In the Rolex Stadium, it was a quest for Individual Gold for dressage competitors, then, later in the day the show jumpers took the course for phase one of the Individual qualifiers. Across the compound, three-day eventers took part in the dressage portion of their eventing championship, and in the Alltech Arena, the Team Reining finals wrapped up the day.
In all, 34 Young Riders vied in the USDF/Platinum Performance Dressage Championship Individual tests today, but it was Region 8 representative Isabelle Leibler aboard Watson 108 who earned the Gold. Team Gold medalist Brandi Roenick (Region 5) and Pretty Lady took Silver while Chase Hickok (Region 1) and Palermo captured the Bronze.
Kelli McLean Newton and Luciano (Region 7) sat at the top of the leader board for a good part of the day with a 64.526, but soon after the lunch break the scores just kept growing higher. But it was Leibler, a Team Bronze medalist, who turned in the winning performance that scored a 67.289.
In the end, less than half a point separated the top three riders.
"The competition was very tough in the final five," confirmed Leibler. "We just rode our hearts out for every point we could get. These ladies rode absolutely amazing," she added of her fellow medalists. "But good competition is when it's close, and you have to get down and dirty for every point. It's very exciting."
"I knew I was riding against some of the top riders in the country," said Roenick. "I knew both of these girls have amazing horses. But, I worked my tail off, my horse worked her heart out for me, and I was grateful for every single point I was given."
For Leibler, her first NAJYRC has been nothing short of memorable. "I have no words to describe this," she said.
Over in the Junior ring, Region 6's Sadie Lahey and Up to Date were the last to go but the first to pocket the Gold with a dazzling score of 67.868 - the highest of the day in both divisions. Silver went to Canada's (Canada-Manitoba) Sarah Loewen aboard Ricardo and the Bronze went to fellow Canadian Monica Houweling and Stentano.
"I came last year, and I was the drop score for my team, so I'm very excited to be where I am," laughed Lahey.
"Up to Date just went into the arena and was there for me, even when I was nervous." The 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood, added Lahey, is endearingly referred to as Denise the Menace around the barn. "He has loads of personality, and he loves to show it to everyone."
Loewen was equally thrilled with Ricardo. "This is my second year at North American," she said, "We did even better than last year, so I am really pleased with his performance."
The dressage phase of the USEA North American Young Rider Eventing Championship (CCI**) left Area 3 competitor Devon Brown and her horse, Dynamic Image, at the top of the leader board with only 50.5 penalties. Canada's Joelle Baskerville and Malibu are following closely in second place, while Area 3's Sarah Kamensky and Urlanmore Beauty are sitting in third.
"I know Dan, and I can do a lot better," said Brown of her 11-year-old Irish Sport horse. "But, I'm happy with how he scored. He gets tense going into the ring, and I didn't get as much warm-up as I would have liked-but he was still great, very rideable."
"We've been working pretty hard on the flat, so this is what I had hoped for," said Baskerville, who ended up ninth in the 2010 Young Rider event. "I was really hoping to get a score in the lower 50s, so it was really great that she was as good as she was today."
All three riders were looking forward to walking the cross-country course before Saturday's competition and getting a peek at the questions awaiting them.
The USHJA North American Show Jumping Championships kicked off with a qualifying round for both Juniors and Young Riders. Zone 1's Sydney Shulman aboard Gun du Desfi was at the top of the Junior rankings followed by Zone 6's Brooke Cudmore riding Ocelot, and Zone 10's Hannah Warde aboard Canasucre.
A score of 71.94 put Zone 3's Kaitlin D. Campbell and her horse Rocky W in the lead for the Young Riders with Zone 10's Cayla Richards and Faustino in close striking distance and Zone 2's Katherine Dinan and Vancouver stalking in third place.
As of press time the Team Reining Finals were still underway. Results will be announced tomorrow.
Competition continues tomorrow at the 2011 Adequan/FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships presented by Gotham North with team Show Jumping, CCI* Dressage, and Endurance racing
For more information, please visit www.youngriders.org.