Jan 20, 2021

Benjamin Noonan Tops 2020 RevitaVet USEA Young Rider of the Year Leaderboard

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Benjamin Noonan competing at Great Meadow International in 2020. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

The Linda Moore Trophy was introduced in 1979 and awarded to the leading Young Rider in the country. After a strong showing during the 2020 season, 16-year-old Benjamin Noonan of Ballwin, Missouri was named the 2020 RevitaVet Young Rider of the Year.

2020 was Noonan’s fourth full season competing in the eventing world and this season he picked up four wins, four additional top-three finishes, and only one finish outside the top 10, collecting a total of 76.5 points to top the national Young Rider leaderboard.

It was a strange year for everyone, and Noonan was no exception. His year started with a 10-day bootcamp with Karen and David O’Connor over his high school’s winter break. He spent three weeks in Florida in February, running his first events of the year on his two horses, Keep Kitty and Bojangles, and his first Intermediate with Keep Kitty. Then, just before his second trip to Florida this winter, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “We promptly stopped all training and competing plans and threw both horses out into the field for one month,” Noonan said. “Around June, when events started back up, we made the move to Virginia for the entire summer, which has been happening since I was 13. I had many firsts over the summer, including Keep Kitty’s and my first CCI3*-S [at the Maryland Horse Trials and Virginia Horse Trials] and CCI3*-L [at Great Meadow International]. After the summer we packed our bags and moved back to St. Louis, Missouri. Kitty had a two-month vacation while occasionally giving an up/down lesson or two. Meanwhile, Bojangles had a fantastic summer, and a great fall season!”

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Noonan said he has been fortunate to produce both Keep Kitty (King Julio x Hauptstutbuch Emelie), a 10-year-old Hanoverian mare, and Bojangles (Balanchine x Harriet), a 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding, with the help of the O’Connors. “We bought Keep Kitty as a 5-year-old in 2016 and Bojangles as a 5-year-old in 2017,” Noonan shared. “Kitty was brought along through the German young event horse system before we brought her to the U.S., and Bojangles was produced by my sister, Bridget Noonan, through Training level. Once Bridget went off to college, I was fortunate to take over the ride and move Bojangles up to Preliminary.”

Among the highlights of Noonan’s year in 2020, including wins at the Preliminary level with both horses, Bojangles’ first FEI completion, and three top-five finishes at the three-star level with Keep Kitty, Noonan is most proud of finishing second in his first Intermediate level event at the age of 15 this past February. “I cannot express how much I love and appreciate the animals I’m blessed to work with every day – they are part of my family.”

Looking forward to 2021, Noonan said a goal of his has always been to be included in the USEF Emerging Athlete Program. “Since I was 11, I can remember watching videos of these outstanding young riders and wanting to become one of them,” Noonan said. “In the beginning of December, the [2021 USEF Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 Assessment Sessions] list was announced and I found my name to be a part of this group.”

“I am also looking to become more competitive across the Intermediate/three-star level,” Noonan continued. “The original plan was to move up to the Advanced/four-star level in the fall, but because of my age I’m restricted to the Intermediate level. I use the word restricted very lightly – I think it is amazing the requirements and qualifications for move-ups. Without these rules we would have a less safe sport and I am grateful to take this time to do more three-stars and become more confident and competitive. I also have a young horse in training that I’m very excited to get out competing! The 2021 season looks very bright and full of new opportunities that I can’t wait to take advantage of.”

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

“This award means so much to me and my family,” Noonan said. “My family has sacrificed so much to allow me to compete at such a prestigious level and ride the horses I have in my barn. Without my family, I would be nowhere, and I am so appreciative of them . . . I am blessed to be a part of Karen and David O’Connor’s program. They have taught me so much about horses and life – they are truly my second set of parents. There are so many other people in my life that I can’t even begin to thank. Thank you to everyone in my life that has helped me get to the point I am at!”

“Since I was little, I would study young riders all over the world to figure out how to be like them, and when one of their horses went up for sale I would run to my parents and ask them to buy it. I want to say that this award brings closure to my family and my riding efforts, but unfortunately, all I can say is I want more. I want to be the best in the U.S. I want to be the best in the world. This award is a stepping point in my career and I can’t wait to be a part of the ride!”

Noonan was honored along with all the other USEA year-end award winners in the USEA Year-End Award Ceremony on Friday, January 8. You can view the awards ceremony on demand here. To view the 2020 RevitaVet USEA Young Rider of the Year leaderboard, click here.

The USEA would like to thank RevitaVet for sponsoring the USEA Young Rider of the Year award.

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