Platinum Performance / USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East Review

The 2019 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East has concluded, with Ellie Ferrigno adding her name to the acclaimed list of past champions. Following the four phases of competition, judges Susan Ashe and Molly Ashe Cawley, as well as trainers Val Renihan, Missy Clark, Andre Dignelli, and Stacia Madden weighed in on various aspects of the important championship. Find out what they said about the different phases of the championship, what the judges were looking for and the evolution of the class.

On this year’s final

Molly Ashe Cawley:
“They all have potential. The work ethic has to stay there and there has to be a desire to go on past this. That is how I feel and not just in this general competition specifically, but I don’t see a lot of younger kids following their sport that much to have a burning desire to move onto the big jumpers. Maybe it is there, but it is certainly not as much there as we hope it would be numbers-wise. I have had kids come to ride with me in the past that don’t know huge names in the sport. There could be more interest in the following of the sport. For me, as someone who is not in the equitation all the time, that is a concern. The numbers are higher in the lower divisions and lower in the high divisions. We have fantastic riders and fantastic horses so we want to see people who want to carry on in the sport – that is what this is all about.”

Ellie Ferrigno and Val Renihan

Stacia Madden:
“Ellie Ferrigno, you were in the groove! Your expression and your demeanor is so incredibly confident. Val [Renihan] was talking about you jumping and you just sat confident and talking about how each horse felt. It just looked like it was going to be your day, so hats off to you! Ava, time faults hurt and it probably feels that way in the moment but you had an incredible day and you know that you are truly a beautiful rider. The other two that hadn’t been in the final four before, what a way to shine at an event like this and show your true character and your riding accomplishments. It was a very good day and the class was well presented for these riders to be able to achieve what they achieved.”

Missy Clark and Ava Stearns

Missy Clark:
“This has always been personally one of my favorite finals for the kids. They learn so much and it is so unlike the others. Good riding always comes to play at the end of the day and these four sitting up here rose to the top. They were all so confident and so consistent throughout the week. I thought the flat phase was interesting how they did it and it certainly showcased the correct kids in the end.”

On this year’s height change to 1.15m

Molly Ashe Cawley:
“I feel like they have dropped it down. It is supposed to be the kids that want to take the next step to the next level and nobody is going to lower it down from here when you go to make that next step to the next level. You can go from 1.15m to 1.50m or 1.20m to 1.50m and they have to get some grit. The belief behind it being bigger is that it would take a lot of pressure off of the horses that do Capital Challenge, Harrisburg and Kentucky after this because you use a different horse to do this. This is more of a jumper oriented class, so I like it bigger. I know that they were struggling to get enough entries in it, but that goes back to what I was saying earlier with how many people want to move on in this sport. That shouldn’t be a struggle, people should be banging down the doors to do it. Yes, it is hard to find the horses to do it, but a lot of these kids ride jumpers so they figured that problem out versus watering down the class. It is not preparing better for the future of the sport. Individual people need to move up in the sport and I don’t think it is through making it smaller and easier.”

Andre Dignelli and Sophee Steckbeck

Andre Dignelli:
“I think this was a great class and I think lowering the class to 1.15m opened the class to so more participants, which I think is really important if you want to continue to raise money and interest in the sport. You have to get people here to see it, do it and take part in it. I think it was a step in the right direction because if they weren’t careful this class could near extinction. There are a lot of people here, there is an atmosphere and there is more participation in the riding. My only comment is that I thought the counter canter had no modified way to do it. You basically had to counter canter that the whole time and I don’t think that was that easy for everyone’s junior jumper to do. I thought the rest was spot on and they did a great job. That is that grey area between the equitation horse and truly bringing your jumper here and that is part of the issue with the attendance in this class. I think people don’t like to come here and look bad or not be prepared, so there aren’t that many young trainers bringing their stable her or their kids here.”

On the flat phase

Molly Ashe Cawley:
“The flat phase was interesting because I think riding without stirrups and posting is easier in many ways, it gets you around the horse more which is what we were trying to do, put the horses together and get the right connection. It was basically one side of the ring for the posting trot and it was surprising to me, I thought it would have been a little bit better in some ways. Then I started to feel a little bit bad about it too because a lot of them just went to college in August and some of them haven’t been riding as much, but I didn’t think it was unfair and I was good with it. In the gymnastics phase, I wish the counter lead wouldn’t have ended in such a deal-breaker and I loved the courses today.”

On the gymnastics course

Molly Ashe Cawley and Susan Ashe

Susan Ashe:
“I would have had no problem with [a simple lead change into the counter canter] and we had talked about that being better for the horse. Someone lost their lead and then fixed it that way and they were rewarded for that. For me, I was surprised that more people didn’t get the canter and then transition down for that first jump. I think that would have been an easier undertaking from the canter down to the trot because you would have more horse packaged up in your hand. In the end, I think we have the right kids up here and I hope everyone is pleased with the results.”

Molly Ashe Cawley:
“[We were looking for] the finesse to lengthen and shorten and to have a feel after the forward lines to put the horses back together after. The counter lead ended up being more of a pickle than we had meant for it to be but it saved time because that takes feel and putting a horse together, not just muzzling them to keep it. We lost a couple in that that we didn’t mean to lose but at the same time, it is something that they should be able to do. I didn’t want to have a gimmick in the course, that wasn’t what we were after, but we wanted to get the numbers down. I feel like that ended up being more that way and I don’t like that but it is what it is. It would have taken a lot of courage to take that step and [do a simple lead change into the counter canter]. Some of the kids really came in and schooled the turn with that counter lead and the other thing that I was surprised by was that I had no problem with that either. I said that it wasn’t our intention for that turn to be our deciding factor. I was also surprised that more kids didn’t canter in their circle and then come back down to the trot for the first fence, that makes that a much easier task.”

Stacia Madden and Dominic Gibbs

Stacia Madden:
“For me, I struggled with [students cantering their circle and coming back to the trot for fence one] because I wanted to do that but I had it in the back of my mind Sue being angry at one of my kids for picking up the wrong diagonal at Regionals or something. I have had other judges that think you are breaking when you go from the canter to the trot for a trot jump. I told my kids that I wasn’t sure how this was going to go but I thought it was a safer bet.”

Andre Dignelli:
“The way it was written on the diagram, you had to counter canter the actual circle, there was no way to get around that in my opinion. There was no way to not be on the wrong lead all the way through that turn which I think any jumper wouldn’t naturally do.”

Missy Clark:
“I agree with everyone else that it was too bad that the counter got in the way. Today’s course was fabulous. Molly said she worked with Conrad and you could see that, he is so brilliant and Molly is so well versed in riding in the grand prix so I loved today’s course. It was really well done.”

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