I am referring to the temperature. At the North American Junior Young Rider Championships.
It was positively wilting for those of us fresh from five weeks of raincoats and sweaters in Europe and ten days of glorious, low humidity sunshine in British Columbia. The heat index has been over 100 since we arrived in Lexington, Kentucky – we touched down at Bluegrass Field at 8:00 pm and the temperature was 88 degrees. Axel is judging, and I’m photographing the dressage phase along with Susan Stickle. You’ll find all NAJYRC photos on her website.
The veterinary inspection on the first day always seems to be the most stressful part of a Junior/Young Rider competition. This is often the first time that these kids are riding as a team, which means that it’s suddenly not all about them: three other riders besides themselves would suffer if their horse doesn’t pass inspection. Young Rider horses often have a bit more mileage on them than the average Small Tour horse, and mileage means wear and tear on the joints and soft tissue. FEI competitions are drug free, so at this level, there’s no such thing as giving your mount a dose of bute to counter the normal aches that come after a long trip and a night sleeping in a strange stall. A horse that can perform without that Advil-equivalent is truly a sound individual. There were anxious moments for a few teams when horses were held for re-inspection (and with the sun beating down, why wasn’t there a misting fan or a shade tent for those long waits in the holding area??) Fortunately only one horse was “spun” and didn’t continue with the competition…. such a letdown after such a long road of training and qualifying!
Once the panel called out the word “Accepted”, though, each American rider was each handed a packet, so small that one might not even see it hidden in her hand as she walked back to the barn. But the look on the rider’s face belied its importance: this is their YR patch, which is the badge of having represented their country on a team. They will sew this onto the breast pocket of their jacket and proudly wear it for the duration of their Young Rider career.
In spite of the heat, the riders were turned out to the nines for their inspection. Horses were buffed to a shine, manes braided, hooves oiled. Each team arrived as a unit, dressed in matching attire: white shirts, black pants, blingy belts; white shirts, powder blue blazers and white pants; red pants and red hair bands. Now, when I was the age of these competitors, I didn’t have the nerve to wear red pants, and now that I have the nerve, I’m sure that no one wants to see me in them. So I tip my hat (teal straw, with a turquoise ribbon band) to those with both the panache and the bodies to look good in crimson jeans!
At the end of photographing the next day’s Team Dressage, I was wrung out. I can’t remember the last time there were salt blooms on my shirt after a day of shooting. And I was just standing still, albeit in the direct sun, above the white techno-sand of the Rolex Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park that reflected every lumen of sunlight back up at us: I could see Susan across the huge arena also melting in the hot sun, as were the score runners and the stewards. The judges for the Young Rider ring were shaded in the signature open-sided KHP wood judging stands, but those adjudicating the Junior division were judging from tents – which had their solid white plastic sides down, completely blocking any breeze that came along.
So kudos the the Juniors and Young Riders, and their coaches and support teams of parents, friends and siblings, who got each pair to the arena in good order. They had the difficult task of managing the core temperatures and nerves of both halves of each partnership. And kudos to the officials, who kept the even running in spite of the beastly temperatures. And especially, kudos to the horses. There were a few who declined to play when asked to give their all in the heat, but there were so very many that entered the big arena and cheerfully did their jobs.