July 25, 2013 -- The top junior hunter riders on the west coast met at Showpark Facility in Del Mar, Calif., July 22-23 for the 2013 US Junior Hunter National Championships - West. The riders were separated into 15 & Under and 16-17 divisions, as well as Small Junior Hunter and Large Junior Hunter, and competed in three phases: Classic Round, Under Saddle, and Handy Hunter. The Under Saddle phase counted for 20% of the rider's overall score while both the Classic Round and Handy Hunter counted for 40%.
After two days of tough competition, 18-year-old Samantha Sommers (Malibu, Calif.) dominated by claiming the Overall Grand Champion and Overall Reserve Champion titles. In her final year of eligibility, Sommers was looking to have a good experience and hoped for the best, possibly winning the elusive Overall Grand Champion title.
"I wanted to do well, but going into the competition I didn't put pressure on myself to ultimately be Grand Champion. The second day I was a little anxious only because I was leading both Large Junior and Small Junior sections, but I channeled my energy and was able to finish strong. Realizing I was not only champion in both sections, but also Overall Grand and Reserve Grand Champion was one of the greatest feelings of my riding career. I feel so honored to have won those prestigious awards. It really meant a lot to have the support from John French, Tara Metzner, and Elizabeth Reilly. I would not have been able to accomplish any of this if it weren't for them and all they do on a daily basis."
The judging panel made up of William Ellis (Ocala, Fla.), Irving Evans (Fremont, N.H.), and Walter Timmy Kees (Nowalk, Conn.) named Sommers and Elizabeth Reilly and Chris Iwasaki's Small Affair, a 10-year-old Selle Francias gelding, the Overall Grand Champions, winning the Overall Grand Champion Junior Hunter trophy. The pair also won the Large Junior Hunter 16-17 section, receiving The Magic Word Perpetual Trophy. With Oscany, Inc's Illusion, Sommers rode to Overall Reserve Champion honors. She and the 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding were also the winners of the Small Junior Hunter 16-17 section, claiming The River Edge Farm Perpetual Trophy.
"Both Illusion and Small Affair are two of the most incredible horses I have ever ridden and feel so blessed and lucky to have had the chance to show them at US Junior Hunter National Championships. They made me feel confident throughout all three phases of the competition, which helped to keep me focused.
"Illusion was on his game and lit up every time we entered the Grand Prix field. He is extremely trustworthy, which he showed as we hand galloped to the last fence in the Handy [Hunter phase]. Illusion has the most amazing canter, and I can feel him underneath me every stride to the next jump.
"Small Affair is a one-of-a-kind horse and amazing to ride; I felt confident with him every time I entered the arena where he jumped his heart out. I wanted to just stay smooth, and he worked with me throughout the competition over every course."
Two other top junior riders claimed overall honors in the remaining sections. The Overall Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under title went to Kaitlyn Van Konynenburg (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) and Triton Z, her own eight-year-old Warmblood gelding. Mikayla Stuart (Ranco Santa Fe, Calif.) and her own eight-year-old Holsteiner mare Verdana were the Overall Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under title winners. A new award on the west coast for the highest scoring overall mare went to the eight-year-old Hanoverian mare Small Celebration, owned by Oscany Inc. and ridden by Lillie Keenan (New York, N.Y.).
The competition now moves east to HITS on the Hudson in Saugerties, N.Y., July 29-31. Jeff Ayers (Sellersville, Pa.), Scott Fitton (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.), and Hap Hansen (Encinitas, Calif.) will judge the east coast's riders throughout the competition, with courses designed by Rian Beals (Saugerties, N.Y.). The 2013 USHJA/Essex Classics Hunterdon Equitation Cup Classic will also be held during the US Junior National Hunter Championships - East.
To find out more information about the US Junior Hunter National Championships, visit http://www.usef.org/_IFrames/breedsdisciplines/discipline/allhunter/JuniorChampionships.aspx.