August is Youth Month on YourDressage! From stories about remarkable young dressage enthusiasts across the country, to articles about some of the opportunities USDF offers to youth riders, join us all month long as we celebrate equestrians aged 25 and under. They are the future of our sport!
Here, a Region 1 Young Rider shares the ups and downs of her first journey to NAYC, and the valuable lessons she brought home, without competing.
By Evie Oliver
As soon as I pull into the show site in Traverse City, Michigan, I can feel the buzz of energy humming in the air. The numerous rings are filled with horses cantering in every direction, as jumpers school and big dressage warmbloods are hand-walked to stretch their legs, in preparation for the week-long competition ahead. The competitors are days away from the start of the North American Youth Championships (NAYC).
NAYC dressage is an amazing opportunity for young members of our sport to participate in a CDI (and for most, including me, it will be their first). Not only are there more judges and top quality horses, but the atmosphere at a CDI is completely different from the recognized shows that many of us are accustomed to. It is both a source of anxiety for horse and rider, as well as an encouragement to want to do, and be, the very best.
Of course, arriving in Traverse City was a culmination of many months of hard work. Making it on a Regional Team requires at least two, and more often three to four, qualifying shows (which can be hard to find!) where you finish with an average of 64% at either the Junior (a difficult Third Level test) or the Young Rider (Prix St Georges) level. However, as I experienced this year, qualifying does not ensure you a place at Michigan. As it is with horses, something can always go wrong. My mare was diagnosed with a pasture trauma-induced suspensory injury a month before we were supposed to load her on the trailer and head towards NAYC. While it was a disappointment to not be able to show what we had accomplished over the past several months, it is our job as riders to always put the health and happiness of our horses first.
Even though my horse could no longer compete, I still made the trip to Michigan to cheer on my team. NAYC is particularly incredible because it is one of the only competitions at this level, and in dressage, where you compete as a team. The friendship and comradery that this encourages makes some of the challenges associated with competition totally worth it (in fact, I am still good friends with my teammates from the 2021 NAYC!). So I hopped in the car that warm summer evening and drove 12 hours with another Young Rider to support the Region 1 team and experience NAYC in all its glory.
I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to watch the riders and not imagine how I might have done, had my horse been able to go. I got choked up every time someone asked about her. But, it was an unforgettable experience and I am so glad I went! I even got the incredible opportunity to scribe for the Young Rider Team tests on Thursday. Scribing for judges, I believe, is the most underrated and unused educational opportunity we have in this sport – and it’s free! Whether it is a nearby schooling show, recognized show, or you are lucky enough to scribe at a CDI, you will learn so much from watching a test from the judges point of view. Since I am riding at the Young Rider level, getting thoughts and comments on each top-level test from a judge who is as experienced and knowledgeable as these judges are, will help me so much in my riding and showing.
Even without competing, NAYC was an amazing experience. Thank you so much to everyone who makes this show possible. Without the tireless work of those who put it on, the volunteers, and the chefs d’Equipe for each region, it would not happen, and so many of us would miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime!
Congrats to all riders! I can’t wait for next year!