A 15-year-old eventer from Ponoka County, Mikayla Hoffman, finished in 12th place out of 48 riders at the CCIJ 2* level at the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) held from July 24 to 28 at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Montana.
Mikayla also earned the CCIJ2*-L top-placed Canadian title in the individual standings.
“Eventing” is an equestrian sport in which riders compete in cross-country, dressage and show jumping courses.
“Essentially it’s the Olympics for young riders,” said Jamie Hoffman, Mikayla’s mother.
The riders come from Canada, the United States, Mexico and other countries. This year, however, there were only competitors from Canada and the States.
In order to qualify, Mikayla competed in California last fall doing qualifying events, as there are no competitions at that level in Canada.
Mikayla was chosen for Team Alberta in June, earning one of just four spots of the team that would go to NAYC.
Competitors begin in dressage and are scored with a percentage. Any error in the cross-country or show jumping is added to the penalty percentage.
Mikayla finished her dressage phase in 19th place with 36.0 penalty points, but after double-clear rounds in the cross-country and show jumping phases she finished in 12th place overall.
Out of the four members of Team Alberta, only two were able to complete all three events. One was eliminated for falling off their horse and the other for stopping too many times.
This was Mikayla’s debut at NAYC, and she had never faced rails of that height or obstacles of that calibre before.
Before competitions, riders are allowed to walk the courses, without their horses, but otherwise go in blind and must trust their horse.
All the obstacles on the cross-country course are solid and all kinds of jumps, from the water and out.
“It’s quite incredible,” said Jamie, adding some of the jumps were made to look like animals, and there was one that was a cutout of a canoe in the water.
Mikayla finished the cross-country course in seven minutes, under the allowed time, with no faults or penalties.
At the national championship level, the jumps are set higher and the obstacles are more technical than anything Mikayla had competed at before. The horses are extremely well-trained, but a lot of young riders were having difficulties, with rails falling and other problems.
”It was pretty intense going into the show jumping,” said Jamie.
Mikayla admits she was a bit nervous going into the show jumping, but she and her 12-year-old thoroughbred horse Eli were prepared.
In the warm-up ring, Mikayla says he felt “amazing” — super-relaxed, with rhythmic and even cantering and they were, “seeing the exact same distance to the fence every single time.”
That’s part of her process when getting ready for an event; to see how Eli is feeling and reacting, and then making her decisions from there.
“You never really get on the same horse.”
Mikayla has been riding since she could walk and competing at events since she was eight years old. She has been training with Eli for three-and-a-half years, six to seven days a week at Extreme Stables (located between Ponoka, Bashaw and Tees on Hwy. 821 and Hwy. 605) which is owned by her aunt Angie Golley.
After all their hard work and training, and developing such an intuitive relationship with Eli, making a clean run was everything.
“It feels absolutely incredible to know you worked so hard with your partner and it’s finally there.”
Eli also came home with a title, being named top-placed thoroughbred horse in the thoroughbred incentive program.
Alberta’s team was in ninth place after the dressage, but with the trouble the two members had, the team didn’t place overall, which Mikayla says was “devastating” to those team members.
To qualify as a team, three members must finish.
For herself, she says it was great to place 12th and be named the top-placed Canadian.
Mikayla has taken part in the Alberta Horse Trials for many years and has been on the Alberta High Performance Team for three consecutive years.
Now that she’s back home, she and Eli will take a break as he rests from competition for about a month. In the fall and early winter (between attending school in Ponoka) they’ll be back at it, travelling to the states to begin competing at the next level of eventing: intermediate.