October 1, 2006 -- After three challenging phases of competition, and a ride off among the top four, California's Nick Haness emerged as the 2006 U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-West during the Los Angeles International Jumping Festival, September 20-24 at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.
Judges Anne Kursinski, an Olympic medalist, and Carol Hoffman, both of Frenchtown, N.J., presided over the championship event.
"We were looking for the jumper influence," said Kursinski. "We included a lot of jumper tests, and the competition was about getting the job done, and getting it done beautifully. Rodrigo [Pessoa] in the Olympics made it look like an equitation class."
"Form equals function, and the top four riders answered questions consistently and had good style," said Hoffman.
In some ways it was a dual victory for Haness. Not only did he earn the Talent Search championship, but he ensured himself a berth in the Maclay Finals. Haness, who emerged as a top junior contender with Jim Hagman and now is coached by John Bragg, felt confident riding the different horses in the ride-off. He regularly catch rides in the hunter ring, and the horse he rode in the Talent Search was borrowed.
"I didn't really have a plan for this class since I didn't know if I'd have a horse," said Haness. On Wednesday, Ali Nilforushan came through with a talented horse loaned from the Korsch family, and Haness rode it in the warm up round.
Joining Haness in the top four were Hannah Selleck, Amber Levine and Alexandra Conforti, all from California. All four riders rode consistently throughout the final phase, but the judges gave the nod to Haness for his exactness.
"He is an effective rider," said Hoffman. "The top four riders all tended to be more loose than the other riders and didn't ride backwards to the fences."
Last year, Selleck made it into the top four, and this year she finished as the reserve champion. "I like this class because it is more bold than a medal class, and all the horses in the top four were very different," she said.
Selleck loved riding Amber Levine's Ketel One, the horse the judges named as the Best Horse and presented with the Gulliver Trophy. Trainer Karen Healey sponsored the Gulliver Trophy for the Best Horse in the West Finals, and Sarah Willeman sponsored an Eastern counterpart named after Missy Clark's well-known equitation horse, Grappa.
The USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East will take place October 7-8 in Gladstone, N.J.