American Youth Cup

July 21st – 26th


We could not be more excited to announce the completion of the first American Youth Cup.  The Léttleiki team along with many other put their heart and soul into this event and we are so happy to report it´s success.  Below is an in depth article about the entire American Youth Cup from start to finish.

Here is a video summary created by a participant:

To view the hundreds of photos from this historic event visit the American Youth Cup Facebook page click here.

History was made!

It all began with FEIF Youth Cup alumni Carrie Brandt and Ayla Green dreaming that the United States could hold its own Youth Cup. Last summer that dream became a reality through the hard work of many dedicated volunteers and generous contributors.  The first American Youth Cup was sponsored by Léttleiki Icelandics at Swallowland Farm in Kentucky from July 21-26.  The primary goals of this event were to be an educational opportunity for youth riders that would also encourage teamwork and friendships among youth across the nation and be a platform for our best youth riders to compete and show their skills.

A Call for Applications

With the help of a team of organizers including Colleen Monsef, USIHC youth program committee chair, an application was developed and the event was advertised by the USIHC late last winter.  Applicants age 12 – 17 submitted a resume and had their riding instructors submit an instructor evaluation via email to intern judges Deborah Cook and Alexandra Pregitzer, who both have a long history of supporting youth programs.   The goal of the application process was to evaluate whether the applicants had the necessary skills to thrive at the Youth Cup.  These skills included riding a horse they had never ridden before, openness to learning in a challenging environment, ability to be a team player and good sportsmanship.  Each applicant wrote a resume presenting their experience riding Icelandic horse in clinics, shows, trail rides, training, internships, and any other relevant events they had attended or participated in over the last three years.  They were also asked to include achievements such as status in the USIHC national ranking (when applicable) and what experience they had training a variety of horses.   Alexandra Pregitzer then graded the applicants resumes on a scale of 1-5 and Deborah Cook calculated and reviewed the instructor evaluations which were also graded on a scale of 1-5.  Finally a total score was calculated where the applicants resume counted towards 60% and the instructor evaluation 40% of their total score.  This score was then used to rank the applicants.  A total of 26 youth riders applied and we were able to accept 20.  Huge thanks to Alexandra and Deborah for donating their time to grading and ranking the applicants!

General preparation

The months leading up to the American Youth Cup were filled with intensive preparation.  Since this was the first time this event has ever been held we had to create the template for how to organize the entire event.  This involved finding instructors, team leaders, judges, staff, and volunteers.  A detailed schedule needed to be designed and job descriptions needed to be created for all the staff and volunteers so that everyone´s responsibilities were clear.  In addition we wrote a Code of Conduct and Rules and Guidelines to help guide the event toward the mission of the Youth Cup.  We also organized finding more than 20 suitable horses some from our own facility and others that were donated for the event.  The majority of these horses were also trained intensively for the month leading up the Youth Cup so that they were well trained and in good physical condition for the event.  Due to the enormous financial burden of the event we also spent time actively pursuing sponsorships from business and individuals during the months leading up to the Youth Cup.

The horse-rider pairs and the teams

Before the participants arrived Horse-Rider pairs were selected through a semi-random process.  Because we had such a wide range of levels of riders and horses it was important for safety reasons to make sure that each young rider was matched with an appropriate horse.  In addition age limitations meant that certain participants could not be paired with five gaited horses because they were to young to be permitted to ride pace in a sport competition.  This is where our intensive application process and ranking became very important.  This ranking, the applicant’s age, and comments from their riding instructors helped us divide the riders into four categories.   Next we placed the horses into four similar categories and assigned them classes in the competition.  Within each category horses were randomly selected (drawn out of a helmet) for each rider.  All riders were paired with a horse they had never ridden before.  Next horse-rider pairs were split up into balanced teams where each team had members from each level of horse-rider pairs.  By the end of the competition the validity of this process was confirmed when the teams ended up having final scores only fractions of points apart!

Our primary staff

This event could not have been possible without  amazing qualified staff members that were able to work as a team towards making the goals of the Youth Cup become reality.  Our instructors were Carrie Lyons Brandt (Hólar Graduate with a B.S. and Trainer Level B),  Ásta Covert (the most successful competition rider in the United States), Laura Benson (Hólar Graduate Level C), and Terral Hill (Young horse starter and experienced horse trainer).  Our team leaders were trainers and instructors in their own right.  Coralie Denmeade (FEIF Level 1) and FEIF Youth Cup attendees Ayla Green, Kevin Draeger, and Madison Prestine were the best team leaders we could have wished for.  Their endless positive energy and guidance for the participants throughout the week was one of the things that made this event  a success.  The judges, international sport judge Will Covert and U.S. Intern Judges Alexandra Dannenmann and Deborah Cook, were always encouraging and professional.

The American Youth Cup

Sunday, July 19th – Team leader preparation

The team leaders arrived and began to help with the final organizing and preparation of the horses and tack for their team.  They rode the horses on their team and evaluated their training status so they would be familiar with the horses and therefore better able to assist their team members.  In addition folders for each staff member, volunteer, and participant were carefully but together with everything from emergency medical information to schedules.

Monday, July 20th – Arrival and preparation

For the team leaders, assistant team leaders, and instructors Monday was full of meetings and general preparation.  With an event of this scale and such a large team of people we found it incredibly important to have very thorough meetings where we discussed all aspects of the schedule, rules, participants, and horses.  This became key to the smooth functioning of the event throughout the week as we met every evening to review the day and prepare for the next.  Volunteers also met with Maggie Brandt to get briefed on all the jobs that were needed to pull off the event from chaperoning the field trip to cooking the meals. But the most exciting part of the day was the arrival of all the young riders, who were picked up at the airport or dropped of by their parents.  Housemother Jane Thomas welcomed each participant and helped him or her get settled.

Tuesday, July 21st – And we´re off!

During the morning on Tuesday the final participants arrived .  At lunch the American Youth Cup officially began with the participants meeting with Carrie Brandt and then walking to the main barn for lunch.  After lunch the participants were introduced to the staff and were presented with the Code of Conduct and Rules and Guidelines for the Event as well as a review of the schedule for the day.  After a group bonding activity led by Tess and Tristan Krebs out on the front lawn the participants were assigned their teams and horses.

Red Team:  Leader Madison Prestine  / Assistant Lori Cretney

Alicia Flanigan (ME)

Julia Hasenauer (CA)

Eden Hendricks (CA)

Katherine Monsef (CA)

Olivia Rasmussen (CA)


Green Team:  Leader Coralie Denmeade /   Assistant Terri Ingram

Hanna Bailey (CA)

Jamie Blough (CA)

Amelia Carney (AK)

Eva Dykaar (CA)

Emma Erickson (CA)


Blue Team: Leader Kevin Draeger / Assistants Debbie Faver and Vita Strazisar

Jessica Blough (CA)

Emese Dunn (NY)

Jay Maio (WI)

Isabelle Maranda (VT)

Elizabeth Monsef (CA)


Gray Team:  Leader Ayla Green /  Assistant Anna Collins

Hannah Huss (NY)

Kajsa Johnson (CA)

Ellie Pittman (KY)

Elizabeth Robertson (CA)

Cameron Tolbert-Scott (CA)


After their assignments the teams alternated between team spirit building activities and their first riding lesson with the instructors.  This was an exciting time for all the participants to meet and get to know their horse for the first time. They also took on responsibility for the general care and feeding of their horse.  Following dinner was a lecture by our judge Will Covert on Sport Competition rules with a particular focus on the classes that the young riders would be competing in that weekend.

Wednesday, July 22nd – Lessons and more lessons

This was the first day of serious training.  Each participant had two private lessons with one of the instructors.  In the morning the lessons focused on the classes on the oval track while after lunch the lessons helped prepare for the dressage and trail competitions.  In between lessons the participants did more intensive team building exercises and began working on the poster challenge.  The team spirit exercises involved helping the participants get to know each other and start to work together as a unit.  For the poster challenge they drew a topic out of a hat and began preparing a poster presentation that would go towards their final team spirit score.  After dinner the evening lecture topic was on the World Championships presented by Ásta Covert and Madison Prestine.  Our hope was to encourage these promising young riders to realize the possibilities available to them and to think about setting the World Championships as a future goal.

Thursday, July 23rd – Final practice day

Thursday was another intensive training day where each participant received two private lessons.  Before lunch the participants practiced on the oval track and worked to finish their poster for the poster challenge.  After lunch were open session lessons where the team leaders assigned their members to a particular class.  This gave teams the opportunity to strengthen any weaknesses or encourage particular strengths in their members.  The afternoon also consisted of the teams building their “horse” which would consist of one team member as the front legs and the other as the back.  The teams then also learned and began to practice the correct footfall of all five gaits of the Iceland horse so their horse could “perform” a five gait program during the competition.  We were honored to have veterinary and parasitology expert Dr. Martin Nielsen for our evening lecture.  Dr. Nielsen taught the participants about equine parasites, proper deworming practices, and how to count eggs in a fecal sample.  Participants and staff alike found this a very exciting lecture!

Friday, July 24th – Field trip and more

All the horses got to rest the day before the competition as the participants took a  field trip. Early in the morning the participants boarded a bus for Lexington and visited the Kentucky Horse Park.  They were able to see a variety of demonstrations, films, and museums.  After lunch at the Horse Park they drove to Hagyard Veterinary Clinic where they toured one of the nations premier equine veterinary clinics.  Back at the farm Léttleiki and Youth Cup staff began to prepare the facilities for the competition the next day including everything from vet checks to prepping the oval track.  In addition the judges and instructors met to discuss the competitions in particular the trail and dressage classes.    Upon returning from the field trip the teams made final preparations for the competition such as grooming, cleaning tack, and finishing their five gaited “horse.”  Finally over dinner we started the beginning of our official Summer Sanctioned Show with a short judges meeting and forming of an arbitration committee.

Saturday, July 25th – The competition begins!

The action began with V3 intermediate four-gait competition and F2 intermediate five gait competition and after lunch was followed by T5 intermediate tölt, and T6 intermediate loose rein tölt. Each horse-rider pair rode the class individually, which allowed for easier and more accurate judgment of horsemanship by the judges Alex Dannenmann and Deborah Cook.  The horsemanship score included judgment of the rider’s seat, application of the aids, and how well the rider brought out the best in that particular horse.   Each participant also received a sport show score from Will Covert as in every sanctioned show.  The average of these two scores went towards a final equestrian ranking for the youth cup but only the sport score counted towards making finals in a class. After each performance the judges gave extensive feedback to the young riders allowing them yet another opportunity for education.  In the heat of the afternoon the teams presented their posters and were judged on their presentation by the four instructors.  Poster topics included Orri frá Þufu, collection, operant conditioning & classical conditioning, and Mette Moe Mannseth.   Following dinner in the cool of the evening the A Finals were held in all the sport classes.  Throughout the day it was incredible seeing the quality of horsemanship and sportsmanship the participants demonstrated as they rode horses they barely knew.  The team leaders were forever supportive helping with warm ups and mental support.  Each team tried to cheer on their team mates and there were definitely many beautiful and exciting performances!

Sunday, July 26th – Final Day!

Sunday morning began with the trail course competition (TR1).  Each participant competing in trail rode through a series of timed obstacles.  The trail course was a fun way to begin the morning and really showed off the skills that many of the young riders applied as they coaxed their horses through challenging obstacles.  After lunch was the Dressage Test (FS1), the final competition of the Youth Cup.  Participants rode a program that tested their abilities to guide the horse through precise patterns, exercises, and transitions in the dressage arena.  Many of the students had only ridden the test through once but they all showed focus and good horsemanship as they rode this challenging test.

The Awards

Highest Scoring Equestrian

The Highest Scoring Equestrians who had the highest average of 3 FIPO class scores and 3 horsemanship scores were as follows:
1. Elizabeth Robertson riding Veigar frá Lækjamóti
2. Julia Hasenauer riding Salvör frá Grafarkoti
3. Eva Dykaar riding Gulldís frá Hellu
4. Jessica Blough riding Svali frá Tjörn
5. Kajsa Johnson riding Flís frá Viðivöllum

The Meeting the Challenge Award – Jay Maio

Jay Maio received the first Meeting the Challenge Award.  He showed huge improvements in his riding throughout the entire week of lessons and was one of the youngest participants. During the entire event he showed a positive attitude, was always focused on being a team player and wanted to be social in the group despite it being a group of 19 teenage girls!
For this award team leaders nominated a member of their team and then the judges and instructors voted.  Other nominations for the Meeting the Challenge Award were Hannah Huss, Hannah Bailey, and Eden Hendricks.

Featherlight Riding Award – Elizabeth Robertson

The Youth Cup also gave out an award for featherlight riding to recognize a rider who demonstrated good and harmonious riding. Congratulations to Elizabeth Robertson for being this Youth Cup´s featherlight rider!
The featherlight riding award was decided upon by the three judges and the horsemanship scores played a large role in the decision.

Sportsmanship Award – Elizabeth Monsef

Elizabeth Monsef showed a sportsman-like attitude throughout the entire event and always focused on learning from challenging situations. She was always considerate and caring of others. Her team leader said that she never missed one of her team members rides unless she was riding herself and no matter what tried to encourage her team members with her words and actions. The entire staff noticed that Elizabeth was always quick to say thank you and show her appreciation for the staff’s work. Elizabeth was an outstanding example of sportsmanship and it is young riders like her that can really make a difference in the Icelandic horse community.
For this award team leaders nominated a member of their team and then the judges and instructors voted. Other nominations for the Sportsmanship Award were Julia Hasenauer, Kajsa Johnson, and Amelia Carney.

Team Spirit Awards – Team Blue

Team Blue with team members Jessica Blough, Emese Dunn, Jay Maio, Isabelle Maranda & Elizabeth Monsef were the winners of the Team Spirit Award. This was one of the most prestigious awards of the Youth Cup. This award was for the team that worked together in an effective and positive fashion. Team Blue stood out the entire week as a team that showed constant support and encouragement for all it´s team members and enthusiasm for all aspects of the event.

Team Equestrian Awards – Team Gray

Team Gray with team members Hannah Huss, Kajsa Johnson, Ellie Pittman, Elizabeth Robertson, and Cameron Tolbert-Scott were the winners of the Team Equestrian Award. This is one of the most prestigious awards of the Youth Cup. This award is for the team that had the highest average of all the riders equestrian scores including both horsemanship and sport scores. All Team Gray members showed exemplary horsemanship and riding throughout the competition in all of the many disciplines.

Youth Ambassador – Julia Hasenauer

This was a surprise award given out at the end of the awards ceremony.  Our goal here was to award a rider who exemplified everything that we felt the American Youth Cup should encourage.  This participant needed to be not only be ranked in the top five equestrians from the competition but also be selected by majority vote of all the staff.  The Youth Ambassador if a younger participant would get to attend the Youth Cup without trying out in two years.  If an older participant the Youth Ambassador would have the option of being a team leader in the 2017 Youth Cup.  Julia Hasenauer showed exemplary horsemanship and sportsmanship throughout the entire Youth Cup.  She embodied the focuses of the event by being encouraging and kind to the other participants, always showing a positive attitude towards learning, and also bringing out the best possible results in her horse.  We really look forward to seeing what Julia goes on to do in her Icelandic horse career and are very excited to see her as a team leader in 2017!


Carrie and Maggie Brandt of Lettleiki Icelandics LLC would like to thank all the volunteers, staff and participants who made this first American Youth Cup possible.  Without your enthusiasm, flexibility, dedication and hard work we couldn’t have put this together.  We’ve already mentioned some of you but additional thanks go to housemother Jane Thomas, driver Bert Lyons, photographer Colleen Monsef, the food crew of Pamela Nolin, Barb Riva, Deb Cook and Sharron Cretney,  announcer Martin Nielsen, scribe Sharron Cretney,  Alexa Zinser, and parent volunteers Lidia Hasenauer, Kelly Blough and Gabrielle Johnson.

This event was also a major financial undertaking.  It would not have happened without generous grants from Flying C Ranch, Willy and Eileen Ma, the NEIHC, Kraftur, Godhamar, Pegasus Flughestar, Florida Icehorsefarm, FIRC, SDS Horse Lotion, Hullindalur Farm, and the USIHC.  Debbie Faver, Emily Bingham, Deb Cook, Kathy Davis, Katrin Sheehan and Andrea and Steve Barber also generously loaned horses.

Comments from staff and participants

Instructor Asta Covert:

I was very proud and happy I was a part of the first American Youth Cup as an instructor. Seeing every rider at the event embrace the horse they had been assigned and improve thru out the week was rewarding to see as an instructor. It was a well run event where I think everyone walked away feeling inspired to continue improving their skills as riders and equestrians. I genuinely hope this event is here to stay and continue for our youth. It definitely was a boost for the Icelandic horse youth riders and the community as a whole in this country.

Team Leader Kevin Draeger:

It was truly an honor to be a part of the first American Youth Cup. I was blown away by the number of talented young riders we have in our country. I don’t believe an event like this would have been possible five or ten years ago. There simply were not enough youth riders. The spirit of the entire event was uplifting. The kids came to the event with energy and dedication. It was clear that they grew as horsemen and made connections and friendships that will last a lifetime. The intention of the organizers and staff was that this event be about horsemanship, teamwork, and sportsmanship. The participants brought this idea to life, cheering each other on, and celebrating each other’s successes. It was really special for me to see kids enjoying the Icelandic horses the same way I did as a kid. It’s reassuring to know that the next generation will continue to honor the horses and each other. The Icelandic Horse community is truly special and the youth are an important part of the continuation of the community. They are the legacy. The American Youth Cup highlighted the beauty of it all and the event was just plain FUN! I look forward to the next one.

Participant Emese Dunn:

When I first arrived at Lettleiki Icelandics for the American Youth Cup, the hum of at least twenty voices was a little overwhelming.  With people from across the nation, I wondered if I would fit in.  I wondered who my friends would be and who might be on my team.  I wondered what horse I would get to ride; would it be a difficult ride or would my horse be well trained and seasoned?  The first day rolled around, the teams were chosen and we were introduced to our horses.  Everyone on my team enjoyed each other and we soon became fast friends.  Our horses? Some were seasoned competitors and some weren’t.  My horse was one of those that wasn’t.  She was nervous and fidgety, and required two people to tack her up.  Two days of training and team activities went by in no time and we spent the third day at the Kentucky Horse Park and touring a veterinary clinic.  The American Youth Cup show was that weekend and as everyone prepared, I wondered how I would place with my mare.  When it was time to go, I got on my horse and made my way to the track.  I think my mare sensed we were being watched and performed better than I had ever expected. The competition was over and it was time for people to head home.  We hugged and said our goodbyes (maybe we cried…a little).  The next day seemed a little empty and I realized that the Icelandic Horse American Youth Cup had been one of the most memorable weeks of my life.

Participant Elizabeth Monsef:

From the moment I received my acceptance email at school up until the final goodbyes at the end of the show, the American Youth Cup was always an exciting and incredible adventure for me. I counted down the days and looked forward to the beginning of the cup for months. When it finally came around I was beyond joyous. The Youth Cup for me was not just a competition where I could go and demonstrate my riding level, no. It was a chance to meet nineteen other spectacular riders who share my same passion for the Icelandic horse. I knew these people would become my friends, and I set into the event eager to meet new people, learn lots, and most importantly, have fun. My team quickly became like a second family to me. We got familiar with one another and from then on it just got better and better. We grew close together and in the end we were recognized for our team spirit and continual enthusiasm. The entire time we had each other’s backs and supported each other, laughed hard, and took pride in our accomplishments. Additionally every participant had the opportunity to train with four different trainers and receive feedback from an international sport judge. We each had to become comfortable with a horse who we didn’t know before arrival, and the bonds we built by the competition were unbelievable. The food was always fantastic. Every opportunity we were given from horses, to tack, and to the field trip day to Kentucky Horse Park, we are forever grateful. It is amazing how much time and effort Carrie and Maggie and all of the other volunteers put in to make sure we had the best time ever.  I will never forget how comfortable I felt at the American Youth Cup whether it was asking questions during lectures, performing silly activities with my team, sharing a room with other participants, the spontaneous dance parties before bed, giving group presentations to the judges, or even the crazy games of badminton we had on the lawn. Nothing I say can ever do this event justice or describe the magic that occurs durning the wonderful short six days of the American Youth Cup.