“This is different than the other finals,” U.S. show jumping coach George Morris explained after judging the U.S. Equestrian Federation Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East. “This,” he emphasized, “is jumper preparation.”
And while a major equitation final win eluded Charlie Jayne in his junior years, he made up for it with victory in the USEF Talent Search Finals-East, held at the historic U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, N.J., on Oct. 7-8.
Grand prix rider Alison Firestone, who judged the class with Morris, assessed Jayne as, “a very effective rider.”
Said Morris, “He has a beautiful touch; he has a beautiful eye. He can ride very softly, but he also can ride very strongly. No matter what presented itself, he could cope.”
Jayne was second in his only other attempt at this final, in 2003. He was third in the Tad Coffin WIHS Equitation Classic Finals (D.C.) in 2004, and was a dominant force in the junior hunter and jumper ranks. He also won the 2006 USET Foundation Maxine Beard Award, enabling him to travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to watch and learn at the FEI Show Jumping World Cup Finals.
Jayne, 20, trains with his father, Alex, and Missy Clark. “This win means a lot,” said Jayne. “After all the hard work my dad, mom and Missy did for me and all the support they gave me, I’m glad that I was able to do this for them and for me.”
Jayne didn’t win any of the three first phases of the competition–the flatwork phase, gymnastics phase and final course–but consistently good scores kept him in the hunt, and placed him fourth, qualifying him for the final four of the competition. And it was Jayne’s polished rides in the fourth phase that earned him the blue. Addison Phillips had finished the three phases in first, with her barnmate, Maggie McAlary, just behind her in second. Jayne’s college roommate at Florida Atlantic University, Michael Delfiandra, placed third to qualify for the final four as well.
On The Way To The Final Four
A record field of 71 starters started the competition, which began with a separate, straightforward flat phase, instead of the combined flat/gymnastics segment that had been utilized for a number of years.
Whitney Goulart, Mendham, N.J., won the initial section with a score of 91, followed by last year’s runner-up, Maria Schaub, Holmdel, N.J., who got a 90. They were the only competitors in the 90s, but Jayne was hot on their heels with an 89.
Following the gymnastics phase, McAlary, of Amherst, N.H., went to the top of the class on a 227-point total for two phases. Although she originally was tied with her close friend, New York City resident Phillips, her winning score of 96 in the gymnastics was the tiebreaker.
Jayne, a night student at Florida Atlantic University, stood third on 215 points at the halfway point, while Delfiandra of Delray Beach, Fla., had 212.5.
McAlary and Phillips benefitted from riding their own horses, Mid-Accord and Flight. Jayne was aboard a statuesque gray Hanoverian, Cassino Z, belonging to his girlfriend, Lauren Sturges, who wound up the Talent Search Finals in 15th place, while Delfiandra was on LeGrand, a borrowed mount as well.
Delfiandra’s score of 190 won the jumping phase, putting him into the final four. Jack Hardin Towell placed second with a 188.
But Towell, Jayne’s best friend, could not overcome a 75 in the gymnastics and finished 10th overall.
McAlary, who–like Phillips–trains with Andre Dignelli, the 1985 Talent Search winner, was 2 points behind Phillips’ overall leading total of 413 after three phases. There was a bigger gap to Delfiandra with 402.5, while Jayne had 399.
The Switches Shuffle The Standings
But everyone started with a clean slate for the final four test, modeled after the individual show jumping championship at the World Equestrian Games. All the horses had to jog for the judges first, and both Morris and Firestone took second looks at LeGrand.
No separate scores were announced for any of the rounds over an eight-obstacle course that tested riders’ judgment and horses’ adjustability but was shorter than the morning route, given that the mounts already had done a lot of work.
On their own horses for the first round, McAlary nailed the first course perfectly, while Phillips had a knockdown at the final fence with Flight. Jayne was workmanlike and Delfiandra had a rail at the seventh fence.
In the next round, McAlary was to ride LeGrand, but the horse felt a bit off to her as she went through her two-minute warm-up. After officials discussed the development, LeGrand was sent back to the barn, and the class continued with each rider set to handle only two more horses. McAlary sat out the second round, while Delfiandra and Jayne seemed fairly equal on Flight and Mid-Accord, respectively. Phillips had a harder time on the hulking Cassino Z.
In the third round, McAlary’s trip on Flight, a horse she has often watched Phillips ride, again looked like the winner. Phillips did quite well on Mid-Accord, while Cassino, with Delfiandra up, proved to be the trickiest horse of the final four.
In the last round, McAlary nearly missed the third fence, a panel of planks, as Cassino started to swerve.
“I knew that one [Cassino] was going to be the most difficult. He was more of a man’s horse,” said McAlary. “He got a little bit away from me. I tried to get it back as best I could. I was just trying to get to the jump. I didn’t want to have him drive by it.”
That moment cost her the class, which went to Jayne, who piloted Flight without incident to finish the final four with 273 points, just 2 points ahead of McAlary, whose Mid-Accord was judged the best horse in the finals and awarded the Grappa Trophy, named after Sarah Willeman’s great equitation mount. Phillips and Delfiandra tied for third with 259 points.
Morris said the top four definitely are riders with the type of potential the USEF is seeking. Jayne, who had ridden Cassino only once before the finals, already is honing his jumper skills with 1983 World Cup Champion Norman Dello Joio, and plans to turn professional after graduating from college in another year.
The 17-year-old Phillips has already won two grand prix classes this year. DelFiandra, 18, who trains with Alan Korotkin, also has his eye on the grand prix ranks eventually but doesn’t have a horse. McAlary, 16, is looking for another junior jumper.
A Different Kind Of Equitation Class
U.S. Chef d’Equipe George Morris and U.S. team veteran Alison Firestone, who officiated with him at the USEF Talent Search Finals-East, made the class a lesson as much as a competition, designing courses that demanded an exacting combination of bold riding and finesse. The class is designed to find riders with the potential for competing on U.S. teams, such as a number of past winners, including McLain Ward and Lauren Hough, have done.
An angled liverpool to a five-stride bending line that ended with an oxer angled the opposite way, and a triple bar set three strides before a double were among the formidable challenges in the gymnastics phase. A water jump in the next morning’s round of jumping also took its toll on those who were not prepared for the test.
While the judges penalized for faults on course, including exceeding the time allowed, they also looked at the big picture.
“If a rider rode the water beautifully and toed it, there was a little [penalty], where if they got there and got weak and really hit the tape, it was a bigger penalty and knockdowns the same thing,” Morris said.
The fact that fences could be set as high as 3’9″, 3 inches above the limit in the other fall equitation championships, added to the difficulty.
“In riding today, the culture is on the soft side,” Morris commented when questioned about the number of refusals, run-outs and eliminations that befell many of the participants.
“They get exposed to a situation like this and it’s a big shock,” he said.
Firestone noted riders are so used to leaving out strides in other classes that some had difficulty adding strides in the gymnastics to make the distances work for them.
And while the fall equitation finals are a place for future international riders to shine, Morris questions the stepping stones of the system. “It’s from this point to where they’re 25 that worries me,” said Morris. “They get excellent management until they’re 18 or 19. After that… that’s where you lose them. That was my most difficult time, when I got out of the [equitation divisions]–I drifted.”
Morris said he would like to see more of the apprentice system, where riders are working students with top professionals. “We’re [the USEF] adding some kind of a program for young horses and young riders, and maybe [we’ll] put people who can’t afford a horse on young horses. In the future, we’d like to do that,” he noted.