October 9, 2016–The 2016 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East came to close on Sunday following four phases of intense competition amongst the field of 57 top young riders. Beginning Saturday with Phases I and II, the field was then narrowed down on Sunday following Phase III to the final four who performed over a shortened course on their own horse, as well as the horses of the other finalists. TJ O’Mara was ultimately crowned the 2016 champion. Riding Kaskade, O’Mara sat in fifth place overall after day one, but impressed judges Kristen Coe and Karen Healey in Sunday’s Phases III and IV with impeccable performances over the challenging courses.
Competition commenced Saturday morning with Phase I, the flat phase, where riders entered the ring in small groups to demonstrate their aptitude for executing the questions asked by the judges. Riders worked their horses at all gaits, showing collection and extension, and movements such as haunches-in, shoulder-in, and a halt and rein back. Daisy Farish (Lexington, Ky.) made a strong impression early on aboard Nathalie De Gunzburg’s Ganjana, winning the phase with a score of 92. McKayla Langmeier (East Grandby, Conn.) was not far behind in second on a score of 90, while Taylor St. Jacques (Glenn Allen, Va.) rounded out the top three on an 89. O’Mara (Rumson, N.J.) and Walstib Stables LLC’s Kaskade earned a score of 86 and putting them in 11th on the leaderboard.
For Phase II, judges Coe and Healy opted to include three of eleven gymnastic exercises developed by Beezie Madden and Anthony D’Ambrosio, which were published and released to qualified riders and trainers over the summer. D’Ambrosio was present as Technical Delegate to set the courses to the correct specifications, a role he also fulfilled at the West Coast Final where Peyton Warren was the Champion in September.
As in the West Final, the Phase II course included a vertical-vertical combination in a line with an oxer-oxer combination, jumped in both directions. Coming off the right lead, judges asked for a forward five strides between the combinations and returning over the line off the left lead, to steady the horse for six strides. Vivian Yowan (Lexington, Ky.) riding McLain Ward’s Clearline topped Phase II with a beautifully executed round that scored 93, moving her up from eighth to second overall going into day two. Farish placed second in the phase, matching her flat score of 92, to continue to lead the field overall. Langmeier moved into third overall with a Phase II score of 90.75. On the strength of a 91.50 score, O’Mara began his ascension up the leaderboard, landing in fifth at the end of day one.
Phase III asked a number of questions of the riders throughout the 12-obstacle track again designed by the judges and built by D’Ambrosio, that included three one-stride double-combinations. The course was demanding from the start, beginning over a triple-bar set at the end of the arena, requiring riders to approach off the turn. Fences eight, nine, and ten, a wall to an oxer to a single, were off-set on a serpentine, necessitating thoughtful and careful riding before the last line that included an oxer to a double-combination over liverpools. O’Mara took the narrow win with a fluid and smart ride over the track that was rewarded with a score of 92. With excellent performances from all the riders at the top of the leaderboard the scores were very close. Yowan finished second on 91.50, Sophie Simpson (Wellington, Fla.) moved into a coveted finalist position with a score of 91 aboard Ashland Farms’ Breckenridge, and Farish rounded out the top four with 90.50.
Featuring the top four riders on the overall leaderboard following three phases, Phase IV tested the riders’ abilities to catch ride three different horses over a nine-effort track. In round one of the ride-off, the riders presented their own horses over the winding course. Farish maintained her three-phase lead going into the final event, but all four finalists started equal in Phase IV where she ran into trouble in rounds one, two, and four. Following a costly refusal at fence four aboard her original mount Ganjana in round one, she dropped rails on Yowan and Simpson’s mounts, leaving the door open for the other three finalists who rose brilliantly to the occasion. O’Mara rode with quiet confidence aboard each horse, executing near foot-perfect courses to secure the Championship title with a score of 355. Like O’Mara, Simpson went from strength-to-strength throughout the weekend, climbing the leaderboard from an eighth place finish in Phase I to Reserve Champion. In Phase IV, Simpson earned the two highest scores, earning a 92 aboard both her own horse and O’Mara’s Kaskade. Yowan placed third and Farish finished in fourth.
Speaking to the difficulty of the final phase, O’Mara, who finished fourth in the 2015 Final, said, “It’s hard because you really have to show who you are as a rider. I hadn’t seen the [other three] horses go and didn’t really have an idea of how they would ride so I had to have confidence in myself as a rider. I knew I could focus and put in a good ride regardless of the horse.”
O’Mara was awarded the French Leave Memorial Perpetual Trophy donated by the Gerald A. Nielsen Family. He also received an engraved iPad mini from Platinum Performance. Max Amaya and Stacia Madden, who train O’Mara, took home the Leading Trainer(s) Award, donated by the late Mr. Hugh J.B Cassidy, III. The Grappa Trophy, donated by Sarah Willeman, was awarded to McLain Ward’s Clearline, Yowan’s entry, whom the judges chose as the best horse of the competition.
Prior to the start of Phase IV, USEF Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals were awarded in recognition of wins in Talent Search Classes. Bronze medals are awarded to riders who win at least five classes, Silver to those who win at least 10 classes, and the coveted Gold goes to riders with 20 or more wins.
The medals were awarded as follows:
Gold: Alexandria Desiderio
Silver: Catherine Apostol, Katherine Bundy, and Madison Goetzmann
Bronze: Elizabeth Ekberg, Coco Fath, Carly Hoft, Hayley Mairano, and Taylor St. Jacques
On the West Coast, Ransome Rombauer was awarded a Gold medal.