September 22, 2012 -- The 2012 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals West kicked off at the Los Angeles International Jumping Festival at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center on September 20. The final consists of four phases: flat, gymnastics, jumping, and a work off. On Thursday, the thirty-three finalists competed in Phase 1 and were split into groups of five to six riders to compete on the flat. Riders were asked to demonstrate the usual flat movements, such as the counter canter and lengthening of stride, and the judges also asked for a rein back, a turn on the haunches, and a flying change of lead. After judging all of the competitors, the judges (Chrystine Tauber and Bernie Traurig) asked seven riders to come back for additional testing.
For the test, riders had ninety seconds to impress the judges with their flat work, keeping in mind that the entire competition has a jumper focus and preparing to compete in the jumper ring. The top seven executed a variety of movements, including leg yields, half passes, flying changes, and serpentines. "It was very interesting to see what they choose to show us and how well they executed it," Chrystine explained. "There were a couple of riders who did a great job and it was a pleasure to watch. After the test, the top seven definitely reshuffled themselves."
At the end of the flat phase, Alex Wedemeyer (Archie Cox, trainer) emerged at the top of the leader board with a score of 85.75 on her Santeria. Alex impressed the judges with her flat test, which began at a working canter and included a turn on the haunches, a half turn in reverse, an extended trot, and several changes of lead.
Close behind was Hannah Heidegger (Karen Healey, trainer) with 84.75 on Anton (Juliana Ronn, owner). Hannah took a slightly different approach to her flat test and incorporated a precise circle, a sitting trot, an extended canter, and a halt. Chrystine commented, "All of the riders choose different things to do, and that's where you show what you can do well. This is a jumper oriented event, so it also relates to the flatwork training for a jumper. All the movements they chose to do, including leg yields and half passes, were appropriate."
Rory Reichelt (Rob Perkins, trainer) on her Sterling Silver, Molly Peddicord (Kost Karazissis, trainer) riding Muskateer NZPH (Buribbons LLC, owner), and Morgan Geller (Kay Altheuser, trainer) aboard Sicerto B (Q of E Farms LLC, owner) all performed well on the flat and tied with 84.5 points, just short of Hannah's score.
Heading into Phase 2, the gymnastics phase, the competitors had their work cut out for them with a challenging course designed by the judges. "The course involved a lot of steering, changing of direction, and being able to adjust strides, forward and back. It was all about knowing the horse you were sitting on, knowing the track you needed to take, and then the adjustability. You had to understand the balance and rhythm and the arc of a horse after a certain type of jump and what kind of rebalancing was needed," Chrystine summarized.
The course began with trot poles and then riders continued to a trot fence with a bending line to a two stride, with another bending line to a triple bar oxer. After the triple bar oxer, riders continued to a bounce, which caused several riders to chip coming into it. "They had to ride a very forward bending line at the beginning and then go to something very balanced like the bounce. Some people didn't understand that they needed to rebalance before the bounce," Chrystine noted.
Riders quickly had to bring their horses to a trot and set up for another set of bending lines with a large oxer after the trot fence. Chrystine explained, "After the trot fence, it was a forward three to the oxer to a steady, bent four stride. You had to bend that line to get the four and in order to make it fit, you really needed to be able to have a following hand in the air and guide and hold the horse out on the wider track."
After the bending lines, riders had little time to catch their breath as they headed to a liverpool with a bending line to a triple combination. "That certainly was an interesting test. From the liverpool, it was a loping line with a bit of a blind turn to the triple combination, but you had lots of options. You could have done it in nine, ten, or eleven strides," Chrystine commented. "We were certainly receptive to any of those options, but you had to do it well and plan it out in advance." All of the riders completed that test successfully, and no one had problems with the triple combination.
Instead, it was the last two jumps of the course that troubled several of the riders. Though it was a straight five stride line set on the judge's side, many riders overcompensated coming into the first jump, styled as a water jump with a pole over it. "At the water jump, some of them overrode it, which made the five too tight," said Chrystine.
Several riders were tripped up by the difficult course, but the judges saw this as a positive. "I hope this was actually an education for some of them," Chrystine noted. "I think it's really important to remember that this is a talent search. It is equitation, but it's really a horsemanship class and we're looking for talented riders. Making the right moves and right decisions is very important as opposed to sitting there and looking pretty and then getting caught by being weak. The course exposed anyone who didn't absolutely take a hold of the course and ride it."
Though the course stymied some riders, others rose to the challenge. Two riders who stood out from the pack were Lauren Myers (Cara Anthony, trainer) aboard Dinero (Francesca Giammalva, owner) and Olivia Champ (Karen Healey, trainer) riding Parrandero (Katie Harris, owner). Lauren scored a 92 and Olivia scored a 90. Chrystine mentioned, "The two riders who are in the lead right now were outstanding. They negotiated the course beautifully and I hope that in itself was a good riding lesson for people."
"What it really came down to at that point was effectiveness of the rider's aids and how much they've trained with that horse on being able to move up and take back and do it smoothly. Some were really well executed and some weren't," Chrystine said.
Overall, Lauren is in the lead with a combined 219.5 points, followed by Olivia with 216, and Samantha Harrison with 207. The 2012 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals West will conclude on Saturday, September 22 with a jumping phase, followed by the work off where the top four riders each ride a shortened course on their own horses, and then ride each of the other horses. LAEC's historic grass Cricket Field will be packed as the spectators cheer for the top talent. Watch for our story with the final results!
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