Tale of two FEI championships

Kyle Carter competing at 2014 Poplar Place Farm Horsetrials in March


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

There is only one FEI Championship held in North America every year and that is the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC). Every four years, 41 countries from the Americas and closely situated island nations come together to compete at the biggest sporting event on this side of the globe, the Pan Am Games. About 18 of the events will be Olympic qualifiers for the Rio 2016 Summer Games, including Eventing.

Toronto won the bidding process to host the 2015 Pan Am Games on November 6, 2009. This was great news for Canada and the United States as this meant that many fans could travel easier to take part in the sporting extravaganza. For the Eventing contingent, these games are particularly important as Canada and the USA may both be trying to secure an Olympic team qualification.

However, there has been an outright blunder with the scheduling of the NAJYRC as it takes place the same weekend as the Eventing competition at the Pan Am Games on July 14th-19th.

For the young riders attending the NAJYRC, they will be denied the opportunity to watch the Pan Am Games to learn and cheer on their coaches and mentors at this historic occasion. This is only the third time in the history of the Pan Ams that Canada has been awarded the games. The Eventing community in Canada is not huge but the majority of the competitors and events are located in Ontario. It is absurd that Ontario’s top young riders will have to leave and compete at the NAJYRC during the largest Eventing competition to come to the province in perhaps their lifetime.

There are at least two young riders who have multiple two-star horses and could potentially be chosen to represent their area at the Young Rider Championships and the Pan Am Games. April Simmonds (CAN) is a long-listed member of the 2015 Canadian National Eventing Team and Caroline Martin (USA) is on the respective 2015 USA National Eventing Team. Both have horses and the results that could potentially land them on both their Young Rider team and the Pan Am Games team. It is rare that two exceptional young riders could be in a position to compete at both championships but they will not have the opportunity.

Since there are so many young riders in Canada qualified for the Pan Ams we talked to Jenn Holling, High Performance Chair for Canadian Eventing, about the problem of both championships at the same time. She said, “Every year when there is a team competition, possible team riders need to make decisions about what competitions they are able to do and they have to make choices based on the goals of their horses. It is part of the job of being a team rider. For these young riders and potential Pan Am riders these are decisions our top athletes have to make all the time.”

Jenn Holling taping dressage tests at 2014 Richland Horse Trials

Jenn Holling taping dressage tests at 2014 Richland Horse Trials

Many of the young rider coaches, including Canada’s Jessica Phoenix, Kyle Carter, Hawley Bennett-Awad and the USA’s Jon Holling, Will Coleman, Sinead Halpin all are serious contenders to attend the Pan Am Games as competitors and will have to forgo their coaching duties if they are named to ride for their nation. Many in this group have been heading a program for a number of years with their young riders and they will have to step away leaving their young riders at their most important event.

For American Jon Holling, both championships on the same weekend are going to conflict with his coaching duties for the USA Area IV Young Rider Team and his goal of riding for the USA at the Pan Ams. Jon and his mount Downtown Harrison were chosen for the 2011 USA Pan Am Games and at the last minute had to withdraw for veterinary reasons.

As a member of a USEF Eventing Technical committee, Jon pointed out the conflicting dates two years ago. He said, “I tried very hard as one of the riders to say this was a problem and I did everything I could do to get people to try and change it. I talked to coaches at young riders last year and none of the riders could be bothered to do anything about it. They were all too busy in their own little worlds being worried about themselves like they always are and didn’t do a thing to try and fix this then. Now, when it is unfixable and there is no way to change it, all the riders are starting to realize this is a problem that they cannot coach and go to the Pan Ams. As somebody who sits on these committees and tries to take part and catch these things and deal with it, I felt very alone as one of the professionals trying to deal with this. There was only a small handful of us even thinking about it at the time. I am now kind of upset that all these riders are trying to change it. It’s too late, that ship has sailed, we had our opportunity and everyone was too self absorbed to do anything about it. The governance of the sport has tried everything they can to try and fix the problem. The riders need to pay more attention and take part. If they don’t take part, this is the kind of stuff that will happen. You only have a voice if you use it. Now there are many logistical reasons as to why it cannot be changed. There has been a huge effort to try to get this to work out. Perhaps, if the riders spoke up something might have been able to be done.”

For Jon personally, if he is selected for the Pan Am Games or has a student selected for the games he will have to choose which championship to attend. He said, “So it is a problem. It is a huge problem. In business you have choices. Is riding for America at the Pan Am games more important for my career than keeping my job coaching young riders? There are logistical things that people can do to work around it. You can have someone come in and coach for a little while or maybe give up that coaching job to chase the dream of riding at the Pan Ams.”

Jon Holling on Proper Timing at 2014 Richland Horse Trials in August

Jon Holling on Proper Timing at 2014 Richland Horse Trials in August

Both championships running at the same time are causing a triple problem for Canadian, Kyle Carter. Kyle has declared multiple horses for the Pan Am Games, he coaches three riders from Venezuela who are trying to earn team spots with their nation, and he is the young rider coach for the USA Area III Team.

Kyle said, “The decision makers don’t think it is a big deal because it only affects a handful of people. Most people that will be riding on the teams for the Americans like Buck, Boyd and Phillip get paid to ride horses. They are not going to young riders to coach. My priority is to ride at the Pan Am Games. If I don’t make it as a rider which is a very good possibility, although I do have a couple of horses that may still have a good shot, I will then be torn. I will have to make a choice…either coach my Venezuelan clients or my young rider team. Young riders is a big thing for me, I really enjoy it. I think we are going to win a gold medal this time and we have never won it three times in a row at the two-star level. Right now, I am still signed on for young riders. It frustrates me greatly that I cannot be at both championships.

Jessica Phoenix is also in the same predicament as a coach and a competitor. She is the defending Pan Am Games Eventing gold medalist. Riding Pavarotti, she won the 2011 games in Guadalajara, Mexico. This year she hopes to have eight horses qualified and with a promising string of horses, her chances of being selected are strong.

Jessica has been the Ontario Young Rider Team coach for the past two years and is in the process of trying to work something out for 2015. She said, “This is the worst planning for the sport of Eventing ever. For me personally, I would love to stay in the young rider program as a coach but they need someone at the young rider championships. For the young riders this is a big deal, it is ludicrous. They are taking the experience away from our top young riders to watch a senior championship in their own country or in the case of the Americans a reasonable travel time. The people running this are an intelligent group that can think on their feet. We need to fix this. What about moving the Eventing championship to the Pan Ams site the following week. How exciting would that be for the young riders to compete at the same venue? There is a CIC1* course already there. All they would have to do is make a couple of loops.”

Jessica Phoenix coaching at 2014 Ontario Championships

Jessica Phoenix coaching at 2014 Ontario Championships

Press coverage would be more beneficial for everyone if the events did not run concurrently. Riders, fans, owners, and sponsors will not receive appropriate coverage with two FEI championships on the same weekend. Most of the equine publications in North America have limited reporters and the event that will get the least amount of coverage will be the NAJYRC. Mainstream press will be inundated with the Pan Am coverage so again the NAJYRC will suffer.

We talked to Mark Coley, Properties Department Coordinator, NAJYRC Competition Manager on the phone about the implications. He was very gracious and got back to us after meeting with the Organization Committee and he responded with an email, “Multiple factors, including scheduling, qualifying periods and facility availability, were taken into account in deciding the dates for the 2015 Adequan/FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships presented by Gotham North and in order to run during the designated FEI Young Rider Championship timeframe and best accommodate all five disciplines hosted at the NAJYRC the date July 14-19, 2015 proved to the most feasible. There are few venues that could host this Championships and we need to work closely with the Kentucky Horse Park to ensure that the dates fit with their very busy schedule.”

So get ready for North American Eventing overload July 14th-19th.

What do you think?

[NAJYRC]     [Toronto 2015]

For more Eventing news from around the word check out Today’s SCOOP


Scroll for more top stories on Eventing Connect