*Brought to you by the Rutledge Farm Sessions*
Gladstone, N.J. – October 6, 2019 – Rising young talent from across the country gathered at the United States Equestrian Team (USET) Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey to vie for top honors in the Platinum Performance / USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East. Riders were meticulously tested over two days and four phases of competition, concluding Sunday afternoon with a clean-slated ride-off among the top four competitors over a new track. Out of the total 57 competitors that qualified to compete, it was ultimately 17-year-old Ellie Ferrigno that earned the coveted championship title.
Since the 1950’s, the Show Jumping Talent Search program has provided an opportunity for riders under the age of 21 to showcase their abilities as potential international representatives for 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. With Sunday’s win, Ferrigno can etch her name into the French Leave Memorial Perpetual Trophy alongside previous Talent Search Finals winners, including Daisy Farish, McKayla Langmeier and TJ O’Mara.
Sunday’s Phase III over fences course tasked riders with completing an eight-obstacle jumper-style course to test their precision and adjustability. Unique to the Talent Search final, riders are asked to clear a water obstacle, an important skill to master when advancing on to higher levels of the sport. Following Phase III, Sophee Steckbeck led the class after earning a score of 95 for her impressive round. Ava Stearns maintained the second place position with a Phase III score of 93, followed by Dominic Gibbs in third with a score of 89.5. Ferrigno rounded out the top four riders that would advance on to Phase IV with her score of 92.5.
The top four riders returned to the fourth and final phase of competition with a clean slate and a new eight-obstacle track, set to a 57-second time allowed. In addition to riding their own mount, each rider would take a trip on each of the other competitors’ three horses. With just two minutes to warm up and the help of each of their respective trainers, riders had to quickly acclimate to their unfamiliar mounts before heading into the ring. The top spot was open for the taking with little room left for error.
During the third round of Phase IV, Gibbs was forced to retire mid-course aboard Steckbeck’s horse Itterville when the gelding presented unsound. Due to the fact that Itterville was no longer fit to compete, the competition format was altered in accordance with the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals rulebook. Each rider would retain the score that they received aboard their own mount, but would drop the score they received riding Itterville. In order to retain the score that she received on her own mount, Itterville, Steckbeck sat out the final round of Phase IV in order to finish on just three scores.
Despite the change of format, the top four riders maintained their focus, laying down beautiful trips that showed off their versatility and skill in a show jumping format. Sitting in fourth place after Phase III, Ferrigno’s textbook rounds in Phase IV were consistent and clean aboard all three of her final mounts, earning her an impressive 269 points for her efforts. Throughout the two days of competition, Ferrigno was a consistent leader, earning an 88.5 on the flat, a score of 94.8 during the Phase II gymnastics round, and a score of 92.5 in Phase III to ultimately clinch the coveted title.
Stearns earned the reserve champion honors with a final Phase IV score of 268. Finishing in third was Steckbeck with an overall Phase IV score of 224, with Gibbs rounding out the top four with a score of 203. Gibbs’ partner, his own Cent 15, was awarded the “Grappa” Best Horse Trophy, deemed by the judges to have been the best horse of the competition over the course of the two days. The 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding consistently proved himself with every rider, jump and course throughout the weekend. The Leading Trainer Award was presented to Ferrigno’s trainer, Val Renihan.
Sunday’s competition concludes the 2019 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East. Over the course of the next year, a new collection of young riders across the country will partake in the Talent Search Program, ultimately aiming to earn a spot at the 2019 East or West finale event in the fall. The Talent Search Program seeks to challenge and educate the young and junior riders of today with the hopes that they may become the next generation of show jumping professionals, thus laying the foundation for future international success.
For more information on the 2019 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, please click here.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Ellie Ferrigno – 2019 Platinum Performance / USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East champion
On her win:
“I think that it is such an unbelievable opportunity that we are able to do a class like this where we are being watched on the grand stage and be able to go on and do bigger things. I feel so honored to be able to take the top spot. I have never been in a final four situation and I thought it was a really great place to learn how to get on and go off of feeling. We worked so much over the two days and I liked how each thing came together. The flat work leads to the gymnastics, gymnastics lead to the jumping.”
“I just started riding Discovery at the beginning of the summer. He is actually my high junior jumper that will be competing at Prix des States next week [at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show (PNHS)]. He is the horse that I feel like I can always count on. I don’t have an extensive partnership with him, but I feel like every class I have gone in with him he has tried his hardest. I am so proud of him for being such a good boy with everyone in the final four. I would like to thank Christina Serio and Derbydown for the opportunity to be able to ride such a spectacular horse. Chrissy has always done such an amazing job with Discovery and she spent the time developing him, so I give a lot of credit to her. I have him leased from them through next year.”
On her long term goals:
“I would love to [ride for the U.S. and compete at Young Riders]. Even if that doesn’t work out, I would love to go on to train and just stay in the sport. Specifically with Discovery, I would love to go on, and I will be able to compete in the Prix des States next week, but I think in general our goal is to keep moving on and maybe do some higher level stuff like the U25 division.”
Ava Stearns – reserve champion
On competing in the finals:
“I appreciate this class because it shows off the fundamentals and it has you work on things like flat work and basics that you can build on to become better. I learned a lot about working with my horse, I have never really ridden in him in a setting like this and it really prepared us for finals season. Getting to ride these other horses teaches you a lot about your riding and what you need to improve on.”
On her long term goals:
“I want to continue to improve, so I am going to go home, work hard and not have any more time faults!”
On Acer K:
“I guess I would just like to say thank you to everyone at North Run and Missy Clark for giving me the opportunity to ride this horse. He is so impressive in everything he does. This is his first big equitation final besides regionals and he couldn’t have been any better. Every time he goes out he continues to improve. He is only 8 years old!”
Susan Ashe – judge
On the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals:
“First of all I want to say that I thought the courses were just fabulous. We designed them but we had some help from Conrad [Homfeld]. There were no traps, the cream of the crop rose to the top and then ones that weren’t quite ready for it had their faults, but it was a very fair course. The four of them were really good. It was a shame the way it happened with only getting three scores because Ava [Stearns] had the time fault, Ellie [Ferrigno]’s drop score was not good and you don’t know what would have happened if Ava had another round. It was only separated by one point between the top two.”
Val Renihan – Trainer of Ellie Ferrigno
On what this win means for Ellie’s career:
“I think it is big for Ellie. We have put in so much work and she knows she can do it but she is not at all cocky, which could help her if she had a little bit of attitude to her. Once she got through the gymnastic phase you saw her take a breath. She was ready to go when she got to the… She rides so many different horses that when she got to switch she was just having fun. She would say ‘Wow, he is comfy!’ and I would be telling her to concentrate! For her, that was just a lot of fun to get to ride those other horses and I am hoping this gives her the confidence boost she needs to be able to no that she is where she is.”
Stay tuned Monday for a full recap from all of the trainers, judges and athletes!
Place / Rider / Horse / Phase III Score / Phase IV Score
1. Ellie Ferrigno / Discovery-O / 415.6 / 269
2. Ava Stearns / Acer K / 417.8 / 268
3. Sophee Steckbeck / Itterville / 419.8 / 224
4. Dominic Gibbs / Cent 15 / 417.0 / 203
5. Kierstin Antoniadis / Avalanche / 409.5
6. Sophie Gochamn / Contelido / 408.3
7. Mimi Gochman / Heroy Von De Hei / 404.1
8. Taylor Griffiths / Mac One III / 400.5
9. Nina Columbia / Kentucky Bourbon SC / 391.0
10. Lili Kaissar / Salt Lake / 390.9
*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.*