Baylee McKeever and Carlee McCutcheon Earn Gold Medals at 2023 FEI North American Youth Championships
The Gotham North FEI North American Youth Championships, presented by USHJA, came to an exciting close Sunday with the Individual Final for both the Junior and Young Rider categories. Ultimately standing atop the podiums in the respective categories, Baylee McKeever took the Young Rider title and Carlee McCutcheon claimed gold for the juniors.
McKeever seemingly pulled off the impossible: she jumped the sole clear round over Nick Granat’s (USA) very challenging first round for the Young Riders. Aboard Formidable, she followed up that elusive clear with a second clear, securing the gold medal after Augusta Iwasaki pulled one rail to take silver.
“I was trying to take it jump by jump and not get caught up with how the class was going,” McKeever, 18, said of her plan. “I just focused on my round and how my horse was going, everything I could control. Going to the last [jump], I was definitely nervous but I tried to stay calm and focused.”
McKeever was trained on the sidelines all week by U.S. Olympian McLain Ward, who is practically family after what’s now a long-standing work relationship between her father, Lee, and Ward.
Formidable proved to be extremely adjustable and game for the tough day of jumping.
“I started riding her around a year and a half ago after bringing her back from colic surgery,” McKeever remarked of the mare. “Last year she was gifted to me by McLain Ward as my graduation present. I’d say we have a strong partnership. She’s special to me and she brought me up the levels from the Medium Juniors all the way here.”
Walking away with the individual gold medal wasn’t on McKeever’s radar. “It was a surprise,” she said of how well she performed, even under pressure. “I knew it would be a bit bigger here so I went in hoping to get around and have a good time. I couldn’t ask for anything more from her.”
Ward himself knows plenty about jumping a championship, but McKeever is still learning the ropes. He advised her from the sidelines to enjoy it and soak up the glory of simply making it to the Individual Final. “He was talking about how nice it was to be in this situation to start with,” McKeever recalled. “Everyone wants to be at the top and you’re going to lose sometimes, but you have to appreciate where you are right now.”
For her win, McKeever’s name was etched on the Maxine Beard Memorial Trophy, along with many major names in show jumping, both past and present.
Iwasaki had an incredible performance all week aboard Fresca, jumping two 4-fault rounds in the Individual Final for the overall second best showing.
“She’s been amazing all week,” she said of Fresca. “This is my first championship with her and my first championship in general. Team day was incredible. It kind of caught me by surprise; I didn’t expect it to go that well. Today, I wanted to have consistent rounds and she was amazing. She really fought for me. I couldn’t be happier.”
While Iwasaki has stepped into CSI2* action before, NAYC is still among the biggest events the pair has navigated, and to emerge with such a strong result bodes well for their future.
“I feel so lucky to have the horse I have and my trainers and everyone supporting me,” she continued. “This and the U25 are the biggest I’ve asked her to do but she’s been amazing. Anything I ask her to do she’s willing to do.”