One of the hallmarks of championship events is team competition, and while there are a number of riders competing as individuals for their Zone or Region in this year’s Adequan® FEI North American Youth Championships presented by Gotham North, they will be far from alone. Dressage junior riders Dennesy Rogers (age 16, Region 7: Thousand Oaks, Calif.) and Jori Dupell (age 17, Region 6: Wilsonville, Ore.), along with junior jumping rider Rachel Long (age 17, Zone 9: Horseshoe Bend, Idaho) are three who will travel across the country to Old Salem Farm in North Salem, N.Y., to gain experience, make new friends, and join a larger community of some of North America's best youth equestrians.
Dupell will be returning for the second time to NAYC, having made the trip to New York in 2018. She and Fiderprinz 2, her 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Fidertanz 2 x Pamina, Prinz Oldenburg) had the highest score in the Junior Rider Team test of 68.727%, were fifth in the individual class, and seventh in the freestyle test. She also rode on the combined Region 6, 7, 9 team that placed just off the podium in fourth.
“Last year was an amazing experience, and it was so cool,” said Dupell, who has been riding for 11 years and trains with Stephen Birchell. “Feeling the atmosphere of such a big show, we wanted to keep going and see if we could do it again and improve from last year. It’s my last junior year, as well, so we wanted to take advantage of that.
“[NAYC] did an amazing job at making all of us feel special,” she continued. “Even qualifying to get there is such a big accomplishment. It makes you feel accomplished and proud to be there. The facility is amazing and beautiful. The arena we got to compete in was gorgeous.”
While Dupell was also the lone junior representative from Region 6 last year, she did get that all-important team experience. “It was really cool to see when I got there that I wasn’t lonely at all,” she remembered. “I was adopted by the Region 7 team, and we were stabled by Region 8 and they were really welcoming, as well. To see the camaraderie and such a big atmosphere was really inspiring, and to be surrounded by amazing riders and compete against people that you’ve looked up to for a long time is really amazing.”
There aren’t enough single representatives for Dupell to be on a combined team in 2019, but she will be coming out in force as an individual and will have support from Region 6 young riders Lindsey Savoy and Cameron Wyman. Dupell and “Phil” have been together for two years, and she feels that their strong connection has grown in the past year.
“When I got him, he had only been ridden by the same professional his entire life. It was a big adjustment for him to have a kid [riding him] and to start helping to teach me the juniors. He’s a super-sweet horse. We do everything together–or as much we can; he can’t go to restaurants!” she laughed.
She added: “We haven’t broken 70% at a CDI yet. We’re getting close, so hopefully we will reach our goal.”
Dennesy Rogers will be attending her first NAYC this year with Chanel, a mare she has been paired with for just eight
months. She and the 14-year-old Danish Warmblood (Blue Hors Romanov x Phenelope Solyst, Gribaldi) came together through Olympian and current U.S. Dressage Development Coach Charlotte Bredahl, who rode the mare to grand prix level.
Rogers knew her previous horse was not up to task when she started considering qualifying for the NAYC two years ago. With Chanel this year, the road to qualifying became “more intense,” she said.
“I was going all out for it,” she explained. “I knew I had the horse [in Chanel], and if I didn’t get the scores it would be my fault. It was a totally different ballgame.
“There is so much training behind it and getting to know your horse,” she continued. “It’s driving a few hours to the qualifier shows. It was a lot of hard work, but it was totally worth it. You just really have to work on when you show and it doesn’t go well, what you need to improve on every time. There’s always so much room to improve. There’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes and there are a lot of people who helped me.”
Some of those who helped Rogers include her mom Dorriah, her trainer Tom Valter, and her sponsors. “They’re making this possible,” she noted. “It’s hard to do it without help, especially from California and flying across the country.”
As she makes the journey and gets ready to step into the show ring at NAYC, Rogers is expecting to “have a lot of fun.”
“I may be the only junior in my region and I don’t have a team, but Sophia Ekstrand and Kate Matthews, who are young riders for Region 7, are close friends,” she said. “Everyone supporting the region [will be there for me], so that reassures me a lot. I’m excited to take such a big step with my horse and to know she’s doing this for me and no matter what, she’s going to be my teammate. I expect to meet a lot of awesome people, have a great show, and have a great experience doing an international show. I’m also expecting to be a little nervous!”
Rachel Long will also be attending her first NAYC in the junior division of show jumping, but she will be relying on her long partnership with Pampa Helada, a nine-year-old Chilean Warmblood mare by Eurocommerce Canturano out of Pampa Frutilla, by Quidam du Revel. They started out at the 1.20m level a year and a half ago, but they first met five years ago when Long helped break the mare and rode her for the summer in Chile while working with Christian Santis.
“She was definitely a problem horse, kind of crazy to start with and really spooky,” Long remembered. “I came back [to Chile] for two years in the summers. We were starting to look for the next-level horse, and [Christian] said, ‘Look at Pampa, she’s really come a long way.’ We jumped her up a bit and saw a lot of her potential.”
Long and Pampa started moving up divisions this winter in Tucson, Ariz., and Long felt something click when they competed at the Woodside Spring Classic in May. She knew they would be ready for a championship like NAYC.
“We were in the right spot. My mare is ready, I’m ready, and it became clear that it was in the cards and an option for this year,” she said.
Long has had riding in her blood her entire life, training with her grandmother Debbie Long while riding leadline, competing in pony jumpers, and now at NAYC. The family made the 40-hour trek from Idaho with their horse trailer to make it to New York.
Having had previous team competition in the pony jumpers at the USEF Pony Finals presented by Collecting Gaits Farm and with her horse at the USHJA Zone Championships, Long looks forward to combining with riders from Zone 8 for a team at this year’s NAYC. The riders, who are all friends and have an ongoing Snapchat conversation, have had shirts made to celebrate and cheer on their team.
“I haven’t shown on the East Coast yet,” said Long. “I hope to be able to meet a lot more people from more places.”
Stories of teamwork, struggle, and success abound at events like the North American Youth Championships, setting the foundation for future international athletes. Even without a team, NAYC riders are making connections and experiencing competition that will impact their equestrian careers and lives for years to come.
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