September 21, 2015–The U.S. Saddle Seat Young Riders Travel Team made the trek to Africa to compete in the 2015 South Africa Saddle Seat Invitational at the Mistico Equestrian Centre, September 16-19. The 11 U.S. athletes delivered fantastic performances against nine of South Africa’s top saddle seat equitation riders. Under the guidance of coaches Kelly Kraegel (Guthrie, Okla.) and Sarah Lawson (Rockport, Ind.) and assisted by 2012 Saddle Seat Gold Medal coach Kristen Cater (Dunbarton, NH), the U.S. Team claimed the Three- and Five-Gaited Team and Individual Gold medals.
The competition began on Wednesday when the young athletes drew for the horses they would ride during the two-day competition. On Thursday, the riders participated in a training session where they had 20 minutes to familiarize themselves with their horses– a true test of their riding skills. During the competition, the amateur athletes competed for individual scores, which ultimately accumulated toward a total team score. The Three- and Five-Gaited sections rode in two phases held over two days: rail work, where the athletes competed as a group, and then individual workouts.
Competition officially got underway on Friday afternoon with the railwork phase. In front of the judging panel of Petro Botha de Waal of South Africa, Cindy Mugnier of the U.S., and Hugo Visser of South Africa, the U.S. Team members confidently rode their unfamiliar mounts and performed well in the first phase. On the second day of competition, the U.S. athletes once again produced great efforts in the individual workouts.
“I was very impressed with how our team worked together and performed,” Kraegel said. “They did a great job adjusting to the strange horses and getting the most out of their mounts. The team really stepped up and supported each other and made us all very proud!”
“Working with these U.S. invitational riders has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The Team members are very talented and dedicated riders who are used to performing to the best of their ability in intense competition,” Lawson said. “They used those skills to come together as a united team. The South African team was very gracious in its hospitality, and the country is absolutely beautiful. This was an experience I will never forget and was blessed to be apart of.”
The U.S. Team and supporters were thrilled with the final results announced at Saturday evening’s Award Ceremony. The results were even more impressive considering all the athletes made their overseas debut, handling the competition format and added pressure incredibly well. The Three-Gaited section of the U.S. Team received stellar scores to win its Team Gold medal with South Africa earning Silver. The U.S. Three-Gaited section consisted of:
Chloe Deeb (Halifax, Mass.)
Matt Huke (Westfield, Ind.)
Cameron Kay (W. Bloomfield, Mich.)
Clara McCool (Newburyport, Mass.)
Faith Robbins (Carmel, Ind.)
In the Five-Gaited section, the U.S. Team rode well in the challenging competition to win the Team Gold medal with South Africa receiving Silver. The U.S. Five-Gaited section consisted of:
Erin Beever (Mansfield, Ill.)
Cailin Bridges (Salisbury, Mass.)
Laura Plant (Advance, N.C.)
Allie Poovey (Winston Salem, N.C.)
Hayley Pullen (Sandy, Ore.)
Caroline Rainbolt-Forbes (Oklahoma City, Okla.)
In the Individual competition, the U.S. stood atop the podium yet again. Cameron Kay displayed her equitation and horsemanship skills winning the Three-Gaited Individual Gold medal. Cailin Bridges held her own against tough competition from South Africa to earn the Five-Gaited Individual Gold medal.
“I was thrilled to see them dancing, laughing, and intermingling with the South African team,” Kraegel added of the U.S. Team following the Award Ceremony. “They were all truly great representatives of the United States in their sportsmanship, horsemanship, perseverance, talent, and skill level they maintained throughout the entire competition.”
For more information, please contact Lori Nelson, USEF Assistant Executive Director, National Affiliates, at [email protected].