The Phase III: Jumping course, designed by judges McLain Ward and Jimmy 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.
Of the four riders that entered the day atop the leaderboard, only two would retain their status. Langmeier was joined in the ride-off by St. Jacques, still the leader after Phase III, as well as Abigail Brayman and Taylor Griffiths, who ascended from the tenth and 12th positions, respectively, with their nearly faultless trips. For the fourth phase of competition, the remaining young riders would each be challenged to ride their 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.
Langmeier brought Linda Langmeier’s Skyfall, her veteran partner who is no stranger to the Talent Search Finals, having carried Langmeier to the reserve spot in the 2015 event on the East Coast and a respectable placing last year, to the final round of riding. He was accompanied by St. Jacques’ trusty Charisma, who is owned by Heritage Farm, Inc. and has campaigned with St. Jacques to the winner’s circle in numerous championships, as well as Catherine Tyree’s Corleone, a seasoned grand prix mount ridden by Brayman. Griffiths’ ride, Elvenstar Farm’s Caracas 89, was a fresh ride for her, but was the winning horse just two weeks ago at the 2017 Talent Search Finals – West in California with Halie Robinson in the irons.
Entering the final phase with clean slates, riders Langmeier, St. Jacques, Brayman and Griffiths began the work-off atop their own horses. Over the course of 16 trips, scores from Ward and Torano ranged from the low score of 63 to St. Jacques’ high score of 90 earned aboard Caracas 89, the only pair to break the 90-point threshold. Interestingly enough, each of the four young riders earned their highest marks on a different horse, and Brayman was the only rider to earn the highest of her four scores on her own horse. Unfortunately for St. Jacques, even though she garnered the highest singular score of the final phase with Caracas 89, a misjudged line on her own Charisma would cause her to ultimately lose the championship by just a handful of points. Langmeier, too, made a mistake with a swapped lead that led to a brief cross-canter during her trip aboard Corleone, but she piloted Charisma to her high score of 88, and when combined with twin scores of 86, made up for her low score of 71 with Corleone. Griffiths raked in an 83-point score, her highest of the afternoon, with the ride atop Skyfall, while Brayman’s top marks were in the saddle aboard Corleone.
Unlike the previous phase with the water jump, no specific problem arose during the final work-off, but one bending line, meant to be ridden in 9 strides, did produce unsatisfactory remarks from the judges panel. In nearly all of the trips, the contenders rode the line in a forward 8 strides, prompting a rushed appearance instead of the desired smooth ride. Learning from the mistakes of her counterparts, Langmeier laid down one of the only true 9-stride lines sought by Ward and Torano, helping to propel her to the head of the leaderboard after an elegant ride around their track. Ultimately though, it was the accumulation of various successes and mistakes across the board that determined the final standings.
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. St. Jacques’ mount consistently pulled in top scores in each trip, and proved himself very adjustable, responsive and reliable with every turn in the ring.
Sunday’s competition concluded the 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East, with Langmeier emerging victorious. Over the course of the next year, a new collection of young riders across the country will partake in the Talent Search Program, ultimately aiming to earn a spot at the 2018 East or West finale event in the autumn. The Talent Search 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.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
McKayla Langmeier – 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East champion
On her reaction to winning:
“I was surprised. I knew I was going to be somewhere in the top four obviously, but I really didn’t know where I was going to end up. It’s nice to finally win after being so close in the past.”
On the four horses in the work-off:
“My horse has been here for a few years now, and obviously I know him really well. Taylor St. Jacques’ horse was unbelieveable and he is so smooth, and Taylor Griffiths’ horse, which I think is new to her, looked pretty straight-forward. Abigail’s horse was very scopey. Other than my horse, they were all catch rides for me.”
“I’ve been with Skyfall for about five years now. My mom and I went to Europe and found him. He’s a very special horse for us. He has put me through all the finals and has been top at every final that I have called on him. He is always there for me and he is just an extraordinary animal.”
On her future plans:
“I’m thinking a little bit more jumper ring for me in the immediate future. After the upcoming finals I’m going to college for the next four years, so I’m planning to reassess at that point what I want to do. For the next few years I’m going to focus on college and getting my degree.”
Taylor St. Jacques – 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East reserve champion
On her reaction to placing reserve:
“Obviously everyone wants to win and I was hoping it would work out in my favor. I think I made my biggest mistake on my own horse and that’s my own fault. I should have known how to ride that [line] a little better than I did, so all my fault. All the horses performed so well. They were each completely different rides, and I think that put us all to the test but I think we all handled it well. We all had a few mistakes here and there but in the end I thought all of us rode really well and I’m so happy for McKayla. She’s been so close so many times. She deserves it.”
“Charisma is owned by Andre and Michael Dignelli, and I’m so very fortunate that they give me the opportunity to have him as my finals and equitation horse. He is very special to Andre, who imported him about two years ago now. The moment he saw him he knew he was something special. It was perfect timing last year when the girl’s lease was up who had him, so I got the ride on him right before finals. I think he and I really, really click. I show off his strengths and he shows off my strengths, and I think he is just an extraordinary horse. Everyone who rides him loves him, but he is new to this, too. He isn’t a seasoned veteran. Last year was his first year at indoors finals and at USEF Finals, so I think he is taking this all very well.”
McLain Ward – Judge
On his opinion of the final four riders:
“As far as the final four work-off, I think it’s a phenomenal format and today was a prime example of that. Taylor St. Jacques on her own horse didn’t have a great round and was a little behind the eight-ball even after the second horse and it was looking like she had no chance to win, and then McKayla made a pretty large mistake on the third horse and it got very close. I knew the score that McKayla needed to have to win and to see if she could meet that standard. For me it was exciting right to the very end. That’s the beauty of this, it changes – it ebbs and flows and it’s not ‘one mistake and you’re out.’ Taylor fought back and made it very close to the end. There was really not a lot of room for McKayla to make a mistake, and she had a beautiful last round and got the job done. I think that’s exciting, it’s interesting.”
Missy Clark – trainer to McKayla Langmeier
On working with McKayla and the Langmeier family:
“Occasionally in life great people show up in your life, and I can’t say enough about the Langmeiers. From Linda to Kenny to McKayla and the work ethic and the whole thing, it just works together. This girl is as good as it gets right here, she really is. It’s easy dealing with her and her family. For me, that’s why I get up in the morning. People like them make it all make sense for those days that nothing makes sense at all. McKayla is great. Work ethic A+, talent A+, dedication A+, interest level A+. All of it. She has worked so hard for so many years and has always been so respectable, polite and appreciative, and I can’t say enough good things about her. She’s a good one.”
For more information on the 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, please click here.