When Kara Adams’ riding coach, Meagan Maloney, came up with what seemed like an outlandish plan in late 2022, 14-year-old Kara was all in.

Maloney suggested that the Port Perry teen try to make the Ontario Junior dressage team to compete in August at the 2023 FEI North American Youth Championships in Traverse City, Michigan. It seemed like a tall order, given that Kara’s dressage experience had been limited to pre-training eventing with her pony On the Catwalk (Darby). She’d never even ridden at a ‘pure’ dressage show until last December.

Now that crazy idea seems like a stroke of genius. In a few short months, Kara progressed from about the equivalent of training level dressage on her 14.2 HH quarter cross pony, to FEI Junior level, mastering half-passes and flying changes on a big-bodied 16.2 HH KWPN gelding, Visual Addiction (Vinny). Thanks to strong scores at qualifying shows, she and Vinny secured a spot on the four-member Ontario Junior team that are currently competing at the championships in Michigan, August 8 to 13. Fourteen is the youngest age riders can qualify for the Junior team (18 is the oldest).

“Everything had been going well and I had a good feeling,” says Kara. “But when I got the email that said I’d made the team and saw it in writing, I felt a big blast of excitement. No one else was home, so I had a dance party by myself!”

When she was younger, Kara didn’t have much interest in riding, but her best friend did. When that friend started riding lessons, Kara joined her. That friend later decided she preferred soccer, but Kara stuck with horses, doing lessons on school horses at local stables, then came to Dreamcrest and started leasing Darby and taking lessons with Ian Roberts. Two years ago, she came to Tiara and started training with Maloney.

As On the Catwalk was off for a period, Kara started riding Tiara schoolmasters and evented three of them, until resuming the ride on Darby. (Kara and Darby finished last year tied for second in Ontario Horse Trials Association’s year-end standings in Junior Pre-Training). She admits she didn’t know a lot about dressage but last winter, got more interested as a way to further her riding skills. Vinny (by Idocus out of a Saddlebred mare), owned by Tracy Hendricks and Maloney, came up for lease about the same time. Although he’s 21, he didn’t learn upper-level dressage skills until his mid-teens, with Maloney taking him to his first Prix St. Georges test during Covid.

Kara Adams holding equipment at the stables.

Kara laden with cool NAYC swag.

Maloney, who has coached just one other rider to the Youth Championships, had a gut instinct about the pairing when she watched Kara ride Vinny.

“He is a horse that demands quality, but he was so generous with her,” Maloney says. “He loves his life being a junior’s horse.” She also felt Kara had the talent to succeed and the teen has put in the hard work to achieve their team goal. Kara worked at the barn in exchange for lessons. She not only made qualifying scores at a tough Third Level at every show she attended this year, she finished with one of the top Junior scores in Canada.

Kara has nothing but praise for her equine dressage partner. “I love working with Vinny. He feels so elegant and happy.”

Adams’ parents Mark Adams and Nancy Kazarian had become avid eventing fans and love watching their daughter compete at horse trials, but Maloney convinced them to let Kara focus on dressage for six months, explaining it would only help her when she returns to eventing. Kara’s dad grew up occasionally riding horses at his aunt’s farm, but her mother had no prior experience in the equine world.

“Kara has a special gift and I’m very thankful to her parents for trusting me and supporting this for Kara,” says Maloney. “She has put the hard work in.”

Maloney and Kara headed to Traverse City a week early to prepare for the NAYC. They’ll be joined by Vinny’s co-owner, Hendricks, who making the trip from her home in England. Kara’s Ontario team mates for the Junior competition include Sophia Trites on Latika, Eliza Marshall on Garfunkel and Marlies King on Hollywood.

The NAYC jumping and dressage championships allow youth ages 12 to 25 to compete against peers in a team and individual format similar to international senior championships and the Olympic Games. Follow along with the livestream at ClipMyHorse and get results here.