September 21, 2013 -- Following the completion of Phases I and II of the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals West Olivia Champ holds the lead heading into Saturday's final two phases.
After a demanding Flat Phase where USEF Talent Search Final judges Jimmy Torano and Mandy Porter worked the riders in groups of eight, Olivia Champ (Karen Healey Stables, Trainer) took the lead with a strong score of 90. On her heels was Jayme Omand (Kelly VanVleck, Trainer) with a score of 88. "The top two really showed workmanship throughout the Flat Phase with great extensions and fluidity in their movement. They were very solid," stated Torano. "We were looking for smooth transitions as well as effectiveness," added Porter. "The connection between the rider and their horse was important for us to see."
Friday night the riders tackled the Gymnastics Phase where their scores counted one and a half toward their overall ranking and determine the order for the Jumping Phase on the grass field at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.
Judges Torano and Porter wasted no time posing questions to the thirty-three riders who tackled the Gymnastics Phase of the Platinum Performance/ USEF Talent Search Finals West. The course started with a canter rail to a vertical with a landing rail and the rail fell often. Riders then had to trot into a grid comprised of a trot rail to a vertical then 23 feet to an oxer followed by 21 feet to another oxer.
Hannah Von Heidegger found the best answers to questions posed by grand prix veterans Torano and Porter. "Hannah nailed it," stated Porter. "She rode with conviction." Although she had trouble with the counter canter last night, her score of 82 in the Gymnastics Phase vaulted her into seventh. Chandler Meadows was the only other rider who earned a score in eighties and moved up to fourth.
Olivia Champ put in a solid performance, but she dropped rails in the bounce and her horse bucked and kicked out. Regardless, with a Gymnastics score of 76.5 she holds on to the lead with a score of 204.75 with Sydney Hutchins on her heels with a score of 202.5.
"We wanted to see them do something," continued Porter. "We wanted to see riders put their leg on their horse (at the trot grid). The distance to the oxer got long and a lot of riders just sat there."
Torano agreed with Porter's assessment. "To me it looked like our gymnastics exercises were foreign to most riders. The test of three verticals set with 18' distances created a lot of problems. That exercise lives in my ring."
The bounce at the far end of the ring created its share of problems, and riders had to negotiate it both ways. "Bounces can be difficult for horses," stated Porter, and the judges did not heavily penalize riders if a rail was not the fault of the rider.
The whole course was testy, and the line along one length of the ring presented the riders with two verticals with planks set at 21' followed by an 80' line to two oxers set at 26'. The judges did not care if riders rode up in five strides between the two combinations or compressed for six, but they wanted to see a definite plan and they wanted it executed well. Most riders opted for the six strides, and of those who chose to ride for five strides not many did so effectively. "Olivia was particularly good in that line," commented Torano.
Competition concludes Saturday afternoon with Phases III and IV. The Show Jumping Phase will count for double the score, where the
Gymnastics Phase counted 1.5 and the Flat Phase was a multiplier of 1. The top four after the Jumping Phase will enter the ride off where the riders negotiate a shorter course on their own horse, and then again on each of the other top four horses.
Watch Phases III and IV live on the USEFNetwork.com presented by Smartpak; http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/2013USEFShowJumpingTalentSearchFinals/