"A lot of people today don't get exposed to that kind of thing. They get exposed to a situation like this and it's a big shock," George added.
On the other hand, many of the competitors have a lot of catch-riding experience, including Charlie, of course; Maria (who finished eighth on a borrowed horse she had only shown once); Whitney, who ended up sixth on a horse she first competed with last week at the Capital Challenge, and for that matter, Michael Del Fiandra, Charlie's roommate at Florida Atlantic University, who also had a ride loaned to him for this occasion.
Yet the top riders after the first two phases, Maggie McAlary and Addison Phillips, were on their own horses, Mid-Accord ("very cuddley," says Maggie) and Flight ("he is really a jumper," says Addison.)
At the end of the second phase, Maggie and Addie both had 227 points, but Maggie went to the head of the class by scoring higher in the gymnastics. Charlie, as I already said, was third, and Michael fourth on 212.5, 2.5 behind Charlie and 1.5 points ahead of Whitney.
And what about those who felt frustrated by the gymnastics?
"If people aren't quite up to it, it's a great learning experience for them," George observed.
Interestingly, this morning's round, which included a water jump that caused a high level of frustration in some quarters, did not enable anyone else to break into the Final Four. At the end of three rounds, Addie was first on 413 points, followed by Maggie (411), Michael (402.5) and Charlie (399), putting the eventual winner in a position for a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
The shorter afternoon course included several the elements of the morning route, but not the water. The idea was for each of the riders to take their own horses around, and then switch to the others, the way the individual medalists (and one leftover) did in the show jumping championships at the World Equestrian Games last month.
But the plan went a bit awry. In the first round, Charlie looked good and Maggie was superb, the clear winner (though no scores were given out). Addison had the last fence down and Michael also had a knockdown. As I said before, this isn't just an equitation class. Knockdowns and exceeding the time allowed are taken seriously. Then the rider's form is judged, more like the cherry on top than even the layer of whipped cream or the ice cream below in the parfait of equestrian excellence. (Forgive me, I'm hungry, no chance to eat today.)
Then a monkey-wrench got thrown into the mix as Maggie got on Le Grand and it was obvious he was off. The judges had their doubts about the horse in the jog, but they hated to replace him, because Michael would have had to give up his spot to Nikko Ritter, who was standing fifth (and wound up that way when the class was pinned).
So they went to plan B, in which everyone rode only three rounds. Maggie therefore sat out round 2, in which Addison didn't look as sharp as both Michael, on Flight, and Charlie, on Mid-Accord.
In the third round, Charlie sat out, and Maggie, on Flight, did the best, with Addison right behind her on Mid-Accord (the two are both trained by Andre Dignelli -- who won the Search 21 years ago -- and have watched each others' horses go repeatedly.) Michael didn't fare as well on Cassino Z, whose size and seeming lack of adjustability made him the bogey horse.
Maggie, apparently on her way to winning the Talent Search, ran into big trouble in the last round at the third fence, a vertical of planks. It was all she could do to get Cassino to jump it, and that effort was anything but smooth.
Explaining the moment when she lost the title, Maggie said, "It got a little bit away from me. I was just trying to get to the jump; I didn't want to have him drive by it."
Cassino does seem to be a man's horse. Charlie, who is nearly 6-4, was up to the big gray's challenge. It was obvious in the first round of the Final Four that he had finally figured out how to click with the Holsteiner.
"Once I got the first jump and picked up my pace and went to (number) two. the rest kind of just (got) put together. The test went pretty well with the three horses that I rode," Charlie said.