By US Equestrian Communications Department
Day three of the Gotham North FEI North American Youth Jumping Championships, presented by USHJA, invited Junior and Young Rider teams to take center stage and vie for their podium positions. Over two rounds, teams battled it out for top honors, but it was ultimately Zone 4, with team members Caroline Mawhinney (Wellington, Fla.), Ella Duffy (Alpharetta, Ga.), Hailey Royce (Wellington, Fla.), and Mia Albelo (Miami, Fla.), taking gold in the Junior Team Final.
A combined team of athletes from Zone 5 and Zone 7, with Alexander Alston (Zone 5 – New Albany, Ohio), Alexandra Pielet (Zone 5 – Highland Park, Ill.), Sofia Cady (Zone 7 – Austin, Texas), and Charlise Casas (Zone 5 – Kenworth, Ill.), earned top honors in the Young Rider Team Final.
Zone 4 Wins Gold in Junior Team Final
The day kicked off with Junior athletes on eight teams competing for team medals. Over Anderson Lima’s (BRA) challenging track, the field narrowed to six teams with Zone 10 in the lead coming into round two. As the jumping continued, the competition edged closer. Zone 4’s Caroline Mawhinney and Hailey Royce recorded double-clear efforts, then Elisa Broz (Watsonville, Calif.), Della White (Newport Beach, Calif.), and Makenzie Damus (Encito, Calif.), anchor rider for Zone 10, dropped the final two rails on course, settling Zone 10 along with other team member Stella Wasserman (Los Angeles, Calif.) into silver-medal position and rewarding Zone 4 with a gold medal for their spectacular efforts. Earning the bronze was Zone 5, with team members Caroline Nadalin (Plain City, Ind.), Andrea Towriss (Norman, Ind.), and Olivia Williams (South Bend, Ind.).
“My horse, Stella Levista, is incredible,” Mawhinney said of her mount. “I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. I’ve had her for two years now and she’s amazing. She always tries her heart out even though she’s small she gives it her best effort every time. We have to add strides in some places, but she always makes it work.”
Royce, aboard Sonic Boom, also put in two clear rounds to help her team secure the gold medal. “Going into today, I really wanted to make sure my horse was ready and forward,” she said of her strategy. “I knew the time was tight and I had a strong ride in the first round so I went and I just put a great effort in. My horse jumped unbelievably.”
Albelo, riding MHS Cardenta, came into the Junior division on a high note after taking both the individual and team gold medals at NAYC in 2021. “This year, I obviously felt the pressure because last year I got that [gold] medal, but I knew I had the best team alongside me,” she remarked. “I’ve known these girls for quite some time. We’ve come up the ranks together, so coming in I had a lot of nerves especially since I’ve only been partnered with this horse for three or four months. I was super excited because I knew I could count on these girls even if I didn’t do my best. I gave it my best shot the first day to really help the team come in on a strong position.”
Zone 5 had only three riders but performed strong despite the disadvantage, taking the bronze medal with several clear efforts. “This week has been so much fun,” said Caroline Nadalin. “Going in with a three-person team we knew we were the underdogs going in and we were just going to put our best foot forward and see what happened. I’m just so proud of all of us.”
Going into the Junior Individual Final, to take place Sunday, Canada’s William Martin holds the lead on 3.90 penalties. Just behind him in contention for the individual gold medal is White, who is on just 4.00 penalties.
Zone 5/7 Earn Gold Medal in Young Rider Team Final
The Young Rider Team Final also saw a changeup at the top of the order as competition got underway, with another challenging track by Anderson Lima. Two teams jumped to clear slates in round one: Zone 4 and Zone 5/7, but it was Zone 5/7 that held the lead on just 5.68 penalties coming into the final day of team competition.
As more riders jumped, rails continued to fall, even for top-two placed athletes in the first qualifier, Tanner Korotkin (Zone 4) and Sam Walker (CAN). As Canada 1 came home on 16 faults through both rounds, their team members, Eric Krawitt (Okotoks, AB), Lauren Esdale (Seagrave, ON), Sara Tindale (Campbellville, ON), and Walker (Nobleton, ON), brought home the bronze medal. With a surprising four faults for Korotkin (Wellington, Fla.), Zone 4 ended up with the silver along with teammates Sheer Levitin (Wellington, Fla.), Elli Yeager (Wellington, Fla.), and Zayna Rizvi (Wellington, Fla.).
The eight faults in round two for Zone 4 put Zone 5/7 into the automatic gold-medal position, even with Charlise Casas still to jump. Their total score of 9.68 and only one rail to their total score over the two rounds of jumping put Casas and Mustique VZ along with teammates Alexandra Pielet aboard Hyperbolics, Alexander Alston on Prestigious, and Sofia Cady with Deleyn atop the podium.
“My horse is one of the most competitive horses I’ve ever had,” Casas said of her mount, Mustique VZ, a horse she acquired from her trainer, Kent Farrington. “I know if I do it right, so will she. It’s the first time she’s ever done it and my third time here, so I have the knowledge to try and help her out.
“Kent just told me to keep my head cool,” Casas continued. “One of the things I struggle with most is mental discipline. I get excited and let stress or pressure get the best of me. Today he told me to keep my cool and not stress about the weight that the rounds carry, and just do my best and hopefully that’ll be enough.”
“I was nervous coming into this morning’s first round because I had a little bit of a rough time in yesterday’s qualifier,” Cady commented. “But after I jumped the first round I knew that I was able to do it. My horse felt amazing and then my trainer and I just talked about smoothing everything out. [Deleyn] jumps amazing every time; she never wants to be less than perfect so if I can do it well, she will always follow suit and do it better.”
Pielet secured the third fastest time aboard Hyperbolics in the first qualifier but was the drop score for her team in round one of the Team Final. “Our first round today was not ideal,” she remarked. “Then I was quite hungry to do well after my team carried me in the first round, so I fought for it and he was wonderful and clear in the second round. I knew that I really wanted to improve myself and I was fast and third the other day. I was disappointed with myself after my first round today, so I was hungry to go back and do it again even better.”
Both Casas and Pielet were on the gold medal-winning Junior team for Zone 5 in 2018, finding themselves as team members atop the podium on a second occasion in 2022. “Prestigious won team gold in 2018 for Zone 5 [with another rider] and now he’s done it again,” Alston remarked on the continued success of his horse. “I think it gives me confidence knowing my horse had the ability to win this.”
Only two combinations pulled out double-clear efforts through team competition in the Young Rider division. Rizvi, who now sits on 3.02 penalties, holds the lead going into Sunday’s Individual Final, but Korotkin is close behind on 4 penalties. Cady was the only other double-clear effort of the day, helping her team secure the gold medal.