Pittboro’s Phillips helps Area II to Silver Medal at Junior Olympics

Posted 8/16/19

PITTSBORO —When you discuss athletes the first thing that pops in one’s mind are big, hulking, intimidating figures.

Pittsboro’s Dylan Phillips dispels that myth quickly.

The 5’3 dynamo …

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Pittboro’s Phillips helps Area II to Silver Medal at Junior Olympics

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PITTSBORO —When you discuss athletes the first thing that pops in one’s mind are big, hulking, intimidating figures.

Pittsboro’s Dylan Phillips dispels that myth quickly.

The 5’3 dynamo helped her Area II squad to a Silver Medal on July 24-28 at the 2019 Adequan/FEI North American Youth Championships Junior Olympics at Becca Farm in Kalispell, Montana.

Phillips, a rising sophomore at Chatham School of Science and Engineering, was one of two girls on the equestrian team from the state of North Carolina, while Virginia and New Jersey each had one representative. Area II is comprised of North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland.

The Youth Championships are a yearly event that is described as the “premier equestrian competition in North America” for horseback riders aged 12-21, according to the US Equestrian Federation’s website. Equestrians — a fancy term for competitive horseback riders — compete for team and individual medals in the Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage and eventing.

Phillips competed in the eventing competition. Eventing is an event where a horse and rider compete in a triathalon of sorts of different disciplines — dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Events are scaled 1-10 with penalties points added and then the score subtracted from 100.

Along with scoring a second-place finish with her team, Phillips finished 11th individually, something she was excited about. Charlotte Bobbit won the event while Area 5 took the overall team title.

“My goal was to finish on the podium,” she said. “I knew it would be very difficult to do that individually because there are some great riders out here in the 14-18 year old division. I also went into the event with the mindset of not adding any penalty points to our teams scores. So I was super happy to clear that last jump and to finish with no penalty points.”

Qualifying for the Junior Olympics in itself was a nerve wracking experience. Phillips, who began taking formal riding instructions at the age of five, had to attend a qualifying event in Southern Pines in March at The Carolina Internationals in front of scouts which watched riders and accepted applications for the Junior Olympics. Phillips showed well and ranked No. 1 after the completion of the competition, but had to wait, nonetheless, before finding out the final news in early July.

“I was really happy and excited when I was notified that I had made the team,” Phillips noted. “But I had a small turnaround time until going out to Montana. But I train regularly so that wasn’t really an issue and I had actually went to the Junior Olympics the year before and worked as a groom mucking the stalls, putting on tack, so I knew exactly what to expect, where things were, the layout, the atmosphere of the venue, the course. That was a big plus and really helpful.”

What proved to be more of a challenge was getting her Irish Sport Horse Fernhill Fierce, or Rizzo in the barn, out to the event. Rizzo had to be shipped commercially from Maryland in what was a 43-hour trip.

“She was a stiff horse when she arrived and we had some equine body work with a massage and laser work,” Phillips said. “That was very vital because on the first day there we had to jog our horse in front of a grand jury so that they could check to make sure all the horses were fit to ride. Fortunately all went well and we approved to compete.”

The first day was dressage, which Phillips said “compares to figure skating.” She finished 24th out of 49 individual riders and the team placed fifth out of 10.

“It was decent, no the best, but respectable,” she said. “There was some tension with my horse the first day but you have to regroup.”

Phillips, who has worked with a sports psychologist, said the refocusing heading into the second day was imperative.

“You learn that its 80 percent mental,” she said. “You have to focus and then always have a plan A, plan B and a plan C. You have to react to the moment, and if something goes wrong, you have to get your head back in the game. The horse doesn’t always read the plan, but it can pick up on the mistakes if you dwell on them.”

The second day featured cross country riding, in which horse and rider go through a course with flags to go between, jumps, ditches, water and banks, all while trying to finish between an optimum time. Phillips said this was her favorite event — she had to ride about 520 meters a minute and jump about 20 obstacles. While speed may seem a premium, she said it was actually “worse than going too slow.”

“The judges will think you are reckless and dangerous,” she said.

Area II was on the money on day two, doing so well it moved into second place while the top team the day before was eliminated because three of its four riders failed to even finish the course.

“It was challenging but it went as perfectly as possible,” Phillips said. “We double cleared on time and over all the fences. It was great performance overall by our team.”

Show jumping was all that stood between Phillips and her team medaling. The event requires riders to direct horses over a number of obstacles and around a course within an allotted time. Area II, thanks to a perfect set of jumps and all clear by Phillips, was up to the challenge and sealed its Silver Medal.

“The pressure was really on to clear all the jumps,” she said, “and for all our team have no rails down or time deductions was quite an act. It went perfect.”

While celebrations were definitely in order, there was a somber remembrance as well.

Phillips talked about a tragic event that happened before the Junior Olympics when 13-year-old Ashley Stout of Fort Matilda, Pennsylvania died on July 11 while practicing for the event in Montana as a representative of the Area II squad below the 14-18 year old division.

“It sort of put a black cloud over the week,” she said. “I think it was in the back of everyone’s minds, and we wore teal ribbons on our lapels and adopted the phrase ‘Ride for Ashley.’ You know it’s a possibility but you really don’t think it will ever happen. So it was so shocking and so tragic. We just tried to remember her while all this was going on and to do our best.”

Phillips plan is to continue and to advance into the 18-21 year old division one day and to qualify for the Olympics. She cited her coaches, Bobby Costello of Massachusetts, who trains her in Southern Pines and is a scout for the U.S. Olympic team, and Snow Camp’s Cindy Sydnor, who focuses on dressage.

“They are both wonderful and I could not ask for better coaches,” she said. “I plan to do this professionally as a career. It’s just my love and my passion.”


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