*Brought to you by the Rutledge Farm Sessions*
Gladstone, N.J. – October 5, 2019 – Set at the historic United States Equestrian Team (USET) Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey, the 2019 Platinum Performance / USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East welcomed 57 competitors to vie for a chance at the coveted title. Saturday kicked off the first two of the four phases of competition, including the open flatwork and gymnastics coursework. At the end of the day, it was Dominic Gibbs that was the clear leading contender impressing mother-daughter judging duo Susan Ashe and Molly Ashe Cawley.
For the first phase, judges Ashe and Cawley asked riders to complete the flat phase without their irons, bringing an early arrival of “No Stirrup November” to the athletes bidding for the final title. Eight groups of riders were challenged to demonstrate a series of tests including shoulder-in, shoulder-out, collecting and lengthening of stride, a half-pass to the quarter line and back to the rail, and a flying lead change to the counter lead.
The equitation final plays a key role in the Show Jumping Talent Search Final, which dates back to the 1950s. The prestigious program provides an opportunity for athletes under the age of 21 years old to showcase their abilities as potential international representatives of American show jumping at the highest level. With a strong focus on the principle that “form follows function,” riders are expected to navigate their horse over a jumper-style course while maintaining the forward style of riding, demonstrating both correct equitation as well as speed and precision.
Making a stellar first impression on the judges, Nora Andrews completed the flat phase to score a 93 and took the lead heading into the gymnastic phase. Following closely behind was Dominic Gibbs, who rode to a 91, and Tanner Korotkin, who earned a 90.5 for his flat efforts. At the conclusion of the flat phase, a total of five riders met or exceeded a score of 90 to give themselves a strong start to the remaining three phases of competition.
Ashe and Cawley set an 11-obstacle track for phase two of competition, the gymnastics phase. The course began with a trot jump to a long bending line that required an open step to get down in the correct number of strides. Posing as one of the most challenging components of the course, riders navigated a technical indirect turn towards the rail following fence six. Riders were asked to hold the counter lead throughout the turn and remain balanced with a forward motion to clear the next oxer. In addition, riders needed to keep their horses on the counter lead for fence eight, a jump that could only be met with a wobble in the track to avoid a fence positioned in the center of the path.
As one of the youngest contenders for the championship title, 16-year-old Gibbs displayed correct position and an effective seat to wow the judges over the gymnastic course. Gibbs’ accuracy and precision was put to the test throughout the course, but was unwavering as he expertly cleared each obstacle with confidence. Judges rewarded his round aboard the Mountain King Ranch LLC owned 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding Cent 15 with a near-perfect score of 98 to place him on top with a six-point lead.
Under the instruction of top equitation trainer Stacia Madden, the Colorado Springs resident has been coined as one of the sports rising stars in the past year. At the 2018 National Horse Show Gibbs claimed his first championship title in the Hamel Foundation NHS 3’3″ Equitation Championship. The young rider has only continued to add to his resume since then, taking a win in the National Hunter Derby at the Kentucky Summer Classic, placing second in the Region 4 ASPCA Maclay Finals and most recently coming off of a win in the Palm Beach International Academy (PBIA) North American Junior Equitation Championships at Capital Challenge Horse Show. Gibbs is hoping for a top finishes in all of the major equitation finals this fall, a goal that appears within reach after his stellar performances in phase I and II of competition.
Ava Stearns sits in the runner-up position heading into phase three of competition. Stearns’ phase I score of 90 and phase II score of 94.5 gives her a strong chance at the championship title Sunday afternoon. Currently ranked in third place out of the 57 horse-and-rider combinations is Ellie Ferrigno. Ferrigno scored an 88.5 on the flat and a 94.8 through the gymnastic course, sitting just one point behind Stearns.
The 2018 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East will continue at Hamilton Farm Sunday with two more phases of competition remaining to determine this year’s champion. Phase III: Jumping will begin the day’s events, followed by the afternoon’s Phase IV: Ride-off, consisting of the four top-scoring competitors. Those four young riders will return to the ring following a format modeled after the Show Jumping World Championships final ride-off, and will first navigate their own mounts, then the other three competitors’ horses, over an abridged course to determine the new winner of the prestigious title.
For more information on the 2019 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, please click here.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Dominic Gibbs – Platinum Performance / USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East leader
On the flat phase:
“Strangely enough, I actually like doing flat work and no stirrups work because it helps me connect with my horse and become stronger. I loved the challenge of doing no stirrups in the show ring this morning and I think that the judges asked some interesting questions and tested the riders really well. It was fun!”
On the gymnastic phase:
“Really, my plan was to make it all flow well and match. I didn’t want any big changes of pace, leaping distances or short spots, I just wanted a nice solid round. Going over the course with my coach, we talked about how to ride the curves of the line and what to do if certain things happened. I really had to keep on my toes the whole time to any new things that were happening. The flat work really helped me be in unity with my horse and set him up for the over fences.”
On Cent 15:
“His barn name is Cent, he is 10-year-old Hanoverian imported from Germany. Tom de Bel actually sent him to us because he saw potential in matching us, and Stacia [Madden] saw him as my horse of a lifetime. I have been partnered with him since February and this is his first year in equitation – he was a jumper before. He is the most incredible horse I have ever ridden. He is there for me and whatever I ask him to do, he is right on it. He is game for anything, so brave and I can trust him in any environment – He is comfortable with anything. I am so lucky to be partnered with him – I love him.”
On training with Stacia Madden:
“It has been a really great experience. She really prepares her students well for shows, she builds really complex courses at home and asks every possible question that could be asked in the show ring and it works wonders for riders that are wanting to do well at the finals.”
On his strong lead:
“It is a lot of pressure and I cannot put that pressure on myself because I know it won’t end well if I put that all on myself. I am going to focus on the ride I have that day and try to do my best.One thing I really loved about today and the USET Finals itself is that students have the opportunity to walk the course themselves without the trainer and I think that is a great experience because we are able to create our own plan.”
Place / Rider / Score
1. Dominic Gibbs / 238
2. Ava Stearns / 231.8
3. Ellie Ferrigno / 230.6
4. Sophee Steckbeck / 229.8
5. Kierstin Antoniadis / 228.5
6. Lili Kaisaar / 227.9
7. Taylor Griffiths / 226.5
8. Sophie Gochman / 226.3
9. Nora Andrews / 225.8
10. Mimi Gochman / 224.1
*This article is brought to you by the Rutledge Farm Sessions, a one-of-a-kind clinic series offering clinics in Middleburg, Virginia with Olympic and international championship athletes for riders of all levels and disciplines. In November, Stacia Madden will host a two-day equitation clinic at Rutledge Farm. To sign up, click here.*