By Tori Bilas
The 2022 Gotham North FEI North American Youth Jumping Championships (NAYC) presented by USHJA returned for the second consecutive year to Flintfields Horse Park in Traverse City, Mich. Wednesday, August 10, welcomed Children’s and Pre-Junior competitors to the International Arena for the first day of individual qualifying competition, with each athlete battling for pole position heading into the team and individual final events to come later in the week.
USA Zone 10 reigned supreme on day one as Lilah Nakatani (Temecula, Calif.) and Dianett secured the win in the Children’s Jumping Individual Qualifier. In the Pre-Junior Jumping Individual Qualifier presented by USHJA, Leila Diab (San Francisco, Calif.) rode to victory with Quind. Both are competing at NAYC for the second time and were teammates on the gold medal-winning team in the Children’s division in 2021. Wednesday’s competition counted toward each team’s overall score.
Gotham North/FEI North American Children’s Jumping Championship Qualifier presented by USHJA
Opening the day for Zone 10, Nakatani piloted Dianett, her own 8-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare, to the fastest single-round time in the Children’s First Individual Qualifier, setting up both her team and herself for success in the days to follow. In 71.88 seconds, Nakatani (Temecula, Calif.) claimed top honors out of 21 entries as one of the final pairs on course over Anderson Lima’s (BRA) course.
Making a repeat appearance, Nakatani was part of the gold medal-winning team at the 2021 NAYC where she competed on the same horse as a seven-year-old. Over the three days of competition, Dianett had only one rail down.
“She’s a great little mare,” Nakatani said of Dianett. “She’s so friendly and super kind. She has a little bit of spice so sometimes she can get wild, but she’s great.”
Nakatani trains with U.S. grand prix rider Kyle King on the West Coast and is receiving help from Savannah Jenkins while at NAYC.
“Last year was great,” Nakatani said of her gold medal-winning team performance. “I did have one down in the second round but thankfully my other teammates were great. It’s also a good team this year and I’m excited because so far, our team is doing well. Everyone was clear today, so we are ready for tomorrow.”
Earning second-place honors was Allison Orth (USA Zone 5) and her 10-year-old Zangersheide mare Chabada d’Ysieux Z, who rode to a clear round effort in 74.04 seconds. Tarin Kiely (USA Zone 2) and Nikita Jolie, the Ashland Farms and Major Wager LLC-owned 12-year-old mare, claimed third in a clear-round effort of 74.38 seconds.
Gotham North/FEI North American Pre-Junior Jumping Championship Qualifier presented by USHJA
Continuing an incredible outing for Zone 10 on day one of NAYC, Leila Diab (USA) took the win in the Gotham North/FEI North American Pre-Junior Jumping Championship Qualifier presented by USHJA aboard Quind, her own 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding. First to go in the order of 23 was Campbell Brown (USA Zone 7), riding Indira, the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Ashlynn Crowley, who stopped the timers in an impressive 57.56 seconds. It would be 17 more rounds before the lead would change hands, as Diab (San Francisco, Calif.) raced to a clear effort in 56.70 seconds. Brown ultimately claimed second place and third-place honors went to Taylor Landstrom (USA Zone 6) and Eleanor, her own 10-year-old Holsteiner mare.
“I had a different plan going in,” Diab said of her game plan for the day. “We watched [Campbell Brown] go and she was so fast. That really changed my plan. I knew I had to get him going from the get go and a good angle to the first fence. He’s so quick once you get him going that you don’t want to stop him at all. In most of the lines I walked one more, then I did the leave-outs. He was really going.”
Diab and Quind are competing in their second appearance at the FEI NAYC. Following up on a team gold medal, a medal she shared with Nakatani in the Children’s in 2021, the pair has had a breakout year, winning five NAYC Pre-Junior Zone 10 Trials across the West Coast in 2022.
“He’s a great guy,” she continued about her partner for a year and a half. “He has a really big stride when you get him going, so this course suited him well. He’s really fun and easy to turn. He was a superstar and amazing out there.”
Having the experience on their side, Diab is not letting nerves or mindset impact the way she performs, and is comfortable with the added pressure of the championship format and competing for a team. “The team part is the most nerve wracking because you don’t want to let down your teammates,” she continued. “We’ve all worked so hard to get here and we don’t want to be the one who hurts the team. Going out there with the right state of mind is the best thing you can do for your team rather than stressing out about being clean and going fastest.
“For me this is any other day,” Diab remarked on her approach. “When I focus on this being a big championship that’s when I get the most nervous and I may ride differently than what my horse is used to and what makes us a good match. We’re all here doing the same thing we always do. Changing my ride isn’t going to help my team.”
The Gotham North FEI North American Youth Jumping Championship presented by USHJA will continue Thursday, August 11, when the Children’s and Pre-Junior competitors vie for top honors in team competition. Following team events, the Junior and Young Rider divisions will take to their individual qualifiers.