July 17 2014
by Merri Melde
Kelsey Russell, a Young Rider, is one of the USA Endurance Team riders for the 2014 World Equestrian Games Endurance Race in France
"She's as cool and calculating as any of the senior riders," says USA Chef d'Equipe Emmett Ross of Kelsey Russell, the first Young Rider to ever make the senior World Championship USA Endurance Team. "And of course she's a chip off the old block, because she rides for Valerie Kanavy, and Valerie has been coaching her ever since she's been a kid."
Kanavy hardly needs any introduction in endurance circles, being a 2-time former World Endurance Champion in 1994 in The Netherlands, and 1998 in the United Arab Emirates. Being only 18, Russell isn't as well known yet, but that's not because she's been hiding in the stables.
"I've been on horses pretty much my whole life," Russell says. "With my aunt I do barrel racing and western riding." It wasn't till about 5 years ago that Russell boarded her horses in Kanavy's stable across the street and discovered endurance. "I started riding endurance with her the following winter, and I have been ever since."
It was obvious to Kanavy that Russell was a horsewoman from the beginning. "She was like a little monkey that hung on, no matter what. Sometimes the horses would do things, and we'd be going, 'Oh no!', but she didn't come off," Kanavy laughs.
Russell, from Williston, Florida, did her first endurance ride in January of 2010 on one of Kanavy's horses, Layla Z Gold. Since then, Russell has racked up over 1800 AERC miles, a first place finish in the 2011 North American Young Riders FEI Championships aboard Kanavy's My Wild Irish Gold, a 6th place finish aboard Kanavy's Gold Raven in the 2011 FEI Young Rider Junior World Endurance Championship in Abu Dhabi, and a 5th place finish with My Wild Irish Gold in the 2013 Young Rider Junior World Endurance Championship in Tarbes, France.
Russell will be riding My Wild Irish Gold on the USA Team in the 2014 World Equestrian Games Endurance Race in Normandy, France on August 28, 2014. "Irish" is a 10 coming 11-year-old bay Anglo-Arabian mare, owned and bred by Kanavy's Gold Medal Farms. She is Russell's favorite horse in the stable to ride. "She's comfortable; she likes to go, but she has a brain. She doesn't get stupid, and she doesn't waste her energy," Russell says.
Russell's first endurance ride on Irish was a 2nd place finish in the Goethe Challenge 75-miler in December of 2010. Since then, they've completed 10 endurance races in the USA together (including 4 wins and a Best Condition), and the 2 overseas races. Their best ride, Russell says, was the Young Rider Junior Championship in France last year where the mare covered the 120-km course in 6 1/2 hours.
Russell is not daunted at all by riding alongside experienced senior riders in such a prestigious Championship race in France. "I ride with quite a few of them and I hang out with them at the rides so I know them pretty well. It'll be different than the Young Riders, but I think it'll be fun and it'll be a really good experience," she says matter-of-factly.
Kanavy knows Russell can handle the pressure, and is delighted with her accomplishments. "I'm pretty proud of her all the way around. I'm proud of her for what she does in school and all her other activities too; it's not just about riding. She's an all-around 'Gonna Go Someplace Kid.' She has great family support, and I think where she is, and what she's accomplished, is because she's determined, and she is a dynamite worker. I'm more proud of the way she's conducted her whole life; and her good will and determination to go somewhere and be somebody, and be the best you can be - she takes that to another level."
Russell will be riding at the top level in France next month, aboard a top level mare, with a top level team, coach, family, and mentor rooting her on, and it's likely she will take it all in stride.
Kelsey Russell is the second junior to ride as a senior team member.
Joe Mattingly rode as a 16-year-old as a US Team Member at the 1988 World Championship in Front Royal, Virginia and placed 7th overall. In 1990, at the age of 18, he was a US Team Member at the 1990 World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden at the first ever World Equestrian Games (his horse retired at 75 miles).