Gladstone, NJ – Oct. 7, 2017 – Saturday marked the return of the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East to Hamilton Farm for its 2017 installment, bringing with it a new crop of young talent to vie for the the top prize. The first two phases of the four-phase final challenged some of the nation’s top young riders on their flatwork and gymnastics precision, with 18-year-old Taylor St. Jacques emerging as the leader after two impeccable performances. St. Jacques is no stranger to the Finals, having competed in Talent Search Finals two times prior to 2017, and while she has been in contention in the past, this is the strongest position she could have hoped for to finish day one.
The historic event, which has been held at the beautiful headquarters of the United States Equestrian Team (USET) Foundation now for more than 35 years, is the pinnacle of the Talent Search Program. The Program itself plays a central role in the rider pathway, as well as provides an opportunity for junior riders to showcase their abilities as potential future representatives of American show jumping. Emphasizing 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.
Saturday morning commenced with 52 pairs of horses and riders taking to the ring for the initial flat phase of competition, with each pair aiming to make a memorable first impression and garner a strong score from judges McLain Ward and Jimmy Torano. If riders had hoped to ease into the day, their wishes went ungranted as each of the six groups of riders was challenged during the flat phase over a series of tests including the counter-canter, a lead change in front of the judge, sitting trot and canter without stirrups, haunches-in, collection and lengthening of stride, and walking and trotting on a long rein, among others.
Though the testing was no simple task, horses and riders proved to be up to the challenge, as more than half of the entries garnered a score of 80 or above from Ward and Torano’s watchful eyes. Five entrants set themselves apart from the rest of the pack as the select few to break the 90-point threshold, led by St. Jacques with her near-perfect score of 94. Caroline Dance finished the first portion of competition in second place with marks of 92, followed by McKayla Langmeier, the 2015 Talent Search Finals reserve champion, with a score of 91 to round out the top three headed into Phase II: Gymnastics.
McLain and Torano’s combination-heavy gymnastics track consisted of 24 efforts divvied up into 16 obstacles, asking riders to navigate their mounts over multiple bending lines off of both leads, as well as jump a 75-foot line in five strides one direction at the onset of the trip, followed by a 6-stride completion of the lead in the opposite direction to complete the course. This year’s track was very reminiscent of the 2016 Talent Search Finals track, which riders took note of and used to their advantage if they had ridden in the 2016 event. On the whole, the horse-and-rider duos fared well, with the most common mishap being a downed rail at the back fence in the middle of the bending lines.
As the last to go, St. Jacques had the advantage of watching her fellow competitors ride before her, and remained steady through another phase of the finals, laying down a flawless ride aboard Heritage Farm, Inc.’s trusty Charisma to earn another score of 94 from the judges panel. Combined with her leading score after the flat phase, St. Jacques easily secured herself as the day one leader with cumulative marks of 235 and will enter the second day of competition with the advantage ahead of the pack, a whole 7 points separating her from the next-closest rider.
Jordyn Rose Freedman, the only other rider to earn a score of 90 or above in the gymnastics phase, jumped from fourth place after the first phase to the reserve spot with her standout 92-point ride aboard her own Finnick, finishing on a score of 228 as the closest competitor to St. Jacques. Third position was claimed by Alexandra Pielet and Common Sense, owned by Co-Pielet, LLC, who garnered a total score of 220.5 from the judges panel, impressively moving up from 12th place in the ranks with their afternoon score of 89. Langmeier is still in contention, as well, sitting in fourth after a strong ride in the irons aboard Linda Langmeier’s Skyfall to conclude on a score of 220, trailed by Michael Williamson, who navigated Donald Stewart’s Crimea River to marks of 86 for a composite score of 218.5, in fifth position.
The 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East will continue at Hamilton Farm on Sunday with two more phases of competition still to go to determine the 2017 champion. Phase III: Jumping will begin the day’s events, followed by the Phase IV ride-off, consisting of the four top-scoring competitors, in the afternoon. Those four young riders will return to the ring, following a format modeled after the World Championships final ride-off, and will first navigate their own horses, then the other three competitors’ horses, over an abridged course to determine the new champion and winner of the prestigious title
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Taylor St. Jacques – Leader of 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East
On her reaction to leading the Finals:
“I’m ecstatic. It is only my third time here but I’m honestly on cloud nine. I think Charisma came and put his best foot forward and didn’t put a foot wrong today. He performed beyond expectation and I think the results showed. I’m very, very happy about it.”
On her opinion of the first two phases:
“I think they both suited my strengths. The flat was difficult, they worked us really hard and by the end I think a lot of people got tired. Recently I’ve been really working on going to the gym and becoming more fit and I think that really helped with the flat today. I didn’t come out very tired and I was totally fine throughout the flat, whereas some riders were very tired by the end and it showed. For the gymnastics, it wasn’t extremely difficult, but I believe that there were a couple lines that really tested how well you knew your horse and how well you knew what questions were asked. I think Charisma and I are really good at going forward and slowing down because he is a very adjustable horse, and that course did well for us and really showed both of our strengths.”
On riding a similar gymnastics track to the 2016 track:
“As soon as I walked up and saw the course I noticed that it was almost exactly the same as last year. I definitely did think about what I could’ve improved on from last year, and I think I did improve this year. Having the course be similar – there’s only so many lines a judge can put – but with them being almost identical, I thought it was a bit of an advantage.”
On riding last in the Jumping phase Sunday:
“I try not to think about going last. When I was younger it used to really affect me, but as I’ve gotten older and matured a little bit I have gotten more confident in myself and I think I’m prepared for this. I’ve come back on top a few other times this year where I had to go last and been under a lot of pressure and I think I handled it well. I’m hoping tomorrow I can handle it just as well.”
Place / Rider / Horse / Owner / Score
1. Taylor St. Jacques / Charisma / Heritage Farm, Inc. / 235
2. Jordyn Rose Freedman / Finnick / Jordyn Rose Freedman / 228
3. Alexandra Pielet / Common Sense / Co-Pielet, LLC / 220.5
4. McKayla Langmeier / Skyfall / Linda Langmeier / 220
5. Michael Williamson / Crimea River / Donald E. Stewart / 218.5
6. Devin Ashley Seek / Casino Royal / Catrine Tormoen Golia / 217.5
7. Nina Columbia / Checkland / Nina Columbia / 216.5
8. Madison Goetzmann / Heroy van de Hei / Gochman Sport Horses / 215
9. Addison Piper / Even Keel / Wolfstone Stables & Sales, Inc. / 214.5
10. Abigail Brayman / Corleone / Catherine Tyree / 213.5
For more information on the 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, please click here.