September 22, 2009 -- The first of two 2009 Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Champions was named at the Los Angeles International Horse Show on September 20. Theodore Boris claimed the Finals West title on the strength of his consistent performance in the final ride-off phase--where the top four competitors after the first three phases start even,ride their own horse, then each other's mounts in turn over the same course.
The judges and course designers, U.S. Show Jumping Chef d'Equipe George Morris and Susie Schoellkopf, set some challenging courses for the 37 riders entered in the Finals West. Navona Gallegos won the flat phase with a solid performance on Friday.
Held in the Equidome on Friday evening, the gymnastics phase proved daunting, but was deliberately set by the course designers to challenge specific technical skills. The course began with two sets of cavalletti exercises followed by a trot fence and continued with a four part combination which began with a massive triple bar. Boris excelled both in the gymnastics phase (which he won) and in the jumping phases, although catching Gallegos, who dominated in the flatwork and carried a narrow lead into the final four ride-off phase, proved tough.
"As with any championship the top 20 percent are very, very good--there is a nice middle who are up to it, then there are people who are a little over their heads which is OK because it teaches them when they
have failure," said Morris after the competition. "I hope the courses, both the gymnastics and the jumping were a learning experience for all of them--even the good ones."
Boris' consistent performances meant that the 16-year-old from Culver City, CA prevailed over Cayla Richards, Jocelyn Neff and Gallegos.
"All of the final four were very, very good. But it was just his day. He is an athlete by build, he is tight on a horse, balanced on a horse, very soft, but when he needs to be strong he can be strong without being rough. He has great empathy and a great eye," said Morris of the winner. "He is a natural, definitely a rider that we are looking for."
Richard's mount for the Finals West, Bingo Bongo (owned by Holly Scapa), won the Gulliver Trophy for Best Horse, an honor bestowed by the judges after the ride-off.
Olympians like McLain Ward, Lauren Hough and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum all won Talent Search Finals in their rise to the top of the sport.
The 2009 Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals East will be held at the USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone, N.J., on October 2-4.