TJ O’Mara won his second straight major equitation final on Sunday, claiming the Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Medal Final at the 2016 Pennsylvania National Horse Show.
Harrisburg, Pa. – Oct. 16, 2016 – Riders from all across the country work diligently all year long to qualify for one of the four major equitation finals held each fall in the United States. For many, simply qualifying and competing at one of these finals is enough. For others, winning a final would be a dream come true, but winning back-to-back finals is almost unheard of. However, 18-year-old TJ O’Mara, trained by Max Amaya and Stacia Madden, sealed his second consecutive equitation finals win aboard Kaskade in the Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Medal Final, presented by Randolph College, at the 2016 Pennsylvania National Horse Show on Sunday, after just claiming the win in the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East exactly one week ago.
“It is unbelievable,” said O’Mara. “Last weekend really hasn’t sunk in so the fact that it happened today again is just unbelievable. I am in shock right now. I never expected this to happen. My goal was just to be in the test. I was happy with a top four ribbon. I can’t believe it right now!”
The day kicked off at 7 a.m. with 277 junior riders competing in the first preliminary round of competition. The first round course forced riders to pay close attention to their pace and stride as it asked them to navigate through multiple lines in both directions on a specific number of strides, testing their adjustability and control. O’Mara sat 168th in the order for the first round, but impressed judges Jimmy Torano and Mary Lisa Leffler from the start, adding himself to the standby list and then again as fifth in the order, according to the judges’ preference, in the top 25 callback for round two.
TJ O’Mara and Kaskade
In the second round, the list of riders returned in reverse order of their current standing, putting O’Mara in fifth to last in the order. When it was finally his turn, O’Mara kept his composure and exuded confidence, displaying a flowing but accurate and efficient second round, while never losing his solid, textbook position.
Along with Annabel Revers, Taylor St. Jacques and McKayla Langmeier, O’Mara was selected by the judges following the second round to return for additional testing. Their final test over the second round course consisted of entering through the outgate, cantering fences two and three, counter cantering fences six B and seven, cantering fence eight, hand galloping fence ten B and exiting through the ingate.
Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Medal Final round two course, which was also used to test the final top four riders.
Revers was the first to return for the final test. She and her mount Quax set the standard for the remaining three riders, landing the counter canter out of fence six B and executing a perfectly smooth and consistent round to capture the reserve championship title.
“I thought in the first course you were quickly able to tell which riders really knew their horses and which horses could handle the course,” said Revers. “I think it definitely required a horse that was both scopey and really adjustable so that you could leave strides out and fit the strides in. The second round, you could get much more of a gallop and kind of show off. It was more of a course than technical exercises. That was more suited to my horse Quax. I think he was really good in the second round. He stayed relaxed. Then, in the test, I think the biggest challenge was the counter canters — the flying change versus the simple change. I think you needed to do whatever best suited your horse in that round. It was nice to be able to show off the hand gallop at the last jump after doing all of the exercises that forced to collect.
“I got better as the day went on,” continued Revers. “I got more consistent with each round. This is a really exciting day for me. Coming here, I was definitely not expecting to be second today. I’ve never even gotten a ribbon at a major equitation final. I think I’ve had some good rides, but I’ve never been able to quite get all of the different pieces to come together. Today was really my day. My horse was going well and I was able to ride as well as I think I can. It’s been a really exciting day.”
Annabel Revers and Quax
Next was Taylor St. Jacques and Charisma. The pair rode a similar path to Revers, landing the counter canter at fence three, but an unfortunate rail at six B would slide them down the ranks and eventually land them fourth place honors. Charisma, owned by Heritage Farms LLC, did, however, take home the Best Equitation Horse Award for the day.
Taylor St. Jacques and Charisma
O’Mara followed St. Jacques and stood out from the first two exhibitors by playing to Kaskade’s strengths and demonstrating his strong partnership with the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare, showcasing beautiful flying changes to achieve the counter canter as well as navigating a balanced and effortless performance throughout the rest of the test.
“I thought the first course was pretty technical,” said O’Mara. “I know that it looked simple walking in just because of the number of jumps in the ring. I thought that it brought an old-time medal feel to it. The first round really separated the experienced riders and inexperienced riders. The second round was pretty straightforward. I think a lot of people got in their head what they should do and what they shouldn’t do, and you had to ride the course based off your horse. The test was great having both counter canters. It showed rideability and how well the horse can do both leads. The hand gallop was a good ending. It gave a bold ending to the test.
“My mare is just incredible at doing flying changes,” continued O’Mara. “I was sort of expecting her to land right for the first counter canter, but when that didn’t happen I just had to switch gears and focus on the next part of the test.”
Langmeier and her 2015 ASPCA Maclay Finals champion mount, Skyfall, were the final contenders to test in Sunday’s Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Medal Final. The pair was able to land the counter canter at six B, despite a slight rub, however cross cantering to fence seven would put them in third place at the end of the day, while O’Mara was crowned champion.
McKayla Langmeier and Skyfall
“I had some ground to make up in the second round,” said Langmeier. “Coming back in the test I just lost my right leg there for a second. I think the first course was a little scopey with the two end oxers, but he’s so adjustable. When it required lengthening or shortening, he was right there to extend in the air or shorten.”
O’Mara’s win on Sunday also set a record at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. For the second time, siblings have won the Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Medal Final. His sister, Meg O’Mara, also won the highly sought-after equitation prize in 2012. Sisters Sandy and Karen Nieslon were the first siblings to both win the final on the same horse, French Leave, in 1982 and 1987.
When asked if he felt any pressure to follow in his sister’s footsteps to win, TJ said, “I think I did. A few years ago there was an article saying that I was going to fill her shoes and I could potentially win. After last weekend I was excited to have just one big equitation final under my belt. I was just really happy and excited to see how the rest of the finals would go. I am just still in shock.
“Two years ago I got my first ribbon here,” continued TJ. “I was a little inexperienced so it meant the world to me just to get my first ribbon at this final. Last year I came back in tenth to the second round. I got too in my head about moving up and just wanted to be in the test so badly. This year was kind of a mental game for me. I really needed to have confidence in myself as a rider. I just had to trust my team behind me and my horses. I think I just changed mentally this year.”
Torano commented on the day’s performances saying, “Obviously the winner was the winner. McKayla came in on top, even when she did that first simple change she played it safe, which I think was the smart thing to do because she was winning the class. Unfortunately, everything has to line up on a given day. The horse was perfect and she rode great, today just didn’t happen for her. That’s our sport. TJ was amazing. He won last week. To come back and do it again like that was incredible. As he said, Mary Lisa and I were really impressed by those flying changes. Obviously he knows his mare very well. They’ve become a great team.
“Annabel came back in the second round a little low,” continued Torano. “She had a couple of little bobbles [in the first round], a little snug here and a little snug there, but she’s such a stylist and we loved her. Her second round, she was the first one of that group to come in and just nailed it. It was gorgeous — the hand gallop, you really couldn’t pick it apart, it was flawless.”
Torano concluded, “We were happy with the class. In the test, the normal test calls for a counter canter and I wanted to show that. I didn’t want to favor a horse. It’s a riding contest, not a horse contest. If we showed the left counter canter, I wanted to see the right counter canter.”
“We wanted them to know their horses,” said Leffler. “We wanted them to have an understanding of their stride and to think. If you do five, you have to turn around and do five, if you do six, you do six. It shows the kids that have a little bit more experience. At the end, in the top 10 or 11, it showed.”
TJ’s horse Kaskade has also shown a lot of versatility within the past two weeks, winning both equitation finals which target both show jumping and hunter style of riding.
TJ O’Mara and Kaskade
“When I originally bought her she was a hunter, but she came with all of the scope for the USET classes,” said TJ. “She doesn’t spook at anything and she jumps the water perfectly. She has a little tendency to swap so I was focusing on that a lot today. My sister, Meg, texted me before the first round and said, ‘This course is not for Kaskade.’ So, I just went out there and tried to keep it together and keep her as straight as possible everywhere. I think that she is so flashy and that she can step into any ring and show off what she knows she can do.”
TJ is certainly making the most out of his final junior year, racking up as many equitation finals championships as he can. With two more left to go in Washington and Kentucky, he could be on his way to claiming the grand slam of junior equitation riding, but one thing is for sure, this will not be the last time we see TJ in the winner’s circle.
“They are all top riders,” said Torano. “We’re going to see them ride on teams. This is our future. They are going to represent the United States. That’s the nice thing about the equitation. For most of these top riders it’s not the end, you are going to see them go on and ride for the U.S.”
Results: 2016 Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Medal Final
1st – TJ O’Mara
2nd – Annabel Revers
3rd – McKayla Langmeier
4th – Taylor St. Jacques
5th – Emma Kurtz
6th – Sydney Hutchins
7th – Lucy Deslauriers
8th – Madison Goetzmann
9th – Katherine Strauss
10th – Louisa Brackett
Reserve – Claire McKean