GLADSTONE, N.J. - The Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals - East was held at Hamilton Farm for its 2017 installment, bringing with it a new crop of young talent to vie for the top prize, Oct. 7 and 8.
After placing 12th on the first day, Taylor Griffiths of Brewster, N.Y. scored a 91 in the third phase of the four phase competition to eventually wind up in third place overall. Only the eventual winner, McKayla Langmeier, scored a point higher in that phase.
The event, which has been held at the 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 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.
Ward 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 six-stride completion of the line in the opposite direction to complete the course.
On the second day, the Phase III Jumping course, designed by judges Ward and Torano, offered riders plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their flexibility and precision, but one obstacle proved to be the undoing of numerous pairs: the water jump. The Talent Search Finals is unique in that it is the only junior equitation championship that requires the inclusion of a water jump, and many horses and riders fell victim to the obstacle, most unaccustomed to encountering it. As the latter portion of contenders, those entrants that had placed in the upper ranks after the first two phases, took to the ring, problems at the water jump grew scarce, but even the slightest error had the potential to drastically affect the standings to determine the four riders who would move on to the work-off.
Griffiths, who ascended from 12th place had a nearly faultless trip to put her into the final four-rider match-up.
For the fourth phase of competition, the remaining young riders would each be challenged to ride their own mount over an abridged track, followed by a trip on each of the other three horses. Though catch riding is no easy task, the riders were presented with an elite group of horses up to the task.
Griffiths’ ride, Elvenstar Farm’s Caracas 89, was a fresh ride for her, but was the winning horse just two weeks prior at the 2017 Talent Search Finals - West in California with Halie Robinson in the irons.
Entering the final phase with clean slates, riders Langmeier, Taylor St. Jacques, Abigail Brayman and Griffiths began the work-off atop their own horses. Each of the four young riders earned their highest marks on a different horse. Griffiths raked in an 83-point score, her highest of the afternoon, with the ride atop Skyfall.
Langmeier ultimately clinched the top honors with a cumulative score of 331 in the fourth phase, followed by St. Jacques in the reserve spot with a total tally of 326. Griffiths claimed third position with 306 points earned, and Brayman rounded out the top four with her composite score of 285.
Heritage Farm, Inc.’s Charisma was awarded the Grappa Trophy, deemed by the judges to have been the best horse of the competition over the course of the two days.
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