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 5 Junior rider, shares her journey to the North American Youth Championships with her childhood friend and some of the hurdles they had to go over to get there.
By Kali Riddell
Getting to the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) was a dream come true for me, but it did not come without some turmoil. McKenzie Miller and I have been friends since we were about six years old. We met through horseback riding and we continue to compete in dressage together. Our goal was to try and make the NAYC team together, and because of the many shared laughs about our journey, we wanted to share our story.
The first step in our journey was the qualifiers, and as it turns out, the first step is truly the most difficult. I was trying to qualify around where I lived in Arizona, but McKenzie was in Florida for the winter, so she had to qualify there. When people think of Arizona, most definitely do not think of dressage. I went to several shows to try and qualify in Arizona and Southern California, and I picked up most of my scores in the first two shows, but I needed one more score for the Team test. We headed to the last qualifier in Galway, but thirty mile an hour winds, flags, and flying trash made for an unlucky day.
Anxious to figure out how to get in one more qualifier, I decided to be brave and approached George Williams at the Galway show and asked for his help in making our indoor summer show in Arizona a qualifier. Thankfully he was very kind and helpful, and USDF agreed to make the show a qualifier.
At the show, I was fortunate enough to receive a qualifying score in the Team test, meaning I was officially NAYC bound. This was quite lucky for me because this show came down to the last day I was able to qualify. No pressure or anything! Then, two days after the show, I shipped off to Montana to become a working student with Niki Clarke, living with the Miller family, avoiding Arizona’s miserable month of July. I had a great time in Montana, and learned so much from Niki and her husband Lyn Clarke. It was an incredible experience, and I was very fortunate to be welcomed into the Miller family.
The next hurdle in our journey was traveling to Traverse City. The horses were shipped there without incident, but getting to Michigan is not as easy as the Delta commercials make it seem for the humans. We had a lost wallet, a TORNADO scare, a sprint through an airport, and a near midnight arrival!
When we eventually made it to Traverse City, we ended up having the time of our lives at NAYC. Our team, Region 5, with Katie Nayak, also a friend from Arizona, and Audrey Allen, a new friend from Colorado, placed 6th. As a team, we had a great time golf cart decorating, playing trivia, having team dinners, and supporting each other.
My personal goal at NAYC was to put in three solid tests and qualify for the freestyle. The freestyle meant a lot to me because I had created my own music. I spent my entire spring break downloading and learning the software necessary to edit music, so that I could make my own freestyle and avoid hiring someone (and the cost!). My excitement continued to grow upon scoring a personal best in the Team test, and executing an Individual Test that was good enough to make the cut for the freestyle. In the freestyle, I scored another personal best of 68%, which was quite amazing for me to see play out at NAYC.
I am so grateful for the lessons that my journey to NAYC have taught me and am so very grateful for everyone who helped me get to this point in my riding career. I am very proud to have qualified, been a part of such an amazing team, and had the support of two families at NAYC (all ten members of mine and the Millers). I am also so lucky to have gotten to go through this journey with a friend like McKenzie. I can’t wait to go again next year!