“She’s arguably the most special horse I’ve ever sat on,” said 18-year-old Sofia Cady of 12-year-old Holsteiner mare, Deleyn.

“She wants to win more than you every single time, and she always tries 110%. It’s more about staying out of her way than you doing it yourself.”

Partnered for three years, the bay mare has taken Cady from 1.05m jumper classes to 1.50m Young Riders division at the North American Youth Championships (NAYC). On Saturday at Pennsylvania National Horse Show, Cady’s final season as a junior, they captured the 2023 Junior Jumper Individual National Champion title.

Thirty-three entries vied for the title. The three phase championship started Thursday and follows a cumulative score format. After Phases I and II, fewer than five points separated the top five.

“I was very nervous, not only for [Phase III] but for the whole horse show,” said Cady. “I have not had the opportunity to ride this horse in a couple months, and so I try to walk in with not a ton of expectations.

“Deleyn is my day one girl. She’s been with me since the very beginning of my jumper career, and she’s taken me up to the Young Riders at NAYC and then through this championship. This is our second time, and she came out with [an individual] gold this time.”

Their previous effort in 2022 saw Cady and Deleyn help Zone 7 to team gold.

This year, she credited her experience competing abroad for helping her hone her mental game. Cady was a member of the U.S. Young Rider Team at the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Youth Final in Opglabbeek, Belgium in September, where USA finished third.

“I think that competing internationally at the Youth Nations Cup Finals was the most pressure I’ve ever felt, and I think everything after that has sort of been all about controlling my nerves,” continued Cady.

“[On Saturday night], I was able to remember how big of a stage that felt like and then just channel that concentration going into [the final] round. It was really thinking about jumping the jumps and following a plan rather than going for a result.”

Zone 2’s Hunter Champey and High Hopes SFN claimed the individual silver medal. Zone 4’s Taylor Cawley and Corlencia BC, took the individual bronze medal.