October 10, 2011– The 2011 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East concluded on Sunday afternoon with an exciting victory for 18-year-old Samantha Schaefer of Westminster, MD. Showing over two beautiful autumn days at the USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone, NJ, eighty-four hopefuls came out to show this weekend in the 30th annual competition. Schaefer earned the win with high scores across the board in a head-to-head final four jump-off.
Judges Jimmy Lee and George Morris scored riders through three phases of competition this weekend, including flat work, gymnastics and jumping. Riders cumulative scores were totaled through each phase and the top four riders were then brought back for a final ride-off, competing on their own horses as well as the three other competitor?s horses. Riders returned for the final round with a clean slate, earning new scores for each individual ride.
At the conclusion of the flat and gymnastics phases, rider Lillie Keenan held the lead coming into the final day of competition, followed closely by Hayley Barnhill, Samantha Schaefer, and Schaefer Raposa. Keenan had a disappointing score in the jumping round however, and dropped out of the top four. Michael Murphy on the other hand performed consistently in both phases I and II and excelled in the jumping round to secure a position in the final ride-off. Barnhill, Schaefer, Raposa, and Murphy were the elite four to compete in the final phase of competition.
Riding in the final four, Samantha Schaefer finished on top with scores of 94, 89, 91 and 96 to total 370. Schaefer trains with Andre Dignelli and rode Heritage Farm?s Pioneer through the weekend.
The horse rotation included Murphy?s mount Uriam, Raposa?s mount Gentle R, owned by Heritage Farm, Schaefer?s mount Pioneer, and Barnhill?s mount Asparagus, owned by Cayla Richards. Uriam was presented with The ?Grappa? Trophy, donated by Sarah Willeman, as the best horse of the competition.
For her victory, Schaefer was presented with the prestigious French Leave Perpetual Trophy, donated by Gerald A. Nielsen Family. Following the awards ceremony, Schaefer was thrilled and explained how she came back fighting after letting the lead slip through her hands in last year?s competition.
?Last year I came and I definitely gave it away in the final four. I rode too soft and I had time faults, and I kind of gave up,? she recalled. ?My goal this year was to not have time faults and to really fight to the last horse.?
The Talent Search Finals are often known as a springboard for future show jumping stars, and Schaefer acknowledged the significance of the win, noting, ?For me this is really important because it is leading into the jumper side of things, and that is where I want to go.?
Schaefer had a substantial lead over the other top finishers. Murphy, of Apopka, FL, scored 88, 84, 81, and 93 to total 346 for second place. Raposa, from Clinton, NY, scored 83, 80, 83, and 87 for a 333 total to take third. Barnhill, of Collierville, TN, finished fourth with a score of 315 with individual rounds of 95, 82, 85, and 53.
Andre Dignelli was the trainer of the day, with multiple horses and riders in the top ten, including the champion and second and third place finishers. Murphy trains with Ivan Rakowsky along with Dignelli. Barnhill is trained by Missy Clark, John Brennan, and Tom Wright.
Not only has Andre Dignelli trained many of the top finishers, but Dignelli himself was a Talent Search champion back in 1985. He remarked on the importance of this weekend?s success, stating, ?This was the best day of my training career.?
?I knew coming here that I had probably my best group of horses and riders put together that I have ever had,? he said. ?I just came here ready and confident and with these two gentlemen judging I knew what to expect. I knew the water was going to be a real issue.?
?I think Sam won today because last year she gave it away,? Dignelli explained. ?She didn’t understand the importance of the time allowed and I thought today she was confident. I think she has always been a great rider, but I have given her style.?
The day?s course was a challenging one. Set as a replica of this year?s Nations Cup course at Hickstead, the course included a water jump, sharp rollback turns and a tight time allowed in the final round. The course was a big test for the young riders and no doubt gave them all an idea of what is to come should they move on to compete at the international level.
George Morris spoke about the course and the judging of today?s rounds, stating, ?The sport has gotten very sophisticated and detailed. It is not the sport of years ago with blood and guts; it is very specific. We were very hard in between the fences and on the rideability. It boiled down to details, like it should.?
In addition to the day?s Finals the USEF Talent Search Medals were presented for the 2010/2011 season. Medals are awarded in recognition of wins in Talent Search Classes. Five wins qualify the rider for a Bronze, 10 for a Silver, and 20 for the coveted USEF Gold Medal. In the 30-year history of the program, only 87 Gold Medals have been awarded. This year had two more to add, with both Hayley Barnhill and 18-year-old Chase Boggio of Canton, GA, earning gold.
Barnhill had high scores going in to the final round today, but saw heartbreak as she let her nerves get the best of her. Barnhill?s trainer, Missy Clark, summed up her thoughts on the competition, stating, ?I knew coming here with George and Jimmy as our judges that it was going to be done beautifully. I knew the courses would be great and I knew it would be demanding in the best of ways. I just can’t say enough about how wonderful it was for all of us to be able to experience their knowledge and their expertise. They are two icons in the business and I have nothing but the utmost respect for both of them. I think everyone leaves this event riding better no matter what level they come in at. We really enjoy it and what a great venue and thank you to everyone.?
The Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Program seeks to educate and test participants by encouraging Juniors and Young Riders to develop show jumping skills, thus laying the groundwork for future international successes. With Finals held each year on the east and west coasts, this program has produced some of the country?s top jumping riders including McLain Ward, Richard Spooner, Lauren Hough, and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum. 2011 Champion Samantha Schaefer has proven her talent and now joins the list of prestigious winners.