If the competitors in the BET/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East were unsure of what the competition was about, they got an extra dose of inspiration from a special video and commentary on the Athens Games.
After their combined flat and gymnastics phase, the riders saw videotapes of the Olympics shot by Stacia Madden in Greece, where her husband, Frank Madden, helped coach his sister-in-law, Beezie Madden, who anchored the silver-medal U.S. team.
“You’re really taking the first step toward becoming international athletes like the riders you saw here,” said Armand Leone Jr., president of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, which presented the Talent Search at its Gladstone, N.J., headquarters, Oct. 9-10.
After the two-day competition, Brianne Goutal, New York, N.Y., rose to the top among a field of talented competitors. The 16-year-old, who has grand prix experience, noted, “It’s been a dream of mine to win a final, any final, with the USET one of the top priorities,” she said.
Leone, who rode with the USET, reminisced about the era of Coach Bertalan de Nemethy, when potential team candidates were brought to Gladstone for intensive training and close observation. While that program no longer exists, Leone said that the Talent Search, for riders 21 and under, “is in some ways a modern training session.”
Indeed, the general consensus was that the Talent Search left most of the candidates–even those who finished far out of the ribbons–better schooled than they were when they arrived.
A Testing Two Days
The first day, 58 starters had two minutes to produce a demonstration on the flat of how they would warm up a horse for jumping.
Suggested movements included the counter canter, a lengthening of stride and the sitting trot, as well as anything else the riders wanted to do, in any order they wished. Then they jumped a stiff gymnastics course that offered some unusual challenges, among them several liverpools and a low triple bounce at the far end of the ring that had to be taken in both directions.
Addison Phillips, a student of 1985 Talent Search winner Andre Dignelli, finished the first day in the lead with 232 points. Though she had a score of 91 on the flat, placing her fifth behind leader Blythe Marano with 96, Phillips made up the distance with the winning score of 141 points in the gymnastics.
Catherine Wright and Gabby Slome tied for second with 228, while Megan Young had 227.5 and Goutal, 227, with Marano right behind at 226.5.
The second day’s course demanded an adjustable horse and a good plan from the riders. One challenging test included a bending line from a red-and-white vertical to a matching oxer three strides away, then they revved up for the water jump and immediately had to get their horses under control and around a curve to the final obstacle, a triple bar of natural rails.
Marano put herself out of contention when her horse chipped in badly at fence 1, then had a knockdown at the sixth obstacle.
Phillips, third last year, kept her lead with the phase-winning score of 92, while Wright held onto second and Young moved up from fourth to third. But Slome slipped from third to fifth. Goutal overtook her by 3 points to qualify for the final work-off.
The closing segment of the Talent Search is modeled on the last round of the World Show Jumping Championships, where each rider takes the course on her own mount, then switches to each of the other contender’s horses. Al-though the last course was seven obstacles, compared to 13 for round three, it was no less taxing–particularly since riders had only two minutes to warm up on a strange horse.
“There was no room to take a rest. You had to set your pace and go,” said Ronnie Beard, a veteran Talent Search official who judged with 2000 Olympic show jumping member Laura Kraut. She presided at the competition for the first time.
The top four contenders started out with a clean slate. Phillips, at 15 the youngest rider in the final four, seemed like the odds-on fav-orite to win. But as it turned out, she was the only rider who didn’t earn the best score in any one of the legs of the last round.
Wright, 17, of Old Chatham, N.Y., on Mardi Gras, had the best first-round score on the 16.3-hand Westphalian, who took her to a mark of 93, 1 point ahead of Phillips and 2 in front of Goutal.
“He’s 20 years old, but thinks he is 10,” Wright said of her mount. The horse isn’t a typical equitation ride because he cracks his back when he takes a fence, and the others noted that made him the most difficult of the four horses in the finals.
Goutal struck an important blow for herself in the second round on Young’s horse, Deneuve, the only mare in the group. She topped the second round with a 95, a crucial 6 points ahead of Phillips.
While Young, 18, a first time Talent Search competitor from Jacksonville, Fla., took the third round with 92 points, her pair of 88s in the first two rounds meant she wasn’t going to win.
Wright sank herself with a 78 on Goutal’s horse, Onira, while Phillips was at her weakest on Deneuve, with an 87-point score, 1 point behind Goutal.
“It was enough of a mistake that it cost her. From fence 3 to 4, she didn’t get her horse back enough, and it was right in front of us,” said Kraut, commenting on Phillips’ trip. “We felt that was a riding mistake she shouldn’t have made.”
“I ran out of room,” conceded Phillips. “It was my fault.”
On Her Game
Goutal got close to the second fence on Mardi Gras in the third round. But she was determined, and going second in the last round on Phillips’ Ricochet, “she nailed that,” in the words of her trainer, Frank Madden.
That made her total 367 points, while Phillips was on 268. Some quick math showed that unless she got 100 points, Phillips wasn’t going to beat Goutal.
But seasoned competitor that she is, Phillips geared up on Mardi Gras and rode for second.
“I knew I wanted to go in there and be as good as I could be,” she said, and scored a 92, enough to finish ahead of Young and Wright.
Wright was the only rider to take two segments in the final four–with a 95 on Deneuve in the fourth round. Had she not encountered problems in the third round, it might have been a different ball game. But the 78 on her record put her fourth with 352 points, to 357 for the Bobby Braswell-trained Young, who came in third.
While Beard noted “the top two are incredible riders,” who “could win anywhere,” he added the difference was that Goutal “was consistently brilliant. She never rode for second place.”
Madden noted Goutal had suffered ignominious losses in the previous two weekends, forgetting the course in a two-horse jump-off in the junior jumper class at the Marshall & Sterling National Indoor Finals (Mass.) when the other horse had already had one rail down. In the equitation championship at the Capital Challenge (Md.), she forgot the walk that was part of the test. Goutal was not about to make any more mistakes.
“She was on her game today,” said Madden, who gave her good advice. “I said she had to attack.”
Interestingly, Phillips and Goutal live in the same Manhattan apartment building, and for the other equitation finals, Goutal planned to ride Logan, a horse formerly owned by Phillips.
Goutal, a sophomore at the Professional Children’s School, which gives her enough time off to pursue her riding, won the Ronnie Mutch Equitation Classic (Fla.) this year, was the equitation champion at Devon (Pa.) and took the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit championships in the high junior jumper and small junior hunter divisions.
Goutal goes to France every summer and has gotten instruction there from top French show jumper Thierry Pomel. Though she has dual U.S. and French citizenship, her father, Jean Goutal, a native of France who is a longtime U.S. resident, said he would like to see her ride for the U.S. when the time comes.
Goutal’s younger sister, Clementine Goutal, 14, also competed in the Talent Search and distinguished herself by finishing in 12th place with an 89 in the third round–2 points better than Brianne’s ride.