It all came down to one rail in the CCI** team competition in eventing in the North American Young Rider's Championships held at Bromont in Quebec, Canada. The United States' Area II (Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware) has been chasing the combined team from Area III/V/VIII all weekend. But after battling through a challenging course, a stolen vehicle, and scoring issues, the three girls and one guy from Area II left one more rail in the cups to clinch the gold medal.It all came down to one rail in the CCI** team competition in eventing in the North American Young Rider's Championships held at Bromont in Quebec, Canada. The United States' Area II (Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware) has been chasing the combined team from Area III/V/VIII all weekend. But after battling through a challenging course, a stolen vehicle, and scoring issues, the three girls and one guy from Area II left one more rail in the cups to clinch the gold medal.
Ashley Dalton and Kowhai flew around the cross-country cours eot take CCI** gold. It all came down to one rail in the CCI** team competition in eventing in the North American Young Rider’s Championships held at Bromont in Quebec, Canada. The United States’ Area II (Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware) has been chasing the combined team from Area III/V/VIII all weekend. But after battling through a challenging course, a stolen vehicle, and scoring issues, the three girls and one guy from Area II left one more rail in the cups to clinch the gold medal.
"Our horses were great, our riders were great, we did our best, and pulled it together," said a smiling Kristin Schmolze after her clean show jumping round clinched gold for her team.
Schmolze, 20, from Montville, New Jersey and her horse Rusheen Warrior was joined at NAYRC by Emilee Libby, 15, from Branchville, New Jersey with Special Excursion, Hand Gerling from Scottsville, Virginia with The Maneman, and Skyeler Icke, 19, from Vienna, Virginia with Dillinger. In addition, Sarah Davis and Dexter Wong competed as individuals for Area II and finished 5th.
The weekend was not without difficulty for the Area II riders though. On Friday night, Davis’ had her truck stolen from the parking lot of the hotel where she was staying. Luckily, another team member’s sister had driven up to help in a truck equipped to haul a trailer, and offered to drive Davis and her trailer and horse home.
The CCI** cross country course at Bromont is notoriously difficult, and at the regular event held their earlier this year, a lot of experienced horses and rider came to grief in the water jump. The course had been modified somewhat since then, and though challenging, the Area II team managed to pull out three clean jumping rounds (Gerling encountered difficulty but finished the course).
"The terrain here is very tough, it’s a real fitness test," said Schmolze. "But all the changes made it great."
"Adding a fence before the water jump really helped though, and we only went up the mountain here once, instead of twice, like in the spring," said Icke, who had competed here earlier. "It rode really well."
However, by later that afternoon, cross country scores were still not available, and when they were finally posted, many riders immediately detected errors in their times and scores.
"There was a lot of controversy–the times were not accurate," said Icke.
Although some errors were fixed, some of the scores stood, and as a result, Area II found itself still standing in second, lying one rail behind the combined team, going in to show jumping.
On Sunday morning Gerling’s horse proved to be a bit ouchy, and he withdrew him once it was clear the other three horses on the team were sound, fit and ready to go on (a team only uses three scores, the fourth is the drop score, thus only three riders need complete the event).
First to jump for the combined team was Ashley Bailey-Classen and Temperence Classic, who dropped 6 rails, but as she was already the drop score for her team, didn’t affect the final placings. Next for the combined team was Andrea Leatherman and Yoshi, who dropped four rails. When Libby and her 12-year-old Thoroughbred pulled 3 rails, it tied up the team score.
Both Capitol Hill and Stephanie Schmidt (who would be awarded the Sportsmanship Trophy later in the day) from the combined team, and Icke and her ten-year-old Australian Thoroughbred gelding would drop one rail each, leaving the scores tied, and making the final two rounds nail-biters. Schmolze rode in with her veteran mount, and laid down a foot perfect, double clear round.
Following her into the ring was the combined team’s Johanna Dufort and Northlight. If they went clean, her team would take home gold by .2, if she dropped a rail it was silver. Dufort’s bay just tipped a rail, and gold went to Area II.
"[All the controversy] just made us ride that much better, I think," said circumspect Schmolze. "We really stuck together."
"It was close coming in today, but we just pulled together as a team and did our beat," added Icke.
All the team members gave tremendous credit to their coach, Phillip Dutton, who worked with them in a weeklong training session prior to the competition, and was there every step of the way during the competition.
"It was so great to train with Phillip, he clicked with everyone," said Schmolze.
"And he was so generous," added Gerling. "[During the training sessions] he gave us at least 50% of his day, putting off riding his own horses. But if someone needed more, you could always come back in the afternoon and get more help."
Taking individual gold in the CCI** was Ashley Dalton and her scrappy little black mare Kowhai. They took a hefty 5.8 point lead after a flowing and fancy dressage test, and went double clear on the cross-country. They had a rail in hand coming in to the show jumping, but added no more penalties to win by nearly 8 points over silver medallist Schmolze, and bronze medalist Dufort.
Dalton19, from Peoria, Illinois, had never laid eyes on Kowhai before she bought her–she relied on the judgement of long time coach Bruce Mandeville to pick her out a horse when he went shopping in New Zealand nearly two years ago.
"It’s kind of funny, he was supposed to be looking for a 7 or 8 year old gelding with some experience, and he found one, and we heard Phillip Dutton was also interested so we knew it was a good one. But then the net day he called back, and said, ‘I found the perfect horse for you’ and it was this 10-year-old, 15.2 hand mare.
"We weren’t sure, but Bruce said ‘Trust me’ so we bought her and brought her over," remembered Dalton.
However, upon arrival Kowhai didn’t exactly start her new relationship with a bang. "The first week, I couldn’t do anything with her," said Dalton. "She tried to buck me off every single day. She’s rear and spin. She’d stop at a fence, and spin, buck, and run off.
"I’d try not to be in tears after every ride, but everyone kept saying to me, ‘It’ll be OK’. What I learned is that the mare has to learn to trust you. It took a lot of patience–she’s smart and loves to work, but no one had taken the time to teach her the proper things. This year, I finally felt we had a connection and it came together," she finished.
Dalton had been to Bromont in the spring, and saw the difficulties incurred by other competitors, and admitted she was nervous when she walked it. However, they blazed around with no sign of fear and came home double clear. "I rode a bit defensively," she said. "I felt like I wanted to protect her from those fences, so I didn’t think I’d made the time. But they did a great job making the course nicer for the young riders and I trusted the little mare to jump around.
"It’s an amazing opportunity to ride a horse with that much heart," she said.
For Schmolze, this weekend was a bit bittersweet. She’s owned and ridden Rusheen Warrior, a 14-year-old Irish Hunter by the great Clover Hill for five years, and he’s taken her to her first advanced competitions, as well as young riders But she realized that the top levels are bit out of his reach now, and so she decided that this would be her last competition on the great campaigner..
"It wasn’t too bad," she said of riding in to the show jumping ring with him for the last time. "I decided to just go for it and have fun with it."
Though she envisions a retirement of sorts for the gelding she affectionately calls "Bighead," she doesn’t see him going out to pasture just yet. "I’d love for him to find another young rider to bring along, I think he could keep doing that, he’s great at it," she said.
Schmolze trains with Marilyn Payne when she is in New Jersey, but has been working with Denny Emerson at his Tamarack Hill farm for the past several months.
Dufort has owned her ex-racehorse Northlight for three years. After an extensive racing career (he ran until he was 6 1/2) "Diamond" found his way to Dufort. The 19-year-old Auburn University student from Madison, Georgia saw something special in the Thoroughbred gelding, and has moved up the levels herself , with some help from coach Werner Geven. He has proven to be a strong performer, especially on the cross-country and he didn’t disappoint at Bromont.
"He loved it out there on the cross country, he was amazing," enthused Dufort. "It was tough, I thought it was nearly as tough as in June, and took a lot of effort, but we just rode around and had a blast."
Dufort hopes to compete at the Foxhall Cup CCI*** in the spring, and plans to spend the fall prepping by doing advanced horse trials.
To read about the show jumping, click here.