2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East Review

The 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East have concluded, with McKayla Langmeier adding her name to the acclaimed list of past champions. Following the four phases of competition, judges McLain Ward and Jimmy Torano, as well as trainers Andre Dignelli, Missy Clark and Frank Madden, weighed in on various aspects of the important championship. Find out what they said about each phase of the competition and the evolution of the sport.

On the gymnastics phase:

Jimmy Torano
“I think McLain and I agree that we both don’t love the gymnastics phase. In my opinion, it’s an open book test. We have eight or ten things to choose from and everybody – every trainer, every rider – has the tests. They can do it backwards and forwards, they can do it in their sleep, so in the gymnastics phase we saw a lot of good rounds. The nice thing was we only saw one run-out, no stops, no kid fell off, so that was the nice part of it. McLain and I judged this class together ten years ago together, and when we did it then, McLain went back to one of Bert [de Nemethy]’s books, and he took a lot of real gymnastics and we really liked that. Last night he was up until one o’clock in the morning, and he wrote a format that he would like to see if he could change things up a little bit.”

McLain Ward
“As far as the gymnastics, specifically for this event, I think it could be reworked to be a little more interesting, a little more challenging, and it has to continue to evolve. I was frustrated a little bit because we were limited on the gymnastics and what we could do. For me, those options are not exactly gymnastics that I’d love to show and share with these young riders. I would like to show a little bit of what both myself and Jimmy, because we follow very similar programs successfully, use ourselves.

The basis of this institution – the USET and this headquarters – is Bert de Nemethy and his practices, and that was classic gymnastics with a military background. They are gymnastics I use every day. I have an entire ring dedicated to that. I think as an industry we have gotten away from it, everything is coursework now. If you are trying to produce horses and riders for bigger sport that’s a shame because what I feel is healthy more than anything in my own riding is balance and body control, position, timing, and I saw this weekend and when I’ve judged in the past is that a lot of people don’t put emphasis on position anymore. Some people will come up to me and are a little upset after an event I’m judging – “My kid found all the jumps” – but your kid was laying on the neck, your kid was behind the motion. These are not factors that maybe show themselves 100 percent at 3’6” or 3’9” but they show themselves at 1.60-meter.”

Andre Dignelli:
“I’m in agreement because I judged the West Coast Finals this year and it’s just not that interesting because it is an open book test. I like that when we come here there are no gimmicks, and we aren’t trotting jumps that are too high or being judged trotting poles on the ground, but there’s no individuality that’s happening anymore, so I think it’s all sort of cookie-cutter. I think the gymnastics phase was the same in California, it was the same here, and it was basically the same last year because we look at the menu and those are the best ones. I think by having Anthony d’Ambrosio as the USEF Technical Delegate, you could alleviate there being real problems like in the past because I don’t think he is gonna let you have a distance that’s dangerous or anything like that.”

Frank Madden
“I agree really with McLain. I think the pendulum has swung quite a bit. I think I’ve been here for about 30 finals, really since this began, and at times it has become so abstract that it is difficult to follow. Maybe it has swung too far the other way, like has been said it’s a bit too much of an open book, but I think the perfect remedy would be somewhere in between.”

On the jump course design:

McLain Ward
“My original idea, and I spoke to Anthony d’Ambrosio and Jimmy and Lizzy Chesson, was to take one of the courses from the Barcelona Nations Cup Final. The problem is the ring is quite a bit different in shape and size, and it wasn’t gonna work great, so what I tried to do when I drew it was take the challenging lines from both of the two final rounds and kind of blend them together. So you saw the water and the double vertical was very similar, there were a couple of turns that were very similar. So certainly a modified version, but if you looked at those courses you’d see it was very familiar. So I really was kind of on a rampage with the course that I was going to get it the way I wanted it, and I was very pleased with it. I hope everyone, whether you were successful today or not in the jumping course, I hope you learned something and you understood your own riding – strengths, weaknesses and how to handle your horse better, that’s the goal. Not everybody is going to master it, but they shouldn’t leave feeling defeated, they should leave thinking about what they need to do to get better.

I thought at the same time that it was very modern challenges. We have to present in our equitation courses the challenges that we are going to see in future in the showjumping arena. We aren’t preparing kids to go hunting anymore, we are preparing kids to go jump the Nations Cup Final. I think that needs to be reflected in all of the equitation finals, otherwise it’s not relevant.

I understand that all the formats need to evolve in our sport and in equitation. The sport is evolving, horsemanship is evolving. We have to hold to our core basics, but at the same time it is always changing and we need to change with it or we become left behind or irrelevant.”

On the adopted World Championships-style work-off format, which has since been dropped from the World Championships:

McLain Ward
“As far as the final four, I think it’s a phenomenal format and I think the way the final four played out today is a prime example of that. Taylor St. Jacques on her own horse didn’t have a great round, was a little behind the eight-ball even after the second horse, so it was really looking like she had no chance to win and then McKayla made a mistake on the third horse, a pretty large mistake, and it got very close. I knew the score that McKayla needed to have to see if she could meet that standard, so for me it was exciting right to the very end. I think that’s the beauty of it, that it changes, it ebbs and flows and it’s not ‘one mistake and you’re out.’ Riders and athletes can have a chance to rebound and fight back, and Taylor fought back and made it very close at the end. There really was not a lot of room for McKayla to make mistakes and she had a beautiful last round and got the job done. I think that’s exciting, I think that’s interesting.

I think it was a wonderful thing for the final four in the Senior World Championships, but the problem is other aspects of the industry and business have evolved to the point where the risk was too high for that. I think at this level with young riders at this size fences, it’s very unique, it’s very interesting. People stay around to watch even though their day in the competition is finished, and that’s wonderful. It’s also a great experience for the two less experienced riders here in our four. They are going to come back and be better next time -they are going to be better rider and better horse-people.”

On the evolution and uniqueness of the Talent Search Finals:

Jimmy Torano
“I think the first time McLain and I judged this class there were 93 in it, so the numbers have dropped, but the nice thing is that it has now become a 1.20-meter class instead of a normal equitation class. As I said before, we only had one person to have one refusal in the gymnastics phase, so that was nice to see. On one hand we lost a lot of those kids as entries, but it sort of weeded out a lot of the kids that maybe aren’t ready to be here and they aren’t overfaced and can go on to Harrisburg being a little more comfortable. I think this is a class that is to prepare you to go on for future events, to jump the Olympic Games, the Nations Cup Final, whatever that might be and whatever goals you have.

It’s a unique final because there are other equitation finals – Harrisburg, Maclay Finals, the Washington – so I think a lot of people maybe don’t understand a lot of the judging here sometimes because, for instance in that flat phase, every step of what we do, you keep hearing “working.” We saw good riders who weren’t working. It’s a working canter or a working trot and we saw riders who were just cantering or just trotting, and in the gymnastics phase we were big on style. We saw some kids who might have had to fight a little bit, and at times maybe it wasn’t as smooth as you would see in the medal final, but they kept their position, they had good style, they fought a little but that dug in and they got it done and we really liked that. This final is different than the other ones in my opinion.”

On the group of riders as a whole:

Jimmy Torano
“One of the biggest things is that people have to understand that just because they won a class three weeks ago with a judge, it’s not the same. We are both sticklers on position and style and for us that really became an issue. We saw some “really good riders” that maybe lost their position that created some faults, that created some mistakes, that created some poor jumping, but as a whole, with the number dropping down to 52, we saw some really good riders. To see a young rider like Taylor [Griffiths], who was maybe middle of the road in the flat phase, she came in and she really impressed us in the gymnastics phase, she impressed us even more [in the jumping phase], and she fought and she dug and she got right into that final.”

McLain Ward
“There were also kids who had smooth rounds, whose leg was rolling around, sliding back to the haunches. Yes, they found twelve distances and it was a smooth round but they were all over the horse. That’s as much a fault as being a little too deep or being a little too long.”

On the importance of the Talent Search Finals:

Missy Clark
“This is such a great class and the things that they come out of this event gaining is immeasurable. I believe this is such a great progression in any of these young riders’ lives. As not just an equitation division, it’s a stepping stone and we all come here and want them to do well and do their best, but at the end of the day that’s not why, personally, I teach it. It’s to try to facilitate these riders to be the best that they can be and my goal, personally, is always the jumper ring, so I’m always heading that direction with them and thinking about that.”

McLain Ward
“I think that as people come through this place – the era of Gladstone as being the team headquarters, I came after it, but I still get chills in this place – so people need to come here and appreciate the time they spend here and what’s happened in these rooms, what this place was about because whether it be their own programs eventually or whether it be the programs that they are lucky enough to be a part of, that all came from this concept. There’s a lot more to this place than just the sand ring out back and the equitation final, this place should give you a little bit of a feeling of awe when you walk in it because the ghosts are still here, so to speak. I think it’s important and that’s why it’s important to continue to really promote this final and try to give the winners and the people who don’t have as successful a weekend that experience.

I know that the people here who truly believe in this final and know how important it is and what a great test it is are going to continue to move in that direction and make it to be the best, most challenging final we have. If you look at the list of riders who have come out of here, either winning or in the final four, it’s a pretty “who’s who” list, and I think that’s very special.”

Andre Dignelli
“It’s a great event. A lot of these kids are working students or borrowing horses, and it’s a little challenging for the trainers to come up with the right horse at the right time, but we manage to do it. This class changed my life. It’s what keeps me coming back, and it was great to be judged by two top horsemen that are out there doing this week in and week out at the highest level. Win, lose or draw you know it’s going to be a good event.”

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