September 26, 2011 -- On Saturday afternoon at the L.A. International Jumping Festival (Sep 21-25), a crowd gathered on LAEC's grass Cricket Field to watch the Show Jumping phase of the demanding and prestigious Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals West. When all was said and done, Demi Stiegler (Robin Stiegler and Archie Cox, trainers) led the victory gallop as champion of the 41-entry field.
"It was amazing!" Demi Stiegler said of her win. "I was sixth coming into Phase III, and I knew from the Flat and Gymnastics Phases I just had to stay consistent. I tried to just concentrate on what would work best for my horse and myself and not worry about the pressure, and it paid off." This was Demi Stiegler's second USEF Talent Search Final, having competed in it in 2009.
The course for Phase III of the USEF Talent Search Final was fairly straightforward, with long distances between jumps to give riders a chance to think through each element - although they had to be careful not to let their horses get too fast or strung out with all that space. The two trickiest spots were the eighth jump, a skinny vertical after a sharp bending line, and the last line that started with a water jump followed by a bending line to a short one-stride combination. Stiegler sailed gracefully through the course, earning a score of 89. Scores in the multiplier for this phase was "2", and added to the two earlier phases, and Stiegler's overall score of 389.5 moved her from sixth into third place going into the final phase.
Sage Flynn (Hap Hansen, trainer) executed the Phase III course beautifully and earned the top score for the round of 92, which kept her in second place with 401 overall. Zoie Nagelhout (Archie Cox, trainer) went into Phase III in the lead, and her smooth and capable trip earned her a score of 88.5 and just kept her in the lead with 402. Taylor Harris (Elvenstar, trainer) joined them in the work off with a combined score of 380.5.
Nagelhout, Steigler, Flynn, and Harris next tackled a shortened course designed by the judging team mother and daughter judges Sue Ashe and Molly Ashe-Cawley, with the assistance of renowned course designer and Olympian Conrad Homfeld. Riders first rode their own horses, then each of the other three.
Sage found that her jumper experience really paid off. "If anything I over corrected on Demi's horse," said Sage. "She said he was really strong so I overcompensated in one line and it wasn't as smooth. It turned out he wasn't that strong for me. I just think that Demi isn't as used to a jumper since she mostly rides in the equitation."
Taylor had an unfortunately stop on Nagelhout's Y2K, relegating her to fourth. However, Demi's consistency and smoothness propelled her to the victory.
"The Show Jumping Phase was for sure the strongest part for Demi," coach Archie Cox explained. "The horse is a grand prix horse, so he was confident on the field. Demi was consistent through the Flat and Gymnastic Phases so she stayed in there, and then she did a fantastic job today."
Stiegler rode Parrandero (Katie Harris, owner), a horse she sat on for the first time just two days before the first phase of the final.
The Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search is recognized by many top riders and trainers as an excellent test of horsemanship, as well as giving the riders a taste of all the things they need to be solid on in order to step up to the next level. "It was a great life experience for her," said Stigler's mother, Robin, who trains her at home while Archie coaches her at shows. "It was good for her to learn confidence and composure in a high pressure situation, and she handled it beautifully."
In 2006, wishing to acknowledge the important part the horses play in the Talent Search, Karen Healey donated the "Gulliver" Trophy to be awarded to the horse in the Finals that the judges determined to be the "Best Horse". This year Sage Flynn's mount Punkt (Melissa Doddridge, owner) earned the honor. "He really deserved it," said Flynn. "He is so fun and straightforward to ride."