At just 24 years old, Hazel Shannon turned heads when she won Adelaide with Clifford last year, but she isn’t the youngest event rider to have won a CCI4*. Since 2000, riders in their 20s have racked up an impressive 20 wins at the highest level of the sport.
It’s not surprising to see Michael Jung on this list, but what’s truly remarkable is The Terminator appears not once but three times. He took the first CCI4* win of his career at 26 years old at Luhmühlen in 2009 with La Biosthetique Sam FBW. At 28, Michael and Sam clinched individual gold at the 2010 Lexington World Equestrian Games. Michael’s third four-star win in his 20s came at Luhmühlen in 2012 with Leopin FST.
He missed out on a fourth CCI4* win in his 20s by just one day, as Michael and Sam won individual gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games on his 30th birthday. It’s an understatement to say Michael dominated in his 20s, and he’s now won two Olympic individual gold medals in his 30s. He’ll be 38 for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and undoubtedly a heavy favorite to add more gold to his trophy cabinet.
While no other young gun matched Michael’s success during this time period, there are a slew of another names who delivered top performances. Sandra Auffarth was 27 when she won individual gold at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy with Opgun Louvo, making her one of the youngest riders to win a major CCI4* championships during this time period.
But Sandra isn’t the youngest championship victor. Zara Tindall was 25 when she won the 2006 Aachen World Equestrian Games with Toytown, making her the youngest British rider to win a CCI4* since 2000. Two other Brits make the list, including Ruth Edge, who won Luhmühlen in 2007 with Two Thyme at 27 years old.
Aside from Michael Jung, only one other rider on this list took multiple CCI4* wins while still in his 20s. Oliver Townend holds that distinction thanks to his banner year in 2009, when he won Badminton with Flint Curtis and Burghley with Carousel Quest at 26 years old.
Astier Nicolas was also 26 when he won Pau in 2015 aboard Piaf de b’Neville, making him the youngest French rider on the list. Fellow Frenchman Nicolas Touzaint won Badminton in 2008 with Hildago de l’Ile at 27, and Maxime Livio was 29 when he won Pau last fall with Qalao de Mers.
Australia and Adelaide have produced the most CCI4* wins from riders in their 20s since 2000. Seven Aussies appear on the list in all, and the three youngest riders on the list all won at Adelaide. Hazel Shannon won with Clifford last year at 24 years old, but Boyd Martin was about a month younger when he won in 2003 with True Blue Toozac.
With 2003 being the final year Adelaide ran as a long format, Boyd takes the honor as the youngest long-format winner during this time, and he very nearly took the title as the youngest winner in any format. Jessica Manson beat him by two years, winning Adelaide at just 22 years old with Legal Star to stand out as the youngest CCI4* winner since 2000.
Other notable Adelaide winers include Chris Burton, who won with Newsprint in 2008 at 26 years old; David Middleton, who won the long format with Willowbank Jack in 2000 at 27; Wendy Schaeffer, who also took a long format win with Koyuna Sun Smoke in 2002 at 28; and Megan Jones, who won in 2005 with Kirby Park Irish Jester at 29.
Two other nations have riders who clinched CCI4* wins in their 20s during this time period. USA’s Kim Severson won the long format at Rolex Kentucky in 2002 with Winsome Adante at 28, giving us the fourth long format victory on this list for a 20-something. Finally, Jock Paget won Badminton for New Zealand in 2013 aboard Clifton Promise at 29 years old.
Which 20-something young guns will emerge as four-star winners in 2017 and beyond? We are making a 20-something-year-old male the hot favorite for a spring four-star (once he decides which one to go to). Who do you think could land a big one this year?