Harrisburg, Penn. – Oct. 15, 2017 – Each year, riders from across the country work tirelessly to qualify for a spot in one of the four prestigious equitation finals held in the fall, and out of a lofty 253 contenders who made it to the ring Sunday, Taylor St. Jacques topped them all in impeccable fashion. St. Jacques dominated the 2017 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final from start to finish, performing flawlessly aboard Heritage Farm’s Charisma in three separate trips to earn the coveted equitation title, never losing the lead. The team at Heritage Farm had doubly as many reasons to celebrate, as Cooper Dean, also trained by Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffith, claimed the reserve title in the irons aboard Heritage Farm’s Kori D’Oro behind St. Jacques.
Coming off of a second place finish at the 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East last weekend, St. Jacques was hungry for a win, and at 18 years old, she only had one final attempt at the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final title before she ages out of junior status. The young rider started strong and ensured her initial place atop the leaderboard with an effortless trip over course designer Steve Stephens’ track for the first round of competition. Stephens produced three highly-praised courses for the competition, all of which seamlessly blended elements of both equitation-style tracks as well as hunt seat paths, offering riders plenty of opportunities to show off not only their positions, but their horses’ adjustability and responsiveness.
With 72 rounds before St. Jacques’ ride, judges Tamara Provost and Jack Towell had already seen 14 riders who they deemed worthy of a callback as of that time, and St. Jacques would add her name to the top of that list with her steady navigation of Charisma.
At the conclusion of the first round of riding, St. Jacques held her status as the early leader headed into the second phase, consisting of the top 25 highest-ranking pairs. Madison Goetzmann sat in second position after her strong ride on Elizabeth Benson’s San Remo VDL, followed by Paige Matthies, who piloted Donald Stewart’s Blurred Lines, in the third spot in the ranks. Dean had earned the fourth-best marks at this point, and Sarah McCloskey, with the ride aboard her own Sting, rounded out the top five.
For the second round of riding, the top 25 juniors returned in reverse order of the standings, and it was clear that these were the creme of the crop as riders consistently laid down strong trips. Competition was tough, and some riders fared better than others with the new course. Retaining a place at the top of the scorecards was not a shoe-in, as it turned out, as only two of the original top four riders were asked to return for the final test. St. Jacques, with yet another textbook performance, fended off the rest of the field to stay on top, followed by Dean in the second place spot. Sam Walker jumped from seventh position to third position after his second performance with North Run’s Waldo, and Jordyn Rose Freedman leapfrogged from eighth place to clinch the fourth and final work-off spot with her stellar ride aboard her own Finnick.
Returning for the third and final phase of competition, the four riders were presented with a new course and asked to complete it without stirrups, halting after the last fence. With no chance to walk the course, an understanding of the track and the difficulties potentially proposed by the lack of stirrups was paramount. Freedman tackled the course in nice fashion, with no major errors and only a sizeable move up to one of the oxers as a visible loss in pace, and likewise did Walker, who had a rub at the eighth fence and backed up a step during the halt, but otherwise performed well. Dean rode the young Kori D’Oro liked a seasoned professional, directing the horse to a beautiful round, and though he took a small gamble by moving up to a hand gallop prior to the final oxer, he managed the halt after the fence masterfully, successful at his bold attempt. With stiff competition ahead of her, St. Jacques had no room for error, but as a self-proclaimed no-stirrups aficionado, she was certainly in her element and had no visible trouble with the final ride-off track. St. Jacques kept it a nail-biter all the way to the end, though, taking a few extra strides to slow to the halt after the last fence in an effort to appease her sensitive horse.
Though judges Provost and Towell commended all four of the remaining riders, it was ultimately St. Jacques who emerged as the clear champion with her three smooth and effortless rides, not once making a mistake. With her win, St. Jacques can now boast to join the ranks of past winners of the prestigious equitation medal as the 2017 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final champion. Dean captured the reserve championship behind his teammate, and Walker and Freedman remained their third and fourth place spots, respectively. The Dorris H. Clark Memorial Perpetual Trophy was awarded to Charisma as the best equitation horse of the day, an accolade he rightfully earned.
Though the highlight event of the weekend has ended, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show will continue with plenty more competition in the coming week, drawing top horses and riders to Harrisburg to compete for more top honors.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Taylor St. Jacques – 2017 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final champion
On winning the championship:
“I’m so grateful. This is honestly a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to win a final, and hopefully we can win the rest and I can go out with a bang.”
“From the moment Charisma came out of his stall today he had his absolute A-game on, and he was ready to go out there and put his best foot forward, and that he did plus more. He was absolutely incredible today and I could not have asked him to be any better at any part of any round.”
On returning for the work-off in the lead:
“I was a little bit [nervous]. I’ve come back on top a few times at smaller shows, and I think that has really prepared me for this big class. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be, honestly. I was really excited when they said ‘no stirrups’ because I think that’s a strong suit of mine, so I thought that was pretty cool and funny because down at WEF last year my mom called it and said that at the final there is going to be a test with no stirrups, and it happened.”
On the courses and the test:
“I thought the courses were great today. It tested enough without being too difficult. I think the most challenging part of the test, and I think everyone can agree, the five-[stride line] was really open and you came off of a slow, tight turn, and with no stirrups it’s not easy to get your horse out in front of you. Other than that, it was just steering and hanging on, and making it look as pretty as you could. There were no places where you had to gallop and then really slow down, it was just keeping an even pace.”
On her delayed halt:
“I didn’t want to make anything rough, and he is a bit of a sensitive horse so I didn’t want to really get into him because he wasn’t expecting that halt to come. I just took my time and said woah and kind of melted him back. I wanted to take my time and just let it happen instead of making it prompt and having a rough ending.”
On working with Andre Dignelli and the Heritage Farm team:
“At Old Salem I did the Equitation Challenge a few years ago, and I came out of the ring and I had a nice round and Andre was standing at the gate – I don’t know if he remembers this – but he told me I had a nice round and my whole world stopped. That was like a dream come true for me. Then at Devon [Horse Show], Tori Colvin came up to me and said that if I could work with Andre to take that opportunity. Tori said she learned a bunch from him, and she knew that I needed help. Andre took me under his wing and he has really done wonders for me. I have a good feel of a horse, but he has touched on everything that there is and has improved my knowledge as a horsewoman. He is setting me up for success in the future, and that goes far beyond words. He is teaching me not only good riding, but how to be successful in life, and not every trainer can do that. He’s been a good mentor and beyond amazing trainer.”
Cooper Dean – 2017 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final reserve champion
On his reaction to competition and his reserve championship:
“In the first round, the tests really separated the men from the boys. The second round was a little bit longer, a little bit more technical. All three courses were great, and the no stirrups test – Patricia [Griffith] has me practice that almost every day at home. All this is just surreal, I can’t get all the words out but this is just great.”
On the work-off test:
“I think it’s all difficult, having to come off the first jump and have a nice open pace, trying to find that one and then getting your stride out and trying to hold on. You don’t know if you should jump it collected or get your stride, but for me, I wanted to have a nice gallop to the last jump to try to show off, so the halt coming off the gallop was a little more difficult for me. My horse has a huge stride so we got down the five-stride nicely, but doing a nice little gallop and trying to make it as soft as possible [was tricky], but other than that it was a super test.”
On working with Andre Dignelli and the Heritage Farm team:
“I’ve been telling everybody all year that my last trainer, Aaron [Vale], he put in so many years with me. He had the polish on me and Andre just needed to buff it out. It is really nice to have a really nice horse, and I can’t thank him enough. I’ve thanked him every day for the past seven or eight months that I’ve been with him, but words don’t do it justice. I’m real grateful that he took me under his wing. I get to ride a lot and I’m putting in as much work as I can. I’m there all day doing as much as I can, and if anybody asks me to do something I’ll do it, but Andre has put so much time into polishing me, buffing me out and putting me in the ring, and that’s what I’m most grateful for.”
Jack Towell – Judge
On judging the class:
“In our mind, one of these kids right here will win a hunter derby one day and win the World Champion Hunter Rider. That’s what they’re supposed to do. We wanted to keep the course nice, safe, comfortable. Let us judge it, Steve did a great job on the courses, and then we can decide who is the best rider. We judged more than the course did, keeping in mind hunter seat riding.”
Tamara Provost – Judge
On judging the class:
“[Taylor] just never made a mistake. It was so close, everyone rode beautifully. We were obviously looking for whoever was strongest without their stirrups in the last ride, and Taylor was the strongest. Overall, we were thinking more hunter derby, hunter seat equitation class. Inside turns certainly were not what we were thinking. That doesn’t mean it hurt anybody if they did them, but no bonus points.”
1. Taylor St. Jacques
2. Cooper Dean
3. Sam Walker
4. Jordyn Rose Freedman
5. Paige Matthies
6. Madison Goetzmann
7. Sarah McCloskey
8. Coco Fath
9. Ava Ellis
10. Abigail Brayman
Reserve – Emma Kurtz
For more information on the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, please click here.