October 6, 2013 -- On Sunday, riders returned to the Dick and Jane Brown Arena at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation Headquarters for the final day of the 2013 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East. For Phase III judges Ronnie Beard and Anne Kursinski set a demanding track that would determine which four riders would come back to contest the final phase. After showcasing their skill and poise throughout the weekend Michael Hughes, Mattias Tromp, Charlotte Jacobs, and Allison Toffolon were called back for the final phase to determine the 2013 champion.
At the conclusion of Phase IV, Hughes was announced as a very popular winner after demonstrating phenomenal equitation and potential for future success at the highest level of the sport.
For Phase III, the jumping phase where scores were multiplied by two, Beard and Kursinski set a track which replicated the final round course of the 2013 Rolex/FEI World Cup Final and would test the skill of every combination. Problems and rails were spread throughout the course, as riders challenged themselves to leave all the poles in place and finish within the time allowed, all while displaying supreme equitation and talent for the future.
Hughes (Allendale, N.J.) entered Phase III standing in fourth place and once again demonstrated the talent that saw him earn high scores in the flatwork and gymnastics. The John Brennan and Missy Clark trainee and Drumnacross Farm LTD's Zagreb produced an immaculate effort over the 12 obstacle course to score 190 and finish on a three phase total of 414 and book their place into the final four.
"I knew I was in the top four (going into Phase III)," said Hughes of his strategy for the morning session. "I just wanted to maintain that position."
Tromp (North Salem, N.Y.), who is trained by Andre Dignelli, cantered into the Dick and Jane Brown Arena standing in third place. Riding Chasonette Farm, LLC's Zentina B, the 18-year-old stylishly answered all the questions put forth by the judges to score 184 and finish on a three phase score of 410.
Jacobs (East Aurora, N.Y.), who is also trained by Brennan and Clark, and North Star's Stallone VDL entered Phase III in second place. Despite lowering a rail at the Swedish oxer the pair were able to earn a Phase III score of 176 and finish three phases on overall total of 403.
Toffolon (Bronxville, N.Y.) and her own Class Action entered Phase III just outside of a qualifying position in fifth place. The Dignelli trained paired also had a rail but their solid performance over the rest of the challenging track earned them a 174 and a three phase score of 397 vaulted them into a coveted Finals place.
The leader following the first two phases of competition, Lillie Keenan (New York, N.Y.) looked determined to earn a spot in final. However, refusals at the planks at fence three and the open water at five resulted in elimination for Keenan and Heritage Farm, Inc.'s Clearway.
The fourth and final phase of the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search utilizes the Show Jumping World Championships' format where all competitors start on a score of zero and would see Hughes, Tromp, Jacobs, and Toffolon ride their own horses as well as those of the finalists over a shortened course.
After Jacobs and Stallone VDL had an uncharacteristic refusal resulting in a fall of Jacobs at fence three and subsequent refusals with Tromp and Hughes, trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan made the decision in consultation with management and the judges to withdraw Stallone VDL from the remainder of Phase IV. It was determined that no scores would be counted for the gelding and the final placings would be decided by the scores produced on Hughes', Tromp 's and Toffolon's horses.
"The welfare of the horse comes first," said Beard of Stallone VDL who was later diagnosed with a strained muscle but not found to have a serious injury. "It wasn't in his best interest to try one more time."
Hughes proved to be a popular winner as he not only guided his own horse around the course excellently but also found a rapport with the other finalist's partners. With his own horse the 17-year-old showcased the ability he had demonstrated throughout the weekend to produce a confident and stylish round, scoring 95. Hughes followed that up with a polished effort on Zentina B for which he was awarded a 95 and completed the day scoring a 95 on Class Action after a forward and flowing round.
"When we got to the top four I was hoping for consistent rounds within the time allowed and no rails down," said Hughes of his plan for the final phase.
Hughes, who was a Team Gold medalist at the 2013 Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships presented by Gotham North, will head to many of the top equitation finals this fall but feels that the challenges presented at the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals are extremely important.
"I think it really challenges us," said Hughes. "Having to prepare your horse and having to walk (the courses) on your own, and with the gymnastics are you going to trot in or canter. It's a good challenge."
Tromp rode to Reserve Champion honors after producing three polished trips in Phase IV. In round one, the 18-year-old rode Zentina B in an efficient trip to score 93. He then secured his second place finish riding Class Action to a score of 89 and Zagreb to a 90.
"My plan in the beginning was to be in the top five or 10 so I had a shot for the final four," said Tromp of his plan for the week. "I was happy with my performance."
Toffolon finished the weekend in third place after scoring 90 with Class Action, 84 with Zagreb and 88 with Zentina B. Additionally, the 17-year-old was thrilled when Class Action was awarded the Grappa Award as Best Horse in the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East.
"I know he's a straight-forward horse, and he would be good for them (Hughes, Tromp, and Jacobs)", said Toffolon. "I was hoping he would be Best Horse."
Jacobs rebounded quickly from her fall from Stallone VDL to produce solid efforts with her competitor's horses and finish in fourth place. With Class Action she was awarded a 85, then rode Zagreb to a 89 and finished the competition with a score of 65 for her round on Zentina B.
Beard and Kursinski were pleased not only with the top finishers but with all the riders that traveled to Gladstone.
"This competition is meant to challenge all the riders and find future team members," said the judges. "Everyone will have learned something."
Video-on-Demand from the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East can be found on the USEFNetwork.com presented by SmartPak. To find video, photos and news visit; http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/2013USEFShowJumpingTalentSearchFinals/
To learn more about the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals visit; https://www.usef.org/_IFrames/breedsdisciplines/discipline/alljumping/sjTalentSearch.aspx