I am spending this week helping Brian Sosby of the United States Equestrian Federation. He is overseeing the Media at this event and so I’m helping out in between taking pictures and writing stories. The event is the North American Junior Young Rider Championships and it’s all about youth.
Throughout the week I’ve posted pictures of some of the competitions here just to give you a flavor of what this is all about, but I think of it as a mini-World Equestrian Games or even a mini-Olympics but with more events. Show Jumping, Dressage, Eventing, Endurance and Reining are the sports being featured.
Yet it’s not just about the competition. In the Show Jumping press conferences on Friday where Zone 4 (Alabama, Tennesee, South Carolina and the adjacent states) won both the Young Rider and Junior Team competitions. I posed the question to them of why after all these years Zone 4 finally won a Gold Medal. I wanted to know what they felt made the difference. Team spirit was the answer. The fact that they are all supporting one another.
I was impressed by that comment because I think it sends the message of why this event is so important. Not only do the winners get the experience of what it’s like to stand on a podium and receive medals, but everyone learns about working together. Parents, trainers, grooms, family and friends all join in to make the most of the few days they are here.
Many drive their horses from faraway distances. I know my friend Gabriele Sutton, owner of KAM Animal Services, came with her two daughters and their team all the way from Canada. It was a long drive but always worth the journey. Others came from Mexico and throughout the U.S. The Mexicans trip was a bonus because the Mexican team placed second in the Reining Team competition behind the Canadians.
The event opens with every team getting up on a specially designed stage to get their picture taken. The teams and chefs all join together behind banners and waving country flags; just another symbol of the team spirit this event inspires.
When the competition is taking place they root for themselves and their teammates but most of all it is the health and well-being of their horses that is most important to them. At one point in one of the press conferences, the president of the Ground Jury made a comment noting how impressed he was with the care and concern these riders had for their horses. It’s easy to pick up on because when asked about their horses they all just boast about them as their best friends. So many of them even use the words “I love my horse” when referring to these animals that are their partners.
Adequan is the biggest supporter and title sponsor and for good reason. These are the future Olympians and World Champions in our sport. They will be the ones competing internationally or training others to do so. Some may move on to other things but for many of them, horses will always be a part of their lives and the NAJYRC will have given them a good foundation for knowing how to take care of their horses while at the same time learning the skills to reach the highest level possible while also sharing good sportsmanship and team spirit.
The bonuses of an event like this are so many that it is something that any young rider should either one day take part in or be there to support a family member or friend or even just to volunteer. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget and an opportunity that can shape the future of everyone involved.