By US Equestrian Communications Department
The final standings for the 2022 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final – East came down to the influential final round, where the top four competitors returned for the ride-off. In the end, it was Augusta Iwasaki who rode her way into the top spot, masterfully guiding her own horse—and the other three horses in the final four—through the Round IV test.
Iwasaki (Calabasas, Calif.) rode Ali Nilforushan’s 2010 KWPN gelding, Freedom, throughout the competition. The flatwork test in Phase I proved to be the most challenging for the pair, and Iwasaki found herself in a tie for 16th place out of 53 entries after the first day, 12 points behind the leader. That changed on Saturday, when she scored a 94.0 in the gymnastics phase, which was good enough to bring her up to third-place position.
“I knew [the flat phase] was probably going to be the hardest thing of the week,” said Iwasaki. “I’ve always struggled with lateral work with this horse. He’s very hot. He’s very bouncy. But I can say he’s definitely gotten better after this week.”
Iwasaki said that Freedom had never done equitation before this final; his background is in the jumpers. But the pair have an extensive history together, which made the Talent Search Finals experience that much sweeter.
“I’ve been riding [Freedom] for a year and a half. He’s the first jumper I ever called mine,” she said. “I’ve shown him from the lows to my first grand prix, and he’s honestly one of my favorite horses of all time and it was super special to be able to do this with him.
“I’d never been to this venue before, and it’s so prestigious,” said Iwasaki. “It’s so special to get to come here and to ride my favorite horse in this class. It was kind of a last-minute decision to ride him here and I’m glad we made that choice. I just want to say thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey.”
Iwasaki currently attends Southern Methodist University and competes on the equestrian team there. Her ultimate goal is to become a professional rider after graduation.
Luke Jensen (Denton, Texas) secured the reserve champion title thanks to his top performances across the first three phases with Missy Clark’s 2009 Belgian Warmblood gelding, Jamaica. He tied for third place in Phase I, then earned Phase II’s second-best score to move up to second place overall. His performance in the gymnastic test in Phase III earned him the day’s top score, which put him just a point behind the top spot overall.
“I started riding [Jamaica] back in January at the beginning of the Wellington season,” said Jensen. “He’s super special to me. We got him for my last junior year. I’m so grateful for the team we have—Missy and John, obviously for the opportunity to show the horse, but also the whole team. The grooms, [assistant trainer] Maggie Gampfer, and Nikki Arnold, our manager back home. It’s a really special team, so I’m super grateful to get to be a part of that.”
Rounding out the top three was Taylor Madden (Wellington, Fla.), an SMU teammate of Iwasaki’s. Madden rode her own Mac One III, a 2009 Anglo European gelding, who was recognized by the judges with the Best Horse award.
“I was really excited to ride my horse from my junior career,” said Madden of the horse she’s owned for the past five years. “He’s currently leased out to Paige Walkenbach and she let me show him here. I was happy to ride him again because I’ve had him for so long.”
Madden’s experience in National Collegiate Equestrian Association competition served as a good preparation for the ride-off at Talent Search Finals.
“I like that you are able to switch to other people’s horses and get that experience [at Talent Search Finals],” said Madden. “I’ve learned so much at college riding other horses, and being able to come here and ride very nice horses is also a great experience. I think you learn a lot at this final.”
Alex Alston (Gahanna, Ohio) led the standings through the first three phases, riding Ferry Van Den Hoogeweg, a 2010 KWPN gelding owned by Plain Bay Sales. He had the top scores for the flat and gymnastics phases and had the second-best score in the jumping. Some tricky rides in the final four dropped him down the leaderboard, but he was positive looking back on the weekend.
“He’s an awesome horse. He’s come a long way,” said Alston, who has been riding “Ferry” for the past ten months. “I was really excited to do him in this final because I saw him really shining in this setting. I thought it was an amazing experience. Last year was my first year and I’m super excited to do it again.”