Children’s and Pre-Junior categories at the Gotham North FEI North American Youth Championships for Jumping, presented by USHJA, competed for individual honors Saturday at the Flintfields Horse Park in Traverse City, MI. Over two rounds, the Children’s and Pre-Juniors attempted to record clear efforts to their overall scores and emerge on the podium. In the Children’s, Rylynn Conway (Zone 2 – Fair Haven, N.J.) took the gold medal after a tiebreaking jump-off, while in the Pre-Junior category, Lawson Whitaker (Zone 4 – Ocala, Fla.) claimed top honors and the gold medal.

Conway Captures Gold in Children’s Individual Final

Coming into round one of the Individual Final for the Children’s category, 12 pairs were tied on fault-free efforts. That number narrowed to 11 after round one drew to a close. At the conclusion of round two of the Individual Final, only six pairs turned in completely clean slates over the three days of jumping. With a six-way tie at the top, the six competitors – Livia Martin (CAN), Taylor Cawley (Zone 4 – Wellington, Fla.), Lenir Perez (HON), Conway, Olivia Sweetnam (Zone 4 – Wellington, Fla.), and Tarin Kiely (Zone 2 – Rumson, N.J.) – went into jump-off mode to take their shot at the gold medal.

The pace kept getting quicker with Cawley and Quintago VA recording the first clear jump-off in 31.18 seconds. Just following, Perez took the pace up a notch to 30.14 seconds aboard Di Vadina, looking to improve upon his silver-medal finish at last year’s NAYC. Conway sealed the deal, however, when she raced the small but mighty Nossa van de Bien to 28.66 seconds and claimed the lead. With Sweetnam and Kiely both pulling rails on course, the gold medal was all Conway’s at the close of competition.

“It’s a super big accomplishment to be here and super exciting,” Conway said of her performance. “I’m excited to keep moving up and hopefully return next year. I was trying to have a consistent week and a few clear rounds, but we ended up having all clear rounds and it was a good time. There were a lot of people going into the last round before the jump-off, then six went into the jump-off so everyone was going to get a ribbon, so I was just hoping to do well.”

Perez represented his nation of Honduras for the second time and earned his second individual silver medal. “This horse I’ve been with for one year,” he said of Di Vadine. “This week she was great. My plan for the jump-off was just to be controlled and be quick in the turns. Honduras mostly doesn’t come to [NAYC] so representing [my country] here is big for me. I hope to represent them in [Olympic or World] games someday.”

Bronze finisher Cawley attributes her winning spirit to her mom, U.S. show jumper Molly Ashe Cawley. “The time allowed was very tight in the second round so I could hear my mom from outside of the ring telling me to go faster. She basically said, ‘You’re here so you might as well put a good shot into it.’ And that’s what we did and we’re very happy.”

Rylynn Conway and Nossa van de Bien. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Whitaker Wins Big in Pre-Junior Individual Final

The faults-converted round in the Pre-Junior category combined with any additional rails on team day led to the scores coming into the Individual Final. Leading the way, Leila Diab (Zone 10 – San Francisco, Calif.) had the lead on 0 penalties, but acquired an unfortunate four faults. In second prior to the start of the day was Taylor Landstrom (Zone 6 – Excelsior, Minn.), but one rail added to her 1.46 time penalties in round one gave her 5.46 penalties. Taking over the gold-medal position was Addy Wingate (Zone 3 – Maclean, Va.) on 2.27 penalties and a clear effort in round one.

The fortunes changed in the second round, however, as Landstrom, Whitaker, and Avery Griffin (Zone 7 – Austin, Texas) all recorded clear rounds and found themselves atop the podium. Whitaker, finishing on 3.32 penalties and only clear rounds in ensuing competition aboard D’artagnan, took the gold, while Griffin and Daring Queen took silver on 4.30 penalties, and Landstrom with Eleanor 3 claimed the bronze.

Whitaker’s partnership with her gold medal-winning partner D’artagnan is still in the works, but their four months together have gone quite well. “He has his moments where he thinks that he’s going to go jump again,” she said of his fiery spirit during competition. “In the stall he’s falling asleep, but as soon as I put my foot in the stirrup, he is ready to go whether it’s the first day or the last. It really helped getting through five rounds because he kept his energy up and there’s still enough left in the tank.”

After winning a team gold medal at the 2021 NAYC in the Pre-Juniors, Whitaker had her sights firmly set on this individual medal. “It was a lot of pressure because I knew, with as well as I did last year, that I was trying to go for individual gold this year,” she said of her goal. “Also, with this being a new horse for me I wasn’t sure how it would go, but after our first round it was obvious we could go clear so I just needed to be super focused and ride the best that I could. It’s definitely a lot of pressure but it’s a blessing that he and I both do well under pressure.”

Landstrom held onto her spot on the podium by a thread, delivering a crucial clear round with Eleanor 3 when it mattered thanks to her trust in their two-year partnership. “Today is a very focused day because you have two rounds where you are wanting to jump clear,” she commented. “Having that focus and keeping it through both rounds really creates a high-pressure situation. If you just stick to your plan and trust your horse, it’s a good mentality.”

Griffin was one of two athletes on the podium to jump double-clear in Saturday’s Individual Final, doing so aboard Daring Queen. “It took me a while to figure out how to ride her, but she tries so hard and she was great this week,” she commented on her mare. “We went in just trying to jump clear rounds and have a good experience and she did. She jumped four clear rounds [plus] a time fault so she was amazing. We came in sitting fifth, so our plan was to just try to jump two clean rounds and see what everyone else would do to potentially be able to podium. That’s what we did, and she had a lot more in her than I thought she did. She went in and did amazing.”

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