Persevering Through the Storm – The 2021 FEI North American Youth Championships

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Glamorous no more! The VIP tent was shredded by the wind.

By Chelsey Burris

An exciting week was planned…  Juniors and Young Riders (ages 14-21) from across the country had converged on Traverse City, Michigan, for North America’s premier equestrian competition: the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC)!  After the 2020 cancellation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone was especially excited to be back for the show. Then, they checked the weather forecast and saw a storm was on the horizon. 

“It’s just a storm…how bad could it be?  Plus, it’s supposed to hit overnight.  By the time the show is ready to begin tomorrow, it should be fine.  Right!?”

Wrong!

A huge storm swept through Traverse City, postponing the competition and leaving volunteers and show staff scrambling to clean up and repair all the damage.  The wind ravaged the 2-story VIP tent, converting it to a 1-story, with the top floor landing in the dressage ring.  Judges’ boxes were flipped over, trees uprooted, and the showgrounds lost power and water.  Meanwhile, the damaged JumboTron was hurled into the jumper ring.

Pieces of the VIP tent came to rest in the dressage ring. Photo by Laura Roberts.
The entire top floor of the VIP tent was missing after the storm. Photo by Laura Roberts
The ring steward fishes the dressage arena letters out of the “pond” of floodwater with a trusty muck rake.
Judge’s huts were flipped over across the show grounds
The wind rearranged everything around the dressage arena. The top of the VIP tent can be seen inside the arena
Major flooding across the show grounds. Photos by Liz Molloy
More Carnage from around the arena. Photo by Laura Roberts.
The real MVPs! Volunteers and show staff work to clean up the show grounds. Photo by Liz Molloy.

Thankfully, all competitors, horses, staff, and volunteers were safe and sound after the storm.  But now, they faced the monumental task of resetting and repairing the showgrounds, making them usable, so the competition could continue.  As horse people always do, everyone banded together to help, and soon the show was back on!

The delay didn’t affect the competitors – they were ready!  Sisters Lexie & Kylee Kment, of Palmyra, Nebraska, were making their NAYC debut – and storm or not, they were ready to rock and roll.  Fifteen-year-old Lexie would be riding Trakehner gelding Montagny von der Heide in the competition.  Owned by Laureen van Norman, the 17-year-old gelding and Lexie have a fairly new partnership, having only been together for nine months.  This was their first competition together.  Big sister Kylee (aged 17) would be aboard Honor, a 9-year-old gelding owned by Jami Kment.

Putting their show nerves aside, the sisters made their first trip down centerline in their NAYC debut – and they didn’t disappoint! Representing Region 4 in the Junior Team Test, the sisters, with Ella Fruchterman aboard Holts Le’Mans, brought home the first gold medal of the 2021 NAYC, with a team score of 202.667.   No time to rest on their laurels though, as they had more championship classes coming up!

Lexie Kment (Montagny von der Heide), Kylee Kment (Honor), and Ella Fruchterman (Holts Le’Mans) claim a gold medal claim a gold medal for Region 4.

USDF Region 7, which finished second in the Junior Team Test, took gold in the Young Rider Team Final with a combined score of 210.235.  Their team was represented by Erin Nichols aboard Handsome Rob AR, Miki Yang with Donavan, Katherine Mathews with Solière, and Christian Simonson with Zeaball Diawind.  Mathews couldn’t help but to commend the facility on their handling of the storm.  “This is my second time competing at NAYC, and it’s beautiful here,” she said. “The footing is amazing, we had torrential downpours, so it was a lake one day, and then completely rideable the next. It’s been a wonderful facility to compete at this year.”

All smiles from the Region 7 gold medal winning team of Erin Nichols (Handsome Rob AR), Miki Yang (Donavan), Katherine Mathews (Solière), and Christian Simonson (Zeaball Diawind).

The Kment sisters continued their stellar week in the NAYC Junior Individual Championship.  Lexie and Montagny von der Heide came out on top, with a score of 69.235%.  Kylee Kment with Honor, with 68.941%, finished second, and Kat Fuqua and Dream Girl earned bronze.  The sisters, while competitive with each other, were thrilled to share the podium together.  “It feels amazing to be up here again,” Kylee said, after her team gold medal team performance from the day before. “This doesn’t happen! It’s crazy! Obviously, Lexie beat me, and I am so proud of her, I am just so proud. When we saw her scores coming in I was like, ‘She’s going to do it!’ and she did it! It is so special to have her up here with me too.” 

It’s a sister thing! Sisters Lexie & Kylee Kment celebrate their gold and silver medals in the #FEINAYC Junior Individual Championships.

The action continued in the Young Rider division.  Christian Simonson would become a familiar name for those watching the competition.  The 18-year-old Young Rider, aboard 9-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding Zeaball Diawind (owned by Christina Morgan) earned their second gold medal, with a personal best score of 75.353% in the Individual Final.  Miki Yang and Donavan notched silver, and Tillie Jones with Qi Gong TF earned bronze.

“Look Zeaball, we did it!” Christian Simonson and Zeaball Diawind achieve their second gold medal of the competition with a personal best score in the Young Rider Individual Championships.

Then, it was time for freestyle day!  The storm now seemed like a distant memory, with competitors beaming aboard their mounts on the way to and from the arena. 

In an exciting conclusion to the competition, Christian Simonson and Zeaball Diawind shattered the NAYC record for the highest score in the FEI Young Rider Freestyle Test, with a scintillating 78.935%, earning them their third gold medal of the competition.  The silver went to Allison Nemeth with Tiko, and Tillie Jones and Qi Gong TF brought home another medal with bronze.

Gold medal duo

Lexie Kment was ready to cap off her already amazing week with her freestyle ride in the Junior Division.  Aboard Montagny von der Heide, Lexie earned another gold with a final score of 74.775%, sweeping the division’s top honors. Julia McDonald and Lehndorff van de Vogelzang finished second, with Kat Fuqua and Dream Girl getting another podium finish.  Lexie said afterwards, “I am pretty speechless. I don’t even know what to say right now. It’s amazing!”

Always remember to hug your horse!

For her phenomenal week, USDF awarded Lexie Kment and Montagny von der Heide the Amanda Johnson “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy.  This trophy, which is on permanent display in the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame, is awarded to the Junior rider who earns the highest combined average score in the three dressage tests: FEI Junior Team, Individual, and Freestyle.

Lexie Kment hugs Roberta Williams while being presented the Amanda Johnson “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy.

“Presenting the inaugural Amanda Johnson ‘Pursuit of Excellence’ Trophy was quite an emotional moment for me,” said Roberta Williams, USDF FEI Jr/YR Committee Chair. “Amanda was our student when she represented Region 4 at three NAYRC competitions, as well as when she went down her first Grand Prix centerline. I sewed her buttons on and dried her tears when she missed her tempi changes. Amanda Johnson epitomizes the values of what this program is all about. Not just the hard work and dedication, but the horsemanship and the sportsmanship. With Junior Riders now competing for the ‘Amanda Johnson’ trophy, her legacy is sure to not be forgotten. Maybe it is no coincidence that the inaugural winner is from Region 4. Perhaps Mandy was whispering in Lexie’s ear.” 

Christian Simonson and Zeaball Diawind were awarded the Fiona Baan “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy at NAYC.  This trophy is awarded to the Young Rider who earns the highest combined average score in the three dressage tests: FEI Young Rider Team, Individual, and Freestyle. Simonson placed first in the team, individual, and freestyle tests, with scores of 73.588%, 75.353%, and 78.935% respectively, securing the win with an overall combined average of 75.959%.

Christian Simonson and Zeaball Diawind being awarded the Fiona Baan “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy

While the competition itself was fabulous, watching Juniors and Young Riders make their dreams come true, it was all made possible by the hardworking staff and volunteers at the Flintfields Horse Park.

Region 9’s Chef d’Equipe Benjamin Pfabe was awarded the Albers Award perpetual trophy.  The Albers Award is named in honor of long-time USDF Region 1 Chef d’Equipe Patsy Albers. The award is presented annually at the North American Youth Dressage Championships, to the dressage chef d’equipe who best demonstrates the same level of dedication, enthusiasm, and team spirit shown by Patsy, throughout the years.

“Benny’s calm, quiet demeanor was the perfect foil to the challenges that Mother Nature unleashed on competitors at this year’s NAYC. Benny dealt with each curve ball, keeping the best interest of his team in front of him and that is what makes a great chef,” stated Roberta Williams, USDF FEI Jr/YR Committee Chair.

USDF Region 9 Chef d’Equipe Benjamin Pfabe receives the Albers Award perpetual trophy.

For their monumental efforts to keep the show running in the face of the destruction of the storm, the whole team at the showgrounds was awarded the Howard B. Simpson High Five Trophy, which is awarded annually to the volunteer who best exemplifies Howard’s spirit of volunteering. This award, presented by the United States Equestrian Federation, honors Howard B. Simpson who served as the NAYRC Director at Tempel Farms for many years, and was also a sponsor and tireless volunteer. The recipient of this award embodies Howard’s dedication and commitment to the championships.

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“Despite a major storm disrupting the competition schedule, the entire staff of GLEF came together to ensure the competition could continue forward and had the rings up and running in just under three hours after the devastation of the night prior,” said US Equestrian’s Director, Dressage Performance & Event Support, Laura Roberts. “We are incredibly grateful to the management and crew at Traverse City Horse Shows for their efforts in going above and beyond for NAYC this year and are already looking forward to being back in Michigan in 2022 and 2023.”

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