Traverse City, Mich. – A phenomenal week of equestrian competition concluded on Sunday at the 2022 FEI North American Youth Championships with the Juniors and Young Riders presenting their freestyle tests. Ella Fruchterman (Woodbury, Minn.) and Holts Le’Mans struck gold in the Junior division, while Erin Nichols (Yorba Linda, Calif.) and Handsome Rob AR topped the Young Riders podium.
2022 FEI NAYC Junior Dressage Freestyle
Fruchterman and her own 2011 Danish Warmblood gelding added a third gold medal to their collection today after winning team and individual gold earlier in the week, but she admits that the nerves were still with her leading into the final test of the competition.
“I’m honestly a little overwhelmed,” said Fruchterman. “I was super nervous this morning. Even to the last minute in the warmup, my stomach was turning, and I was just like, ‘You need to calm down. You need to go in and have some fun.’”
Fruchterman’s music was created by a friend of her brother, who happens to be a music producer.
“The vocals on the freestyle are actually his, and they’re also some of my cues,” she explained. “Whenever they come up, I get excited because I know I’m on the music. That always makes me happy.”
Madison Sumner (Wellington, Fla.) turned in an excellent test with her stunning black 2007 KWPN gelding, Briar, to score a 71.515% and win the silver medal.
“I’ve had him for about a year and a half now,” said Sumner. “We’ve built such an amazing partnership over such a short amount of time, and it really affected my test. We had some really good parts, and he really trusts me in the test, so I was really happy.”
Lexie Kment (Palmyra, Neb.) returned to the podium after an expertly ridden freestyle with Laureen Van Norman’s 2004 Trakehner gelding, Montagny von der Heide. The pair earned a 71.385% for the bronze medal.
“The feeling to be up on the podium is pretty amazing,” said Kment. “Coming into this year I did not have super high expectations for medals at all. I didn’t even know if I was going to make it here. Getting here, getting gold the first day, not quite making the podium the second day, and then making the podium today is so amazing, and I’m so thankful.”
Over the week at NAYC, the athletes built friendships across regions, and Fruchterman explained how that brought an extra dimension to the experience.
“It’s absolutely amazing sharing the podium with Lexie and Maddie and on Friday my teammate Kylee was up here with me,” she said. “It’s just so special to be up here and see them blossom and you get to share this incredible experience with people who understand it and are going through the same emotions.”
2022 NAYC Young Rider Dressage Freestyle
Erin Nichols and Handsome Rob AR, her own 2012 Dutch Warmblood gelding, ended an already fantastic week on an especially high note, winning the Young Rider Freestyle Test with a personal best score of 74.456%. The win came after the pair earned individual gold and team silver earlier in this year’s NAYC.
“I’m totally on cloud nine,” said Nichols. “It’s just more than I could ever dream of. I’m super proud of my horse and super thankful to everybody who supported me up to this level. It’s been an incredible journey, and I’m excited to see where we go.”
Nichols opted for fun music and exciting choreography to make her freestyle stand out.
“We wanted to do an old-time, 60s freestyle that kind of makes you want to dance to it,” she said. “I really like the choreography. It fit well with my horse, and I get to add my little own spice with the one-handed three time changes, so it’s really exciting and it all went really well today.”
Nichols’ Region 7 teammate, Ellanor Boehning, (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) and her own 2011 Rheinlander gelding, Sir Junior, won the silver medal with a 72.545%.
“This was my first time ever riding this freestyle at a show,” said Boehning. “I got the music about two weeks ago. I went through it twice at home, and I was like, ‘Everything’s there, I know I can do it, I just have to go and be confident about it.’ Just having confidence in the test is what really held all the pieces together and made it flow well today.
“Before I got on, I was a little bit nervous, but once I get on my horse, it’s all about confidence,” she continued. “Confidence is key. Fake it ‘til you make it! I know if I’m confident, Junior’s going to be more confident going in and doing his best. I just try to be there for him.”
Sophia Schults (Ocala, Fla.) and Conocido HGF, a 2012 PRE gelding owned by Hampton Green Farm, scored a 70.952% and added a freestyle bronze to the team gold they’d picked up earlier in the week. This year’s exceptional NAYC results for the pair are the result of a long and sometimes challenging partnership.
“I’ve had him since he was four years old, and he’s 10 this year, and it’s been a tough journey to get here,” said Schults. “It was really hairy for a long time, but honestly, it’s just been the last six months or so, something in his mind said, ‘Yep, we’re doing this.’ Every show we do now I have to pinch myself because we actually make it through the tests these days. It’s been absolutely unbelievable. He will work so hard for me every day and I can’t thank him enough for that.”
The Amanda Johnson Award is awarded to the Junior Rider in the championships who receives the highest combined average percentage score from the Team, Individual and Freestyle dressage rides. This year’s winner is Ella Fruchterman.
The Fiona Baan Memorial Trophy is awarded to the Young Rider in the championships who receives the highest combined average percentage score from the Team, Individual and Freestyle dressage rides. This year’s winner is Erin Nichols.
The Dressage Style Award is presented to the rider who has shown “style” throughout the competition, not only when mounted, but also in the form of manners, and overall demeanor. This year’s winner is Madison Sumner.
The Patsy Albers Award is presented annually to the dressage Chef d’ Equipe who best demonstrates dedication, enthusiasm and team spirit. This year’s winner is Debbie DelGiorno.