Novice to NAYC: Partnerships Play a Part for Area III Young Rider Team

It’s a special moment to be selected for an event as prestigious as the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC). It’s even better to go on a horse that has taken you from Beginner Novice to the FEI level because through all the ups and downs over the years, you and your horse have formed a partnership founded on trust, understanding and communication.

Area III Young Riders is sending a full team of four to compete in the NAYC CCI* at The Event at Rebecca Farm this month. It’s an accomplishment in itself, but each of these young ladies is making her first appearance at NAYC on a horse she’s ridden through the lower levels up to FEI. Way to go!

Now without further adieu, let’s meet the Area III NAYC CCI* team!

Ryan Wood and Galway Blazer. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Ryan Wood is 18 years old and from Mobile, Alabama. She and her 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Galway Blazer are longtime partners and have come up through the levels together. This year they’ve finished first, second and fourth in three Preliminary appearances and in April completed their first CCI* at the Ocala International 3-Day Festival of Eventing presented by Ocala Ranches.

“It is such an honor to be competing at this event and I am so excited to ride alongside my teammates. I always thought it would be amazing to compete at this championship, but never expected it to actually happen!” Ryan said.

“I wasn’t sure how far the lanky 3-year-old I bought would go and I certainly wasn’t sure how far we would go after a colic surgery when he was six. And yet, here we are! Montana will be a completely different show experience than I’ve ever had before, but I absolutely can’t wait.”

Grace Smith and Fernhill Saulsford Nazar. Photo courtesy of Grace Smith.

Grace Smith is 16 years old and from Newnan, Georgia. She and her 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Fernhill Saulsford Nazar have been partnered for two years. They competed in their first Novice together in summer of 2016 and were winning at Preliminary by early 2017. Most recently, they finished fifth at Chattahoochee Hills last month.

“My horse is feeling better than ever. We have both worked hard to get here and are honored to represent Area III at the NAYC. It is a dream come true!” Grace said.

Jessie Schwartz and WHF Kitaro. Photo by Joan Davis/Flatlandsfoto.

Jessie Schwartz is 17 years old and from Alpharetta, Georgia. She and her 13-year-old Thoroughbred/Trakehner gelding WHF Kitaro have racked up several top 10 Preliminary finishes since moving up to the level in January 2017 and have successfully completed two CCI* events.

“I’m so excited to be chosen to represent Area III at NAYC this year. Since the day I started riding Kitaro four years ago I knew I wanted to go to Young Riders with him,” Jessie said.

“In these past years, he has not only matched but exceeded my determination to go after these dreams. Together we have figured out how to move up the levels and now I can’t wait to get the experience competing on a team with my best friend.”

Leila Saxe and Mr Bojangles. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Leila Saxe is 15 years old and from Atlanta, Georgia. She and the 10-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Mr. Bojangles, owned by Angelia and Wayne Saxe, are very experienced at the level, with 14 Preliminary and two CCI* completions under their belts.

“I am so honored and excited to be representing Area III at NAYC this year. I have owned Mr. Bojangles for three years now. When I first bought him we started at Beginner Novice. Who would have known we’d be where we are now?” Leila said.

“About seven months ago I moved away from my parents to train with Kyle Carter and make it on the Young Rider Team. This once in a lifetime opportunity has presented itself to me and I am so grateful for that. I am happy to ride and compete with my team at this event!”

Team Area III. Photo via Facebook.

The Area III team will be coached by Julie Richards who represented the Area III Young Riders at the NAYC CCI2* in 1988. She went on to be a member of the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, helping to earn a team bronze medal in 2004. Julie is based in Newnan, Georgia where she teaches and trains horses and riders of all levels. This is the first year coaching the Area III Young Riders. She said, “I look forward to helping guide these awesome girls through this championship in Montana.”

The Area III team will also be supported in Montana by head groom Katie Strickland. She has been a professional groom for over 25 years, working with upper level riders and Olympians. Fun fact: Katie groomed for Julie when she competed at Young Riders!

Area III Young Rider Coordinator Allina Bell will serve as chef d’equipe, parent wrangler and #1 cheerleader.

We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the 2018 NAYC! Go Young Riders. Go Eventing.