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Catherine the Great

Catherine Chamberlain, longtime partner Verdicci are FEI Young Rider superstars

From Horsetrader staff reports - August 7th, 2014 - Cover Story, Show & Event News

1408A CoverLEXINGTON, Ky. — Catherine Chamberlain found the formula. Dream large, focus small.

The 19-year old dressage competitor, who last fall moved to Murrieta to train with Kathleen Raine and David Wightman, dominated the USDF/Platinum Performance North American Junior & Young Rider Dressage Championships July 15-20. Her three rides at Rolex Stadium were her first beyond 70 percent, and they earned her three gold medals in individual, team and freestyle, respectively.

“I was actually surprised,” said Chamberlain, whose mother Annie Chamberlain and aunt Shari Patterson Blalock were both Young Rider competitors at her age. “You always dream of this kind of thing to happen, but you never really think it’s actually going to happen. I really just wanted to go and just have rides that I was proud of.”

Chamberlain and Verdicci, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding she calls “Chance”, lit up the Day One scoreboard in team competition with a 72.132%. That mark, combined with those of her three Region 7 teammates from California — Anna Buffini (San Diego) on Sundayboy, Lindsey Brewin (San Ramon) and Vaillant, and Cassidy Gallman (Poway) on Grand Makana, outdistanced Canada by more than five points to claim a second straight Young Rider team gold for the region representing California, Nevada and Hawaii.

Catherine Chamberlain and her longtime partner Verdicci returned to the Young Riders championship this year and dominated after finishing last in an injury-riddled 2011 visit.

Catherine Chamberlain and her longtime partner Verdicci returned to the Young Riders championship this year and dominated after finishing last in an injury-riddled 2011 visit.

Annie Chamberlain photo

“When I finished the team test, I was really happy with it and glad I put in a solid ride for the team,” said Chamberlain, who had scored 69s several times but had found 70 percent elusive. “When I saw it was a 72, I was like, ‘oh wow!’ I was in the second group of the morning, and throughout the day my score stayed on top of the leader board.

“We ended up first,” she adds. “I had never won a test at Young Riders. It was really cool.”

Going into the individual test, Chamberlain sensed added pressure — everyone expected the same results from her.

“I had never been in that situation before, either,” she said. “That was a really good experience for me — to have to deal with that pressure and stay focused.”

Her gold medal-winning individual score was 71.789%, and the top 15 individuals then advanced to the freestyle competition where she scored her highest ever, 72.525%, for a third gold medal. Her overall combined average of 72.148% was the highest among the young riders, earning her the prestigious Fiona Baan “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy from the U.S. Dressage Federation.

“It’s just really great because I’ve had my horse seven years now, and we’ve gone from training level all the way up to the Young Riders,” she said. “It’s great to make everybody proud who has put so much into me and my riding. My parents, my trainers — everyone. They’ve done so much to allow me to get where I am. To have it all pay off in the moment was just great. I’m so happy that all their hard work and my hard work came to fruition.”

Region 7 Young Rider Team Gold medalists (l to r): Anna Buffini, Cassidy Gallman, Catherine Chamberlain, and Lindsey Brewin.

Region 7 Young Rider Team Gold medalists (l to r): Anna Buffini, Cassidy Gallman, Catherine Chamberlain, and Lindsey Brewin.

Annie Chamberlain photo

Three years ago, Chamberlain’s Young Riders story with Chance as a member of the Region 8 team was different. Two months before the 2011 Young Riders, Chamberlain was kicked by a different horse while lunging, shattering her elbow. Not one to give up, a partially healed Chamberlain competed — and finished last with a 55.789%.

“I still thought it was going to be OK to compete,” she said. “But it wasn’t. I knew I could not ride my best, so I tried to compensate by overriding. That never works out. It just makes the horses mad.”

This year, her return journey with Chance to Young Riders meant something extra, as did their brilliant performance once they set foot in the arena. Confidence. Affirmation. Lessons learned.

“You learn something from every experience, whether it be positive or negative,” she said. “I learned to just enjoy the whole experience — don’t get caught up so much in the results, in the revenge — things like that.”

“Coming in this time, I just had a really good attitude about it. I didn’t care about how we ended up, I just wanted to really enjoy it, support my team and just have a great time, and then we had the best result of our career. I did not focus so much on riding for medals, but just riding to get better and learn from the experience and it really paid off.”

Leading up to the Young Rider Championships, her trainers had been in Europe: Raine showing Breanna and Wightman with student MacKenzie Cooley. Wightman returned with two weeks to prepare, and they buckled down and got to work.

“There was a lot on the small details — the preparation going into each and every movement, and just kind of slowing everything down, thinking through your corners, thinking through your circles, preparing 10 strides out on the pirouettes — the little details that I had maybe been missing throughout the year, maybe rushing some parts,” she said. “I’d never been able to ride a test where I feel like I really did everything perfectly, so this time at Young Riders, going into my team test, I walked out and was really proud of the ride, knowing that there was nothig else I could have done.”

“There’s so many factors that go into it,” she concluded. “You can’t control the judges. You can’t control the other riders. You only can control your seven minutes in the area, and that’s all you can focus on. Once you get that mentality, it really helps a lot.”

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