The U.S. Endurance Team had a great finish in the FEI Endurance World Championships for Young Riders & Juniors on Wednesday, September 18. The prestigious 120-kilometer competition was held at the San Rossore Racecourse in Pisa, Italy, during the Toscana Endurance Lifestyle event.
“This is a really good result for the program,” said the U.S. team’s chef d’equipe, Mark Dial. "This is the fastest we’ve ridden, and the best team finish we’ve had since I’ve been with the program.” Dial was named U.S. Endurance Team Technical Advisor and Chef d’Equipe in April of 2015.
“This was a great group,” Dial continued. “They rode to instructions, and they could communicate any issues they were having. They were riding some very good horses. Over the past several years, we’ve put together an incredible staff. I have to give the staff credit, too—our vet staff, Kristen Brett, and the selectors. We’ve put together a really good program and we’re starting to see the results.”
In her first U.S. team appearance, Kate Bishop, 16, (Raleigh, N.C.) rode to the top individual placing, finishing in 41st with LR April Breeze, Lisa Green’s 12-year-old Arabian mare. A crew member handed Bishop an American flag as she approached the finish. “I held it high as we cantered across the finish line. That was my favorite moment of the whole ride,” Bishop said.
“My horse was amazing,” Bishop continued. “We went faster and faster on each loop, which was really great. I was impressed with how she performed. She came into the vet checks and pulsed really well, which she’s really good at. My crew and team were amazing as well. The whole team was really close; it was fun getting to know everyone.”
“Things went extremely well for Kate,” said Dial. “She was riding a really good mare that has an incredible heart. She rode to instructions all day long and did a really good job. She’s a strong young rider. She’s someone who could be in the program for a long time to come.”
Team veterans Katelyn Baldino and Maria Muzzio, both 21, rode and finished together, placing 56th and 57th respectively individually. “They brought a lot of maturity and stability to our younger riders,” said Dial. “They’re both incredible young riders; they’re easy to coach. We were lucky to have them because they were the rock for the team.”
Baldino (Marietta, Ga.) rode Traction, Melody Blittersdorf’s nine-year-old Arabian gelding. “My goal for this competition was to let Traction have a good, fun day on the course and take good care of him,” Baldino said. “I think we accomplished that wonderfully. He was having a lot of fun out there, as was I. It was wonderful to cross the finish with a horse who was very happy with his job.”
Muzzio (Clifton, Va.) was pleased with Landroval, Natalie Muzzio’s nine-year-old Arabian gelding, in his first championship ride. “He was amazing. He’s so young, and he has some maturity things to work on, but he did so well,” Muzzio said. “It was nice and cool when we started, and all the horses were on fire. They all had their ears perked and were all business. The main goal was to finish the competition with at least a team of three riders, so having our team place sixth was so great.”
Baldino and Muzzio competed together in the 2015 FEI Endurance World Championships for Young Riders & Juniors and have been friends ever since. “The best thing was that Kate and I got to finish together,” said Muzzio. “After us starting in this program together and having been on teams together before, with this as our last year together, it was really cool.”
The team made the decision to retire Kimberly Loutzenheiser (LaGrange, Ga.) and DM Michaelangelo, Rae Shumate-Tysor’s 10-year-old Arabian gelding, after the second vet check, based on the welfare of the horse. Alex Shampoe (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Dude Free Gold, Valerie Kanavy’s 11-year-old Arabian gelding, were unable to advance to the fourth and final loop. In the best interest of Dude Free Gold, the Veterinary Commission elected to eliminate the combination during the compulsory re-inspection.
“Everyone rode with the plan to take good care of their horse and help their teammates when needed, and I think everyone accomplished that,” Baldino said. “We worked together as a team really well. We did a lot of checking in to make sure that everyone was getting what they needed when we were out on the trail together.”
Baldino also acknowledged the contributions of the support staff. “All of these people, whether it’s USEF staff or our families and friends, pulled together,” she said. “We had 45 people helping out, taking care of us and the horses and making sure we had everything we needed. It leaves you speechless when you see that many people working together to help you achieve your goal.”
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The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOPC, and USEF sponsors and members.