What were your most memorable achievements at age 14?
Getting your braces off? Setting the new high score on Mario Kart?
For 14-year-old Michelle Berry, it’s winning an FEI class.
The junior rider made her international debut on Thursday. At Desert International Horse Park, she jumped the $10,000 Lost Lake Farm 1.40m CSI2* Two Phase aboard Mecho Van’t Kiezelhof—and logged her career first FEI win, besting a field of 26 horse-and rider-combinations.
With a blazing fast time of 27.54 seconds in the speed phase, Berry narrowly edged out second-place finisher Skylar Wireman (USA) by just .02 seconds. She was the youngest rider in the class.
“I was definitely a little nervous coming into my first FEI event, and it was against some pretty big riders,” admitted Berry
The start list was enough to intimidate most young athletes. Experienced West Coast-based riders such as Kaitlin Campbell (USA), Ali Ramsay (CAN), Robert Blanchette (IRL), and Savannah Jenkins (USA) all held the lead for a brief period throughout the class, but in the end, the 14-year-old held her own. Even if by accident.
“[It] was supposed to be a nice warmup class. I wasn’t supposed to go too fast, turn up my turbo boost all the way, but I followed my trainer’s plan and it worked out really well so I was happy with that,” said Berry, who trains with Everardo Hegewisch out of Temecula, CA.
Mecho Van’t Kiezelhof, known in the barn as “Mike,” is a relatively new mount for Berry. Discovered just down the road, she leased the now 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding in July of 2022 from Alex Wilson and Campbell of SWS Training and Sales, who found him via Irish Olympian Shane Sweetnam.
It was love at first ride.
“He’s a special horse to me,” she said of Mike, who she purchased this month. “I wouldn’t ever give him up for the world. He always knows how I’m feeling and he helps me when I’m down. When I’m not riding my best he knows how to cover up my mistakes and make it look good. He really knows what he’s doing; he’s a caretaker.”
The week of firsts isn’t over, though. Looking towards the weekend Berry plans to take Mike in the upcoming $38,700 TALUS 1.45m CSI2* Speed and Sunday’s $50,000 Brown Advisory 1.45m 2* Grand Prix, which will mark her first-ever grand prix appearance.