Gladstone, N.J., Oct. 10, 2004--I'm glad they don't have wagering on
equestrian championships, because if they did, I'd be out a bundle
At lunchtime today, I would have bet you that 15-year-old Addison
Phillips would be the winner of the BET/U.S. Equestrian Federation Show
Jumping Talent Search Finals East. Addison was simply awesome, leading
after yesterday's combined flat and gymnastics phase, and then winning this
morning's jumping phase.
"She's a freaky talent," marveled Andre Dignelli, who has trained her since she was six years old. For those of you not on intimate terms with
horse-show slang, that means Andre thinks she has overwhelming
But it was Brianne Goutal, after just making the cut for the
competition's famous "final four" ride-off, who wound up with the trophy. And let
me remind you, it's not any old trophy. Past winners (in the days when
it was the USET Talent Search, prior to creation of the Federation)
include two riders who went on to be Olympians, McLain Ward and Lauren
Hough, as well as Dignelli himself.
"This isn't just another ride for a ribbon," said Armand Leone Jr., president of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, which presented the
competition at the headquarters here.
Many of those participating "are really taking the first step toward becoming international athletes," he pointed out.
That's what the talent
search is about, trying to find riders 21 and under who would be good
candidates for the U.S. team. It's the most testing of the fall
equitation championships, but just sitting pretty won't get you a top placing
in this one. You have to be effective, and Brianne's performance was in
that great tradition.
"She threw it all out there, and we liked it," said 2000 Olympic show jumper Laura Kraut, who judged the competition with Ronnie Beard.
The final four is modeled on the test for individual honors at the
world show jumping championships, where riders go over a course on their own horses, then switch horses with each other and ride the route three more times.
In the Talent Search, schooling is allowed for just two minutes over
two jumps (which can only be taken once). So the competition tests catch
riding among a host of other talents, such as the ability to finish
within a time allowed (in this case, 50 seconds for a layout of seven
jumps) and look good while doing it.
The setting was dramatic, which added to the tension. With the historic USET stables as a backdrop, every jump seemed to take on more
importance. You can't help but think of the famous horses that set their hooves
on the big ring behind the building, and the legends who trained there,
including Billy Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, Michael Matz and Melanie
The first go-round was won by Catherine Wright on Mardi Gras, a
striking chestnut who "is 20 years old, but thinks he is 10." She was scored with
a 93, to 92 for Addison, 90 for Brianne and 88 for Megan Young, the
But in the second round, aboard Megan's mount, Deneuve (who Megan had
ridden for only two days before the competition!) Brianne served notice
that she wasn't going to let this one get away. She turned in a 95, six
points better than Addison, to take a four-point lead overall. And she
wouldn't give it up.