The USEA Young Event Horse Championships showcase some of the best and brightest young eventing talent on four legs. But what about the two-legged competitors? Riders in the Young Event Horse classes tend to be adult professionals looking for a platform to expose their up-and-coming youngsters, helping them gain experience in a competitive atmosphere. It is much less common to see junior or young riders competing in these divisions.
This year, the youngest rider in the USEA Young Event Horse Championships was 15-year-old Emma Keahon. “I’ve been riding for as long as I can remember,” Keahon said. “My mom has owned horses and been eventing for my whole life, so it was hard to stay away. I started with hunters and then when I was 8 [years old], I did my first starter horse trials. Needless to say, I didn’t do any more hunter shows after that!”
Emma and Doogie during the show jumping portion of the jumping test. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
Keahon rode Dorry Gascon and Andrew Keahon’s 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, PS Duty Calls (Dunbeggan Grey Mist x Woodbank Shiraz). Sourced from Peachstone Sporthorses in Georgia, Keahon’s parents purchased “Doogie” this past January and Keahon has been producing him for the past year with the help of Chris Talley and Hannah Salazar of Zaragoza Acres.
“The first day I tried him, I had a difficult time riding him,” Keahon recalled. “I couldn’t figure out how to steer him! Everyone convinced me to take him cross-country schooling the next day and I’m so glad that they did. He was perfect cross-country schooling and I totally fell for him! Doogie and I are both so green, but we’ve been learning and maturing together which makes the process so much more enjoyable.”
Emma demonstrating Doogie's dressage skills. Antonio Salazar Photo.
Keahon competed through the Preliminary level with Courtney Sendak's Wil’ya Love Me, a Connemara gelding who had competed through the Advanced level with Sendak. Having had the experience of riding both a seasoned horse and a young prospect, Keahon said she has enjoyed working with a greener horse. “I think it’s hard for young riders to decide whether it will be more beneficial for them to learn from an older packer or a young horse they can bring up the levels themselves,” she stated. “I think there is something special and unique about learning with a young horse that creates a rare bond between the horse and rider.”
“Chris and I have worked with Emma for the last year and a half,” Salazar shared. “Emma herself has always been a very special student for me and Chris. She has always had an innate talent, but more importantly she is an excellent young horse woman and a very special person. Emma has an impeccable work ethic, a very strong desire to always improve herself, and she also has true grit. It is something you don't see all too often in most people, let alone a developing 15-year-old.”
Doogie and Emma on the cross-country portion of the jumping test. Antonio Salazar Photo.
Keahon and Doogie competed together for the first time at the Morven Park Spring Horse Trials at the Novice level in March, quickly moving up and winning their first event at Training level at the Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Horse Trials in April. In June, Keahon made the decision to compete in the YEH qualifier at Surefire Farm where they took second place on a score of 83.0, qualifying them for the Championship at Fair Hill.
“Doogie did nothing but impress me at Fair Hill,” Keahon said. “Doogie handled the big electrifying atmosphere with nothing but class. It was definitely intimidating being surrounded by some of the biggest names in U.S. eventing and to be competing in a division that is almost completely professionals. Despite not receiving the scores I was hoping for, Doogie was so good in both the dressage and jumping!”
Showing off Doogie's gallop. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
“Being able to help Emma and Doogie not only qualify but compete at the YEH Championships was such a wonderful experience,” Salazar added. “We feel strongly that it was an influential stepping stone for their future together."
“I’m so thankful to be in the amazing program at Zaragoza Acres that has been supporting Doogie and I since the first day,” Emma elaborated. “Without Hannah and Chris’s encouragement, I would never have considered taking on and developing a young horse. They have such an amazing young horse program that has been so influential for Doogie and I and Hannah and Chris have taught me so much in bring Doogie along. I would have never qualified to go to the YEH Championships at Fair Hill without their continuous help and support. I can’t thank them enough for their dedication to helping me bring out all the top qualities within Doogie.”
Emma and Doogie during the conformation phase. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
“I believe that the YEH program is such a valuable program in our sport to help let you know whether you have an upper level horse on your hands,” Keahon concluded. “I hope the YEH program sticks around and I hope I have the opportunity to compete in the Championships again in the future!”