Rhode Island’s Abigail Brayman Wins NEHC Junior Medal Final
By Jane Carlton
After three rounds of intense competition at the New England Horsemen’s Council (NEHC) Junior Medal Final, held on October 23 in West Springfield, MA, Abigail Brayman of Charlestown, RI, emerged as the 2016 champion. The 17-year-old was one of 187 horse and rider pairs to contest the Kenny Krome-designed course, taking the challenge with her larger-than-life mount, Cassini. Ava Stearns went home with the reserve champion ribbon.
“[Cassini] is the best horse in the world,” gushed Brayman, who is a working student for trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan and does all of the gelding’s care. “He’s secretly a unicorn—for the Challenge of the States, he had a unicorn horn. He’s really big. Extra large. At least 18 hands. He doesn’t really know how big he is, but he’s so cute that he just can’t help it,” she added.
Going 20th in the order, Brayman rode to an impressive score of 88 in the first round, holding onto the lead for a significant portion of the day. Katherine Bundy from Westport, CT, grabbed the highest score in the first round—a 92.66—which not only put her on top, but earned her the Junior High Point Rider Award. Joining Brayman and Bundy in the top four after the first round were Ava Stearns (who went 183rd in the order!) from Chilmark, MA, with a 91.66 and Emma Fletcher from Buzzards Bay, MA, with a 88.33. “The first round was super smooth,” Brayman said. “It kept a nice, consistent pace but it showed a lot of options.”
The six-judge panel called back the top 25 riders to take on the second-round course, which featured tough questions and room for a little bit of handiness. Annabel Revers, fresh off a reserve champion finish at the Pessoa/United States Equestrian Federation Hunter Seat Equitation Medal Finals a week prior, entered the ring placed eighth and rode a fantastic round to skyrocket her to the top. Brayman was the fourth-to-last to ride the second round and put down a solid trip to earn an 85.91. A pair of dropped rails for Fletcher, slotted third, earned a score of 77.5, which took her out of the top four. Down to Stearns and Bundy, the two dominated to earn scores of 89.5 and 92, respectively.
The judges elected to test the top four—Bundy, Stearns, Brayman, and Revers. Riders were asked difficult questions, such as counter-cantering a fence, a hand gallop, and trotting a fence. Revers, first to go in fourth place, rode a great, competitive test. Second to go, Brayman, laid down a beautifully stylistic test that ended with an eruption of applause. The test went wonderfully for Stearns, who answered all the questions with style. Last to go, Bundy, kept the audience on the edges of their seats and rode a beautiful test, save for a canter stride before the trot fence.
“I came into the second round sitting fourth, and the second round was really good, but I was still sitting third,” Brayman said “I really didn’t have anything to lose in the test. I had no nerves, believe it or not. I just went in, and [Cassini] was so perfect.”
When the final results were tallied, Brayman was named the 2016 NEHC Junior Medal Final Champion with Stearns close behind in the reserve champion position. Bundy earned third place, while Revers went home with the fourth-place honors. Rounding out the top 10 were: Ellyn Fritz in fifth, Elizabeth Ekberg in sixth, Olivia Bloch in seventh, Eliza Month in eighth, Kendra Gierkink in ninth, and Fletcher in 10th.
The prestigious Katie Battison Memorial Horsemanship Challenge results were also announced on October 23, with Hannah Wooley taking the top spot. Elizabeth Ekberg’s mount, Finnegan, was also named the Judge’s Choice Junior Horse.