Nov 12, 2018

Climbing the Ranks of YEH with Waylon Roberts

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff
Wil Celtic Charlie and Waylon Roberts at the 2017 USEA YEH Championships. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

"Quality, quality, and more quality" could be heard from spectators at the 2018 USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Championships. Year after year the YEH Championships bring out some of the country’s best 4- and 5-year-old horses. Familiar names like Tamra Smith, Tim Bourke, Dominic Schramm, Matthew Flynn, Doug Payne, Andrea Baxter, and Waylon Roberts continue to top the championship leaderboards with their horses. So, what is it about their rides or horses that earn them top scores? Waylon Roberts, who finished fourth on UNanimous and fifth on Café Noir at this year’s championships, shares his secrets to success with the YEH program.

“Their heart,” Roberts said without hesitation when he described the one quality in all potential upper level event horses. “They’ve got to want to do it. You can do [the upper levels] on anything – my mom took an Appendix Quarter horse to the Olympics. It’s all about their willingness to please and trainability and that comes down to their heart for the game.”

Some would argue that Roberts, an Ontario, Canada native, moved to the U.S. for the warmer temperatures and easy access to events, but since his move he’s also made his mark on the USEA YEH Program. His YEH record includes top-10 finishes at the YEH Championships with Café Noir (Concerto Grosso x Casey Darling), a Thoroughbred/Holsteiner cross gelding owned by Nancy Koch; UNanimous (Coromino x UN), an Irish Sport Horse mare owned and bred by Jane Sleeper; and Wil Celtic Charlie, an Irish Sport Horse gelding sired by Porsche and owned by Aletta Martin.

Wil Celtic Charlie and Waylon Roberts at the 2017 USEA YEH Championships. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

“It’s much nicer to watch a horse go around with a loose rein and its ears perked than one that’s not entirely sure what he’s doing.” To achieve this, Roberts emphasized, “Ride with a lighter seat and have a softer rein. I treat [the YEH Championships] more like a hunter or equitation class and try to take each jump out of stride.” Less is more for Roberts, and with his riding style almost identical to Marilyn Payne’s advice in Behind the Judge's Eyes: Are You Losing Points in the YEH Jumping Test, it comes as no surprise that Roberts continuously earns high scores in YEH competitions. “For event riders, having to do a judged jumping class is a completely different way of riding than what we’re used to. You have to show your horse off rather than just getting the job done,” said Roberts.

For every A+ performance, there is always the homework behind it and for Roberts that included running the two horses at Radnor Hunt Horse Trials the week before the YEH Championships. Café Noir won the Open Training division and UNanimous successfully moved up to the Preliminary level with a third-place finish. “Jane Sleeper put the training on [UNanimous] and bred her so she knows the horse inside and out. I trusted [Jane] in making the schedule and thought the Preliminary at Radnor set the mare up for success at the Championships. She is a top-class horse and I think the judges [Sally Ike, Lucinda Green, and Chris Ryan] recognized that in the score they gave her.”

Finishing on an 86.79 in the YEH 5-year-old Championship, UNanimous improved on her 2017 YEH 4-year-old Championship score by 15 points. “I think every horse takes a certain amount of time to come into their own, and she’s not there yet but she’s improving all the time and felt amazing at the Championships. Jane’s really excited about her long term.”

UNanimous at the 2018 YEH Championships with Roberts (left) and UNanimous at the 2017 YEH Championships with owner and breeder Jane Sleeper (right). USEA/Jessica Duffy and Leslie Mintz Photos.

“The YEH program is a great way to get your young horses out and showcase them. We actually just sold Café Noir [after the Championships]. He is such a quality horse,” said Roberts. Café Noir finished second in the 2017 YEH 4-year-old Championship with a score of 85.27 and was the recipient of the 2017 Born in America award, which is given to the highest scoring American bred horse at the YEH Championships. A true testament to the quality of this year’s championships, Café Noir improved on last year’s score to finish (three spots lower) in fifth at the YEH 5-year-old Championship on an impressive score of 85.55.

Ultimately the decision between UNanimous' fourth-place finish and Café Noir’s fifth-place finish came down to the conformation phase that’s worth 10 percent of the final score at the YEH Championships. “The judge [Chris Ryan] knew what he was talking about,” said Roberts.

New in 2018, the conformation phase was taken out of the YEH qualifiers and is now only seen at the YEH Championships. However, Roberts wasn’t worried about the recent changes to the YEH program. “I don’t think the lack of conformation in the qualifiers would’ve changed them both qualifying for championships. I was on two really nice horses.”

Café Noir at the 2018 YEH Championships (left) and Café Noir at the 2017 YEH Championships (right). USEA/Jessica Duffy and Leslie Mintz Photos.

“I really like the condensed format,” Roberts said of the YEH jumping phase where five show jumping efforts and 10 cross-country efforts are put together to make one course. “It’s easy on the horses and gets them the experience without stressing them out. That’s how I prepped Wil Celtic Charlie for this year’s show season by doing YEH last year.”

Judges spotted something special in Wil Celtic Charlie at the 2017 YEH 5-year-old Championship as he finished seventh out of 34 quality young horses -- and it’s only gone up from there for Roberts and Charlie. Now, the 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse owned by Aletta Martin already has five wins to his record including his most recent win in the Bromont CIC*. Headed to his second CCI* at the Ocala Jockey Club on November 15-18, 2018, Charlie is a YEH graduate to keep an eye on.

Here to stay, Roberts explains why he’s naturally drawn to eventing. “This sport is the best sport for me because I can get to know the horse over time and that relationship can take you a long way. It’s all about the work you put into the horse, not just two years, but what you do in five or six years that really makes the horse’s career.”

About the USEA Young Event Horse Program

The Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the three- and four-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.

The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase. Click here to view the jumping standards and specifications.

The USEA would like to thank SmartPak, Standlee Hay Company, Merck Animal Health, and C4 Belts for sponsoring the Young Event Horse Program.

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