Every year as the second week of July rolls around, I snag my laptop and clear my schedule in order to allot time to watch the top junior hunters on the east coast float around the Dixon Oval. This year I was even more enthusiastic as the East Coast Junior Hunter Finals came around the corner since I knew I had the privilege of competing at this prestigious championship! My lease horse, Albee (aka Wallenda), and I qualified for the 3’3” Junior 16-17 section of the championship back in April at Maryland National. Albee is a 14 year old Dutch Warmblood gelding who I’ve had the pleasure of riding for the past two years. We qualified under the guidance and support of my wonderful trainer, Kristin Mangum, who I ride with out of Highland Grove Stable in Purcellville, Virginia.
In order to allow ample time for Albee to settle in, we shipped off in the morning on Saturday (7/9) so he had a day to relax before we did our ticketed warm up in the Dixon Oval on Sunday. Luckily, Albee is able to make himself at home almost anywhere and he had no problem acclimating himself to his new surroundings at Devon. When we pulled up to the show grounds we were surprised that they are right off of the main road, however I fell in love with the facility cloaked in powder blue. After setting up Albee’s stall and getting him squared away in his weekend home, with the assistance of my wonderful friend Emily Gebhardt, who spent the weekend grooming, supporting, and taking pictures for me – we ventured up to the Dixon Oval to watch the USHJA National Hunter Derby held by the Brandywine Horse Show to get an idea for how a course in that ring rides.
The following day, ticketed schooling rounds were held in the Dixon Oval. In the morning, before the start of the last day of the Brandywine Series, I hacked Albee in both the Dixon Oval and the Gold Ring so he could familiarize himself with the rings before we began showing. He went around super well for our schooling round and really enjoyed being in the Dixon Oval, so he was sure to express his enthusiasm after a single set on the quarter line. I was very pleased with our schooling and felt confident and prepared going into the beginning of the week! That same evening, we attended the rider’s meeting hosted by Geoff Teall in the new lounge by the Gold Ring. Mr. Teall went over rules, purpose, and phases of the competition in detail. After addressing the specifics of the championships, the riders were invited to pick up a garment bag and a T-shirt as souvenirs for qualifying for the prestigious championships.
On Monday morning, the championship began with the classic round. The 3’6” sections competed in the Dixon Oval and the 3’3” sections in the Gold Ring. We were towards the bottom of the posted order, so I had plenty of time to learn my course and watch how it rode. Before the start of the class, Kristin and I walked the course and formed a plan. Our trip was pretty good for the most part, despite a couple of minor errors. When Albee entered the ring he perked up quite a bit, so we could have been a little more patient to a few of the jumps. I was very pleased that Albee was so brave considering this was his, and my, first time at Junior Hunter Finals!
The handy round and under saddle classes ran concurrently on Tuesday, with the under saddles going in the Gold Ring and the handy in the Dixon Oval. I couldn’t wait to get in the Dixon Oval and do our handy trip since we both really enjoy the handy classes! The handy course, which was designed by Skip Bailey, included 6 different places on course with option fences for the riders to choose between. Deciding what options and tracks to take on course really gave riders the chance to show off their horse’s strengths and handiness in various points throughout the course. We went in the ring, had an absolute blast, and laid down a really solid trip to earn us 10th in Section B out of a total of 53 competitors in the 16-17 section of 3’3”Juniors! I was ecstatic when we were called to jog, especially since we overcame some difficulties that morning. Fixing all of our minor issues from the day before and being able to bounce back from a tough morning was enough to leave me beyond satisfied with the weekend, so getting to jog in 10th was really the icing on the cake!
Being able to compete at the East Coast Junior Hunter Finals was such an incredible experience. It was extremely humbling to be in the company of the top junior riders and Junior Hunter horses on the East Coast! I was greatly impressed with the quality of the horses competing – they were truly the best of the best! It was an absolute honor competing against this elite group of horses and riders and I would love to do it again! Unfortunately, this was my first and last Junior Hunter Finals as I will be aging out this winter. I certainly would encourage anyone considering qualifying for Junior Hunter Finals as one of their goals to go forth and pursue it! It really is a once in a lifetime experience that I wouldn’t have traded for the world!
Best of luck to everyone trying to qualify for the finals next year! Have a blast and cherish every moment of it!
PC: Emily Gebhardt