The North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC) is the premier equestrian competition in North America for Junior and Young Riders age 14–21. Young dressage equestrians compete for team, individual and freestyle medals. For any aspiring Junior or Young Rider, this competition is the crème de la crème.
Eighteen-year-old Molly Paris, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was thrilled to just make the Region 1 Junior dressage team for the 2014 Adequan FEI NAJYRC. When competition day arrived, she didn’t expect to win the team test with her 8-year-old Westfalen gelding, Diamant Sky, nor did she expect that her win would lead her team to the gold-medal podium and that she would later earn an individual silver medal and a freestyle bronze. But that’s what happened. In retrospect, however, she knows it didn’t happen by accident. The right horse, the right training and perseverance paved the way.
“My training has always been super correct,” says Paris, who has been working with North-Carolina-based trainer Jennifer Baumert for about five years. “I always feel that Sky is going in the right direction. I have always been moving forward, always learning.”
Baumert discovered Diamant Sky in 2013 as a 7-year-old, and Paris immediately clicked with him. “He’s like a big kid,” says Paris. “You feel that as soon as you get on. He wants to play, but he also wants to satisfy you. For him, riding is fun, and that’s exactly what I want. I want it to be fun.”
Despite his eagerness, Sky wasn’t always an easy ride. “He’s a big horse and a much more forward mover than anything I’d ever ridden, so it was a lot to get used to,” says Paris. “I needed to learn how to ride that, and bit by bit we’ve gotten better.
Down Centerline at NAJYRC
Riding at the largest Junior and Young Rider competition in the country is likely to bring on show nerves. “On Day 1 of NAJYRC, I was so stressed out that I didn’t think I would be able to ride well,” says Paris. “Then it was so much fun to meet other riders, including my team members, and get to know girls my own age who have the same aspirations and appreciate the sport as much as I do. Everyone was so friendly and encouraging, that by the second day it was easy to put most of my nerves aside and just ride. It was great.
“I loved the team experience, and in the bigger picture, the group effort,” Paris continues. “I always go to shows with my family and a group of other people who are all so supportive. I’m very fortunate to have such a supportive family, and I couldn’t ask for a better horse.”
Having successfully tackled such a high-profile competition, Paris shares her advice with other Juniors who are striving to reach a goal such as NAJYRC: “Ride as much as you can,” she says. “If you have the opportunity to ride another horse, take it. Every horse has something to teach you.”
Paris also says that it’s important to get to know your horse, even on the ground. “Everything starts from the ground and works its way up,” she says. “I think the more you understand your horse, the better relationship you have and the better your riding will be. Horses are very loyal and honest. If they know who their person is, they will trust that person. It will make the difficult lessons easier when you trust each other.”
Paris often calls upon a phrase from sports psychologist Jenny Susser: Think it, say it, believe it, do it. “Never stop believing in yourself,” says Paris. “You have to believe in yourself before anyone else can. There have been many times when I thought I had failed or I thought I wasn’t good enough. You have to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and move on. Develop the mindset that you are going to succeed. No backing down, just hang on because you are in for a journey you will never forget.”
Finally, Paris says that all young riders need to be thankful for their horses, trainers, parents and everyone who supports them. “Appreciate everything they have given to you. It is truly an amazing feeling to have so many people rooting for you. As long as you try, there is nothing you can do to upset them. They just want the best for you. And just have fun. At the end of the day, what is it worth if you can’t enjoy it? Smile and be proud of whatever you have accomplished. One day, all the time and effort will pay off.”
Paris knows that her NAJYRC medals don’t mean she has reached the top. Although her scores were among the best that weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, she’s prepared to raise those scores by the time she does her first Young Rider tests.