By US Equestrian Communications Department
The U.S. Junior Jumping Team stepped up onto the podium and the U.S. Young Rider Jumping Team earned fourth place overall on Sunday at the 2023 FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Youth Final at Sentower Park in Belgium.
“The juniors were great,” said U.S. Chef d’Equipe Anne Kursinski. “There were some nerves and some pressure from them. Overall, they were amazing in getting on the podium. I’m proud of all of them—they all rode great.”
The Juniors led off a busy day for the U.S. after both teams qualified for Sunday’s final round earlier in the week with strong performances in the first round of competition.
The U.S. Junior Team (L-R: Tessa Downey, Laurel Walker, Elise Stephens, Stephanie Garrett, Carlee McCutcheon, Anne Kursinski) stand on the podium.
©US Equestrian/Matt Turer
Laurel Walker (Copper Canyon, Texas) and Armani, her own 2010 KWPN gelding, led off for the team with a 12-fault round which ended up serving as the team’s drop score. Stephanie Garrett (New York, N.Y.) and Darius de Kezeg Z, a 2011 Zangersheide gelding owned by Postage Stamp Farm, LLC, followed in the order, adding just a single rail to their score to put the U.S. on four penalties at the midway mark of the competition. Up third in the rotation, Tessa Downey (Houston, Texas) and Isabelle, a 2009 Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Horse Orchard LLC, finished with two rails, pushing the team to a three-round total of 12 faults. Needing a clear to secure a podium placing, Carlee McCutcheon (Aubrey, Texas) and Coco Mercedes, a 2013 Westphalian mare owned by Purple Rein Investments, delivered the needed clear, crossing through the timers in 70.24 seconds.
“Carlee was amazing,” Kursinski said. “She fought for it the whole way—the mare jumped clear, and it wasn’t the easiest ride. It definitely got us on the podium, and that’s what she had done in Traverse City [at the FEI North American Youth Championships], and she repeated it here again.”
McCutcheon and Coco Mercedes’s clear-round effort kept the U.S. on a team total of 12 penalties—three faults clear of fourth-place Germany’s 15 and trailing the eight from Ireland and the Netherlands. The Netherlands ultimately defeated Ireland in a jump-off.
“I’m really proud of all of us,” Walker said. “We all did our best and it showed. We got a podium finish in international competition and I’m so thankful to be here.”
In the Young Riders Final, the U.S. entered the final rotation with a chance to finish anywhere from first to fourth place in what ended up being a tight podium battle, with the team’s drop score coming from a combination with only four total penalties.
Virginia Bonnie (Upperville, Va.) and Efodea, a 2009 KWPN mare owned by Nina Bonnie, opened competition for the U.S.–which went fourth in the overall order—and finished on four faults in a speedy 68.36 seconds. Baylee McKeever (Brewster, N.Y.) and Formidable, her own 2010 KWPN mare, added just three time penalties.
Sitting third at the halfway point, Alex Alston (Gahanna, Ohio) and Keoki, a 2009 Holsteiner gelding owned by Pine Hollow Farm, delivered a beautiful clear to keep the U.S. on three penalties.
Entering the final rotation, Sweden led the way on zero penalties, followed by Denmark and Belgium each sitting on one penalty. With the U.S. on three, over half the field remained a threat to win. The U.S. anchor combination, Augusta Iwasaki (Calabasas, Calif.) and Fresca, a 2010 KWPN mare owned by Elizabeth Reilly, tapped a single rail on the second-to-last jump, putting the U.S. on its final score of seven.
Alex Alston and Keoki
©US Equestrian/Matt Turer
“It was close with all the top teams in the Young Riders,” Kursinski said. “The U.S. did a great job. The Europeans just have a little more experience at this level of Nations Cup jumping, but I thought [we] were great and Alex ended up jumping a fabulous clear.”
Sweden took first on zero penalties, followed by Denmark’s one and Belgium’s six.
“I thought [the U.S. teams] were great, and they’ll be even better in the future because of this experience,” she added.
In individual competition throughout the week, Elise Stephens (Whitefish Bay, Wisc.) earned a pair of top finishes in CSIOJ Small Tour competition. On Saturday, she and Diablo, a 2008 KWPN gelding owned by Ashland Farms, notched second place in the 1.30m CSIOJ Small Tour Special. On Sunday, this time with O’ Mega H&DB, a 2014 Selle Français mare owned by Rendezvous Farm, Stephens finished fourth in the 1.30m CSIOJ Small Tour Accumulator class.
On Thursday, Bonnie and Heldorado, a 2012 KWPN gelding owned by Nina Bonnie, earned a fifth-place finish in the 1.45m BEMER Young Riders Tour Qualification for CSIOY Nations Cup Individuals, finishing on four penalties and stopping the timers in 68.91 seconds.
Downey and Isabelle were one of only eight combinations in a field of 56 qualifying for Friday’s CSIOJ Grand Prix jump-off after a clear round in 68.21 seconds. The pair chose to withdraw from the jump-off to preserve Isabelle for the Team Final.