On the final day of the Royal Horse Show at the 100th anniversary of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, 21-year-old Lauren Esdale of Seagrave, ON, was crowned the $12,500 'Alfred Rogers' U25 National Champion
The competition consisted of three phases over two days and after exceptional performances throughout, the duo of Esdale and her Selle Francais grey gelding Viamdios D'Avril (Diamant de Semilly x Fol Avril) owned by Pauline Esdale, finished at the top of the podium and were named Canada’s U25 champions for 2022.
During Saturday’s Horse Show, a total of 12 athletes under the age of 25 who had qualified to ride from across Canada and the United States came back to compete for top honours at the series finale in front of 5,500 fans in the Coca-Cola Coliseum. The Athletes brought their scores forward from Thursday’s Phase 1 competition into the next two phases of the Championship, where the first-day scores would be added to the final day to determine the winner.
In Phase 1 against the clock earlier this week, Esdale took the win with a lightening fast clean speed round in 60.40 seconds over Olympic course designer Michel Vaillancourt’s 14 jumping efforts. For Phase 2, the combinations entered the ring in reverse order of merit to contest the afternoon’s challenging course also laid out by Vaillancourt, with plenty to take on including 15 jumping efforts over 12 jumps set at 1.45m, in a time allowed of 66 seconds.
Lalonde came back first and jumped clear in 44.28 seconds, well within the 48 second time-allowed. Then Dubois posted another clean round in an incredible time of 38.49, that had her coach Amy Millar jumping with pride along the sidelines. Dubeau-Kielty then took a rail to score four penalty points followed by a tougher round for Wiggins with two rails and 8 points in a time of 44.19. Esdale also dropped a rail at the second jump to receive 4 penalty points, but kept up the speed and finished in the second fastest time of 40.99.
At the conclusion of the event, it was 22-year-old Dubois and the 13-year-old bay Belgian warmblood gelding Dublin (Ugano Sitte x Acorado I), owned by Millar Brooke Farms who took the win for the day with Lalonde and Kapital Creation Z (Kannan x Diamant de Semilly) in second and Esdale in third. After the tallies of all three phases, Dubois’ points secured her the honour of reserve champion and crowned Esdale the winner of the U25 National Championship, presented in memory of Alfred Rogers.
“I don't think words can describe how much this show means to me,” said Esdale after coming off the win. “I grew up watching this horse show and kind of dreaming about it, even before I ever started riding. Winning a championship, especially like the U25 my first year doing the big classes, I mean, it's just a dream come true.”
The young rider was quick to share her gratitude. “Thinking about my entire team,” she said, “I'm so, so, so grateful. I have so many people there supporting me and of course my horse ‘Ted’, he's the love of my life,” she beamed, referring to her championship mount Viamdios D'Avril who’s barn name is Ted, or more aptly due to his nature, Teddy.
Esdale has been paired with Ted since January 2021 and is thrilled with how well the partnership has been building. “Ever since I got him, he was just a complete game changer for me. He’s given me all the confidence and he's taught me so much in such a short period of time. I couldn't be happier.”
In addition to her heart horse, she’s feeling lucky to be partnered with her coaches, the Ballards at Looking Back Farm, including Canadian team rider Erynn Ballard. “Dave was here with me today and he's really been helping me so much the past year. And Erin, she’s the best. She's probably the best virtual coach there is. You would swear she's here with you. Before I even get off, I look at my phone. And I already have a whole list of things to work on, things to improve on, things I did well. It's pretty incredible.”
With this big win, and the Royal Horse Show now complete, the pair are planning to head south, but not before a bit of rest and to let it all sink in. “We’ll be heading down to Florida as soon as possible, and Ted's gonna get a little break,” she said. “We probably won't start showing him until the new year. For now, we just need a little downtime and to get out of the cold!”
The first round proved challenging for the field with only five pairs jumping clean and moving on to the second round jump off. All of the competitors had earned their place to compete in the class, but only Esdale, Jade Lalonde, Rayne Dubois, Ellah Dubeau-Kielty, and Julia Wiggins with their respective mounts secured places in the final phase.