From third on the leaderboard to fifth then straight to first—the FEI U25 Division’s youngest competitor at Thunderbird Show Park rode away with the biggest purse and the Series Championship against stiff competition on Sunday.

All five riders in the hunt for the Series Championship qualified for Joey Rycroft’s (CAN) jump off track in the $10,000 Trademark Stables & Friends U25 Final 1.40m, setting the stage for a high stakes face off.

First to contest the shortened track, Carly Stevens (CAN) arguably had the most difficult task as the pathfinder. The 17-year-old lay down the gauntlet with a brilliant effort aboard VIP des Majuros, stopping the clock in 38.42 seconds.

Emily Ward (GBR) and Evita DKG produced the only other double-clear on the day to take second (38.71 seconds). Kassidy Keith (CAN) and Havana had the winning time (38.14), but a single rail relegated them to third.

It’s the biggest victory of Stevens young career and one she wasn’t expecting.

“I was quite happy with my horse, but I was a little disappointed in myself [initially], because I did realize from [fence] one to [fence] two, I left the door open,” she explained. “I didn’t quite get there as fast as I wanted to and turn back fast enough. But the rest of it, I thought was quite ideal for the track I wanted.”

All would end up chasing Stevens, who had been knocking on the door throughout the competition with consistent efforts aboard her family’s 11-year-old Anglo-Arab gelding. The pair finished third in Thursday’s $5,000 Canoe Financial 1.35m with a double clear and fourth in Friday’s $5,000 Trademark Stables & Friends 1.40m with a rail in the jump off.

Earning $4,550 in prize money for the week, she claimed a $1,000 bonus as series champion. 

“It was crazy!” Stevens exclaimed. “I wasn’t really going in expecting to come out the winner of the overall championship, to be honest! I was just looking to be consistent the past couple of days, which worked out okay. I had a rail in the jump-off [on Friday] but the fastest time. Today, it just played out nicely for me. Everybody was fast, and everybody was great—just a couple unlucky rails.”

Stevens has been partnered with VIP des Majuros for nearly two years, and represented Canada at both the 2019 FEI CSIOJ Junior Nations Cup at tbird and the North American Youth Championships in New York (USA) last year. It’s only recently, however, that she says their partnership has clicked.

“He’s so different from any of the other horses I’ve owned. He’s quite sensitive in the mouth and also a little arrogant,” Stevens explained. “He can get quite cocky and tune you out. He kind of has a mare attitude, almost!

“We were figuring things out, but now he’s really stepping up and showing a lot more scope than we knew he had.”

Watch their winning ride: