By Chelsey Burris
Photos by Andrew Ryback Photography
Each summer, young equestrians between age 14 and 21 gather to compete for top team and individual honors in the Olympic equestrian disciplines of dressage and show jumping, and a chance to earn FEI medals. This is the only FEI championship held annually in North America… the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC)! In 2023, for the first time ever, the championships expanded to include Under 25 divisions.
Affectionately known as NAYC, this year’s edition was held in Traverse City, Michigan. Here are some of the unforgettable moments from the 2023 competition, which we are sure to be talking about for years to come!
When Region 3’s Mary Claire Piller and 2011 Hanoverian mare Caterina (owned by Emily Brollier) stepped off the horse trailer in Traverse City, no one expected the tour de force the duo had in store. When the dust had settled, Piller had three new gold medals to take home. She dominated the competition, winning the FEI Young Riders Team, FEI Young Riders Individual, and the FEI Young Riders Freestyle championships over the course of the week.
As anyone who has ever ridden down centerline can attest, nerves can get the best of you. When asked about the intense pressure, particularly when Piller was the last competitor to enter the ring in the Young Rider Team test, seeing the scores of her competitors and teammates, she said, “I try not to think too much about the pressure or the medal, just going and putting down a clean test and doing as well with my horse as I can. If you think too much about it, it’ll all fall apart. But if you think about the overall and just being good to your horse, it all comes together.”
About her wonder-mare Caterina, Piller shared, “My horse felt amazing. She always tries so hard for me in the ring…I couldn’t be happier with her.”
What’s next for Piller? The US Dressage Festival of Champions in the Young Rider division is next on their calendar, with ultimate dreams of moving up to the Grand Prix in the future.
Mary Claire Piller wasn’t the only star from Region 3 at NAYC. Her fellow Region 3 riders Kat Fuqua and Celsiana William also turned in terrific efforts to bring home medals for their region.
It was all about girl power with these three young ladies and their three super mares. The FEI Young Riders Team consisted of Piller with Caterina, William aboard her own 2011 Oldenburg mare Prima Ballerina, and Fuqua with her 2008 KWPN mare Dreamgirl taking the gold, silver, and bronze, respectively. Then, in the FEI Young Riders Freestyle, this trio found themselves again on the podium, with Piller coming away top champion, and Fuqua and William trading second and third place this time.
Madison Sumner was the youngest competitor at the 2022 edition of NAYC. She admitted that she was shocked with how well she did her first year, bringing home a silver medal in the FEI Junior Freestyle. The Region 3 equestrian was back again this year to upgrade her silver to a gold in the FEI Junior Freestyle and adding a new silver medal in the FEI Junior Individual.
Sumner’s score in the Junior Freestyle, a 73.540% aboard the 2007 KWPN gelding Briar (owned by Madison and Wayne Sumner), was the highest score of the entire year’s NAYC. She dreams of the Olympics, and with rides like these, it’s easy to imagine her representing Team USA at future Olympic Games.
The 2023 NAYC unveiled 3 new divisions – the FEI U25 Individual, FEI U25 Grand Prix Freestyle, and FEI U25 Intermediate II. With many of these riders aiming for a future career in FEI Grand Prix competitions around the world, this felt like an exciting preview of the stars of tomorrow, some of which we have watched grow and excel in previous NAYC competitions.
After seven other competitors already put in excellent rides in the U25 Grand Prix Freestyle, the final rider of the class, Claire Robinson (CAN), made her way down centerline aboard Glamour Boy, a 2011 KWPN gelding (owned by Carol Robinson.) With the other scores already displayed on the board, she knew what she had to do. Dancing to a hiphop freestyle from the Hamilton soundtrack, the pair nailed it, earning a 71.090% and the gold medal.
In the U25 Individual, Emily Hewitt made history as she took home the first gold for this division. Riding 2010 KWPN gelding Fidens (owned by Tammy Pearson), she added to her hardware, having brought home a team bronze earlier in the week.
In the inaugural FEI U25 Intermediate II, it was Canada’s Brooke Mancusi who earned the top spot on the podium. Mancusi has a fairly new partnership with her mount Arthur (owned by Windhaven). She has been riding the 2005 KWPN gelding since January, but it’s clear the two have a great connection. Mancusi’s Canadian teammate, Claire Robinson, took silver in the division.
At the conclusion of NAYC, a few special awards are given out for exemplary riders, horses, and performances.
For her phenomenal week, USDF awarded Sienna Rowe of Region 1 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. Rowe’s scores of 69.909%, 70.676%, and 73.320% gave her an overall combined average of 71.301%.
Mary Claire Piller of Region 3 was awarded the Fiona Baan “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy this year. This trophy goes to the Young Rider who earns the highest combined average score in the three dressage tests: FEI Young Rider Team, Individual, and Freestyle. With scores of 71.706%, 70.147%, and 73.800 % respectively (winning all 3 divisions), Piller’s overall combined average was 71.884%.
The Patsy Albers perpetual trophy was awarded to Denielle Gallagher. This award is named in honor of long-time USDF Region 1 Chef d’Equipe, Patsy Albers. It is presented annually at NAYC to the dressage chef d’equipe who best demonstrates the same level of dedication, enthusiasm, and team spirit shown by Patsy throughout the years.
The Dressage Style Award is presented to the rider who has shown “style” throughout the competition, not only when mounted, but also in manners and overall demeanor. Region 6 Junior Olivia Martz took the honor this year. Meanwhile, Emily Bansky, a Junior rider from Region 1, was awarded The Captain Andrew B. de Szinay Memorial Sportsman Trophy. Winzalot (owned by Jamie Shortz), the 2004 Hanoverian who was Region 7 Junior Emme Chisholm’s mount, was recognized with this year’s HorsePower Trophy.
NAYC Young Rider Team
- Region 3 – 212.353
- Region 4/7 – 203.118
- Region 1/2/9 – 197.824
NAYC U25 Team
- Canada – 135.647
- Star Spangled Team – 130.232
- Stars & Stripes Team – 127.883
NAYC Junior Team
- Region 6/4 – 204.575
- Region 3 – 204.364
- Region 8 – 203.787
FEI Young Riders Team
- Mary Claire Piller, Caterina, 71.706% (Region 3)
- Kat Fuqua, Dreamgirl, 70.882% (Region 3)
- Celsiana William, Prima Ballerina, 69.765% (Region 3)
FEI U25 Intermediate II
- Brooke Mancusi, Arthur, 67.853% (Canada)
- Claire Robinson, Glamour Boy, 67.794% (Canada)
- Dennesy Rogers, Chanel, 65.500% (Region 7)
FEI Junior Team
- Allison Berger, Delacure, 70.061% (Region 2)
- Sienna Rowe, Lightfire Just Do it, 69.909% (Region 1)
- Leah Drew, Damons Davian, 69.757% (Region 8)
FEI Young Riders Individual
- Mary Claire Piller, Caterina, 70.147% (Region 3)
- Celsiana William, Prima Ballerina, 69.912% (Region 3)
- Kat Fuqua, Dreamgirl, 69.294% (Region 3)
FEI Grand Prix 16-25
- Emily Hewitt, Fidens, 66.641% (Region 3)
- Dennesy Rogers, Chanel, 66.256% (Region 7)
- Claire Robinson, Glamour Boy, 66.231% (Canada)
FEI Junior Individual
- Sienna Rowe, Lightfire Just Do it, 70.676% (Region 1)
- Madison Sumner, Briar, 69.382% (Region 3)
- Norah Wright, Baccos do Retiro, 69.382% (Region 6)
FEI U25 Grand Prix Freestyle
- Claire Robinson, Glamour Boy, 71.090% (Canada)
- Alexander Dawson, Freedom, 69.185% (Region 2)
- Emily Hewitt, Fidens, 67.985% (Region 3)
FEI Junior Freestyle
- Madison Sumner, Briar, 73.540% (Region 3)
- Sienna Rowe, Lightfire Just Do it, 73.320% (Region 1)
- Allison Berger, Delacure, 72.915% (Region 2)
FEI Young Riders Freestyle
- Mary Claire Piller, Caterina, 73.800% (Region 3)
- Kat Fuqua, Dreamgirl, 72.590% (Region 3)
- Celsiana William, Prima Ballerina, 72.390% (Region 3)
See the full results here.
Check out our YourDressage exclusive gallery of behind-the-scenes sights from NAYC here.
Congratulations to all the youth equestrians for their great performances at the 2023 NAYC! If you missed any of the coverage from the competition, you can stream it on-demand on USEF Network.