TJ O’Mara Rides to Win at USEF Talent Search Finals East

© Elaine Wessel: TJ O'MaraTJ O’Mara Wins the 2016 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East

Gladstone, NJ – Oct. 9, 2016 – TJ O’Mara can finally add his name to the list of accomplished riders who have achieved the prestigious title of Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East Champion. Solid performances Saturday kept O’Mara in contention, but it was his efforts Sunday that pushed him into the top four finalists in the final ride-off, where he continued to shine both on his own mount as well as those of the other three competitors.

It has always been a goal of mine to get a top placing in this final. So many top professionals have come out of winning this class. The USET class really shows a jumper style of riding, and it sort of carries on into the grand prix and other similar classes, which is where I’d like to be someday,” noted the young champion.

© Elaine Wessel: TJ O'Mara 2TJ O’Mara and Kaskade

Unlike last year, where the four leading riders after the second phase were also the four to advance to the final work-off, this year two riders were able to surpass their competition to earn a coveted spot in the fourth and final portion of competition. Phase III: Jumping began with Daisy Farish in the lead, followed closely by Vivian Yowan, the 2015 USET Finals reserve champion McKayla Langmeier, and Taylor St. Jacques. Unfortunately for the latter two, fellow riders O’Mara and Sophie Simpson, sitting in fifth and sixth place, respectively, laid down near flawless rounds to outshine their competitors and clinch the third and fourth positions.

For judges and course designers Karen Healey and Kirsten Coe, selecting the four finalists was no easy task.

“Getting to the top four was so close. They were all so good at the top. I kept saying ‘The course isn’t hard enough; the course isn’t hard enough!’ ” reflected Healey. “The horses were amazing, the riders rode amazing, and it was fun to judge it that way instead of like a demolition derby where the last man standing is the winner.”

© Elaine Wessel: Daisy Farish

Fellow judge and designer Coe echoed Healey’s sentiments, saying, “It was hard. They were all very close. All the riders are at that level are so close together. I think Sophie improved throughout the rounds the most and she moved up into the top four. But really it’s picking hairs to pick apart the scores, especially when you get to who the top four should be. Even fifth through tenth was close to place.”

The standings following Phase III reflected the judges’ hardships, as the top four riders finished the jumping section with a mere seven points between them. Farish bested the field and held on to the lead with a cumulative 411, followed by Yowan’s 409.5 score. O’Mara rose to third position thanks to a score of 92, the highest of the third phase, and would finish the morning with total marks of 407.25. Simpson rounded out the top four with a 404-point score.

Entering the final phase with slates wiped clean, riders Farish, Yowan, O’Mara, and Simpson began the work-off atop their own horses. Unfortunately for Farish, a critical error in the first rotation cost her valuable points, when her chestnut mare Ganjana refused the fourth obstacle of the course, a lofty Swedish oxer.

“I misjudged that fence a little bit. It was just a mistake. I think I pointed her at the high side of the Swedish. I kept going, and I struggled with the time a little bit on the other horses, but I tried my best. It was my error, and Ganjana was great,” said Farish(above).

Though the refusal, and later a downed rail, would prove insurmountable for Farish, the other three riders were able to perform strongly, with eleven of the combined twelve trips from Yowan, Simpson, and O’Mara earning scores of 85 or higher from Healey and Coe. Simpson was the only rider to earn the highest of the four scores on her own horse. Her first work-off trip aboard her grey Breckenridge garnered a score of 92 from the judges, the highest of the fourth phase. Yowan earned a score of 88 on each of her counterparts’ horses, while in the irons aboard her own Clearline, she raked in only 83 points. Farish navigated Simpson’s Breckenridge to a high score of 78, while O’Mara’s top marks came in the form of a 91-point score earned from his trip aboard Farish’s Ganjana.

© Elaine Wessel: Sophie SimpsonSophie Simpson and Breckenridge

New to the USEF Talent Search Finals, Simpson was not accustomed to the class’s format, but performed favorably and earned her highest score of 92 not only on her own horse, but aboard O’Mara’s Kaskade, as well.

“I think it’s a great format. I really enjoyed the work-off and getting to spend time with the other horses. Kaskade is a horse that I’ve wanted to ride for a long time, so that was really fun,” said Simpson, whose parents are Olympic rider Will Simpson and national and global competitor Nicole Shahinian.

© Elaine Wessel: Sophie Simpson_GanjanaSophie Simpson and Ganjana

As a repeat USEF Talent Search finalist, O’Mara has experience with the class’s ride-off format, but contrarily did not have any much knowledge of the horses themselves.

“I think the format is difficult because you have to show who you are as a rider. Obviously we don’t know the four horses, and I’ve never really seen the three horses before,” commented O’Mara. “Just this past weekend was really my first time seeing them all go. I didn’t really get it into my head that I should find out what they go like because I had confidence in myself as a rider and I knew that if I focused I could deliver rounds.”

© Elaine Wessel: TJ O'Mara AwardTJ O’Mara and Kaskade

Hoping for a better result than last year, where O’Mara qualified for the final work-off and ultimately finished in fourth place, trainer Max Amaya took the young rider aside to offer his words of advice before the last portion of competition.

“TJ has been working at this for a long time. Last year he had a chance to ride in the work-off which was great, but he made a little bit of a mistake that cost him and he ended up fourth,” remembered Amaya. “When he was told that he was in the top four today, I sat with him and I said ‘Look, you have to learn from last year. You have to ride with your feel and not get caught up with what other riders do, or mistakes a horses could or could not make.’ And he did.”

© Elaine Wessel: Vivian YowanVivian Yowan and Clearline

Though the final standings proved to be very tight among the top three riders, O’Mara’s confidence paid off, just as he had predicted. With a cumulative score of 355, O’Mara was able to hold his competitors at bay and claim the tricolors. Simpson finished a close second with total points tallying to 350, enough to earn her the reserve champion title, and Yowan concluded the day with a 347-point score. Farish’s refusal and knocked rail proved to be her undoing, as she completed the final phase with a total score of 246 points.

© Elaine Wessel: Clearline_Grappa Trophy

Vivian Yowan and Clearline, Winner of the Grappa Trophy

Though the top finishers shared most of the day’s glory, the future looks bright for the group of young equestrians who tackled the weekend’s challenges at the USET Foundation headquarters. Both judges Healey and Coe, as well as USEF Chef d’Equipe of the Developing Riders Program DiAnn Langer expressed that the group, on the whole, was perhaps one of the best the competition has seen in many years.

© Elaine Wessel: TJ O'Mara_close up

“I think that any one of those kids in the top ten, maybe even in the top twelve or fifteen, could easily be in the top four in this class on a given day. They were all so good. I think this was the best I’ve seen in terms of the quality of riders,” expressed Healey.

Fellow judge Coe agreed, saying, “The beginner riders did well, and the more really good riders excelled at it. We were able to judge the class instead of the course judging it. No matter what I think everyone left with some form of a good experience.”

Langer added, “We look at this competition for what our future is going to look like. I love the fact that they have to connect the dots from the flatwork to the gymnastics, and then use both to accomplish what they need to do on the course in the final day. Seeing the top four riders, and even down to the top twelve and a few that had small errors early on, it is a strong group. I really feel that we can look directly at our professionals for outstanding training, follow-through, selection, and management, and that’s what it takes to build a top team. We are possibly looking at 2024 or 2028. This is our future that we are looking at right now, and helping to find the pathway for them is important. This is an outstanding start right here.”

The Platinum Performance/USET Show Jumping Talent Finals 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. East and West Coast finals held each autumn have served as the springboard for acclaimed names such as McLain Ward, Richard Spooner, Lauren Hough, and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum. With Sunday’s championship win, TJ O’ Mara adds his name to the list of prestigious victors.

© Elaine Wessel: McKayla Langmeier waterMcKayla Langmeier and Skyfall

© Elaine Wessel: Madison Goetzmann
Madison Goetzmann and Play It Again

© Elaine Wessel: Taylor St Jacques
Taylor St. Jacques and Charisma

© Elaine Wessel: Jordyn Rose Freedman
Jordyn Rose Freedman and Finnick

© Elaine Wessel: Hunter Holloway
Hunter Holloway and C’Est La Vie

© Elaine Wessel: Katherine Bundy
Katherine Bundy and Cassidy 35

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