By US Equestrian Communications Department
The FEI Vaulting World Championship for Young Vaulters and Juniors was the pinnacle 2023 event for the U.S. Vaulting Team with participants in the Junior Individual, Pas de Deux, and Squad competitions and Young Vaulter Individual competition. The team delivered impressive performances throughout the week, and their hard work came to fruition with several top results. The Junior Squad claimed a bronze medal, and there was a total of four top-10 placings for the U.S. under the guidance of Chef d’Equipe Emma Seely and Assistant Chef d’Equipe Kimberly Wellmann.
“It was really a journey for us. I’m super proud of the U.S. team because we had a lot of challenges, but we ended coming out well in the end,” said Seely. “I’m proud of all the vaulters and the coaches and our lungers. It was really a group effort with a lot of support for each other.”
A World Championship is a big experience for any athlete, especially youth athletes, and the U.S. Vaulting Team rose to the occasion of competing on the world stage.
“We had athletes ranging from 11 all the way up to their early 20s between the Juniors and Young Vaulters,” said Wellmann. “They have a lot of life left to experience, so I think this was a good learning experience for all of them with how to select horses, decisions they might make for the future, and just general mental fortitude.”
The Oak Hills squad of Gracie Griffiths (Elk Ridge, Utah), Miriam Griffiths (Elk Ridge, Utah), Jacey Muir (Payson, Utah), Mikell Stoddard (Eagle Mountain, Utah), Amber Terry (Spanish Fork, Utah), and Abby Wilson (Spanish Fork, Utah) represented the U.S. in the Junior Squad competition. The squad kicked off the competition with their mount Drillian, a 2008 Hanoverian gelding owned by Reitclub Blau-Weiß Löwenstedt, and lunger Selena Brummund (GER) by earning a score of 6.035 in the Compulsory Test. Next, they delivered a stellar Free Test to score 7.321. The squad closed out the competition by earning its top score in the second Free Test performance–a 7.364–to finish with an overall score of 7.021, clinching the bronze medal.
“It was really touching,” said Wellmann. “It was very emotional for everyone. It was everything it should’ve been for those kids in that moment.”
“It is really cool, and it really surprised us,” Miriam Griffiths said of winning the bronze medal.
Her teammates shared her sentiments and appreciated the opportunity to compete at a World Championship for their country.
“It was really cool, and we are just so grateful that we got to see all of the other amazing vaulters and all of the horses and everyone,” said Stoddard. “It is a very cool atmosphere, and we are very grateful to be here.”
“They are such a young team, but their coach, KyLynn James, had them well trained,” said Seely. “They really went in and did their job piece-by-piece on their reserve horse. That was very exciting.”
Junior Pas de Deux
Two U.S. pas de deux duos were among a field of nine of the world’s best junior pas de deux combinations. Aria Deshpande (San Francisco, Calif.) and Hanna Parker (Redwood City, Calif.), along with Goldjunge, a 2008 gelding owned by his lunger Jaqueline Schönteich (GER), had an impressive start to the competition with a score of 7.334 in the first Free Test. They outdid their previous performance by scoring 7.772 in the second Free Test to finish in fourth place overall with a score of 7.597.
Persephone Brown (Brighton, Colo.) and Danica Rinard (Fort Lupton, Colo.) teamed up with Radihaza Juvena, a 2013 Hungarian Sport Horse mare owned by her lunger, Eilika Habsburg-Lothringen, to score 6.624 in the first Free Test. The pair persevered through challenges with Radihaza Juvena’s tension in their second Free Test to collect a score of 4.423 to finish in ninth place overall with a score of 5.303.
“It was a super close score to the bronze for Aria and Hanna,” said Seely. “Percy and Dani had a challenging horse, but they too stepped up to the plate and did the best they could.”
Junior Individual Female
Two U.S. vaulting athletes were in the massive field of 56 for the Junior Individual Female competition, where the top 20 athletes could move on to the final round. Kylynn Ghafouri (Murrieta, Calif.) partnered with Diamantino 14, a 2011 Hanoverian gelding owned by his lunger Cornelia Raddatz (GER) and Daniela Hampel, to score 7.001 in the Compulsory Test and 7.603 in the First Round Free Test to move on to the final Free Test round. Ghafouri had a fantastic Free Test to earn a score of 8.176 to finish in eighth place overall with a score of 7.739.
Hannah Wildermuth (Pottsville, Pa.) teamed up with Wallis, a 2003 KWPN gelding owned by his lunger Nienke de Wolff (NED), to score 6.594 in the Compulsory Test and 7.640 in the First Round Free Test. Wildermuth earned her top score of the competition in the Final Free Test with a 7.700 to finish in 15th place overall with a score of 7.409.
“Kylynn and Hannah both made the top 15 and in the last round moved themselves up,” said Seely. “They really recovered well and ended in good spots.”
Young Vaulter Individual Female
It was the first time that a Young Vaulter competition was held at the World Championship, and three vaulting athletes represented the U.S. in a field of 33 competitors. Melanie Ford (Fort Collins, Colo.) joined San Felice Z, a 2010 Zangersheide gelding owned by RVV Equus e.V., and lunger Christina Ender (GER) to score 7.323 in the Compulsory Test and 6.597 in the Technical Test. Ford closed out her time in Sweden with a score of 7.671 in the Free Test to finish in 14th place overall with a score of 7.134.
Caroline Morse (Los Gatos, Calif.) worked with Corazon Gran, a 2009 Deutsches Pferd gelding owned by Christina Hubert, and lunger Benita Julia Golze (GER) to score 6.963 in the Compulsory Test and 7.179 in the Technical Test. Morse had a solid Free Test to earn a score of 6.849, finishing in 15th place overall with a score of 7.014.
Emma Milito (Brighton, Colo.), along with Wallis and lunger Nienke de Wolff (NED), earned a score of 6.968 in the Compulsory Test and 6.686 in the Technical Test. Milito scored a 6.776 in the Free Test to finish in 21st place overall with score of 6.731.
“Melanie, Caroline, and Emma did well,” said Seely. “Melanie recovered from her mishap in the second round and performed very well in her third round. Caroline and Emma kept putting themselves forward and did a really fantastic job.”
Seely believes the U.S. vaulters have bright futures ahead of them, and they are helped by having such an invaluable competition experience at a young age.
“Probably one of the biggest lessons is how to plan—how to plan your training, how to plan leasing horses,” said Seely. “Also, being in that arena for the first time at a championship is huge because it is definitely different than a CVI. It is just so beneficial having that experience under their belt, what that feels like, the mental game that they have to work on, and watching the best of the best compete and knowing what they are working towards.”