Gladstone, N.J.—Oct. 8-9
TJ O’Mara came into the second day of the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals—East sitting in fifth after the flat and gymnastics phases on Day 1. But in Phases III and IV, O’Mara so impressed the judges that he ended up on top of the prestigious equitation final.
TJ O’Mara on Kaskade. Photo by The Book LLC
A field of 57 started on Saturday with Phases I (the flat) and II (the gymnastics), and the field was then narrowed down on Sunday following a jumping round on their own horse in Phase III to the final four who each performed over a shortened course on their own horse as well as the horses of the other finalists.
Riding Kaskade, O’Mara put in an impeccable performance in Phase III to earn a spot in the final four, then impressed judges Kristen Coe and Karen Healey enough in the changes of horses to take the win.
O’Mara comes from a family of equitation finals winners—his older sister, Meg, topped the 2012 Pessoa/USEF Medal Final (Pa.).
Watch TJ’s Phase IV performance aboard his own Kaskade…
Speaking to the difficulty of the final phase, TJ, 18, who finished fourth in the 2015 final, said: “It’s hard because you really have to show who you are as a rider. I hadn’t seen the [other three] horses go and didn’t really have an idea of how they would ride so I had to have confidence in myself as a rider. I knew I could focus and put in a good ride regardless of the horse.”
Competition commenced Saturday morning with Phase I, the flat phase, where riders entered the ring in small groups to demonstrate their aptitude for executing the questions asked by the judges. Riders worked their horses at all gaits, showing collection and extension, and movements such as haunches-in, shoulder-in, and a halt and rein back.
Daisy Farish made a strong impression early on aboard Nathalie De Gunzburg’s Ganjana, winning the phase with a score of 92. McKayla Langmeier was not far behind in second on a score of 90, while Taylor St. Jacques rounded out the top three on an 89.
TJ, from Rumson, N.J., and Walstib Stables LLC’s Kaskade earned a score of 86 and putting them in 11th on the leaderboard after Phase I.
Daisy Farish on Ganjana. Photo by The Book LLC
For Phase II, judges Coe and Healy opted to include three of 11 designated gymnastic exercises developed by Beezie Madden and Anthony D’Ambrosio, which were published and released to qualified riders and trainers over the summer. D’Ambrosio was present as Technical Delegate to set the courses to the correct specifications, a role he also fulfilled at the West Coast Final where Peyton Warren was the champion in September.
As in the West Final, the Phase II course included a vertical-vertical combination in a line with an oxer-oxer combination, jumped in both directions. Coming off the right lead, judges asked for a forward five strides between the combinations and returning over the line off the left lead, to steady the horse for six strides.
Vivian Yowan, riding McLain Ward’s Clearline, topped Phase II with a beautifully executed round that scored 93, moving her up from eighth to second overall going into Day 2.
Vivian Yowan riding Clearline. Photo by The Book LLC
Farish placed second in the phase, matching her flat score of 92, to continue to lead the field overall. Langmeier moved into third overall with a Phase II score of 90.75. On the strength of a 91.50 score, TJ began his ascension up the leaderboard, landing in fifth at the end of Day 1.
Phase III asked a number of questions of the riders throughout the 12-obstacle track again designed by the judges and built by D’Ambrosio, that included three one-stride double-combinations. The course was demanding from the start, beginning over a triple-bar set at the end of the arena, requiring riders to approach off the turn.
Fences 8, 9, and 10, a wall to an oxer to a single, were off-set on a serpentine, necessitating thoughtful and careful riding before the last line that included an oxer to a double-combination over liverpools.
TJ took the narrow win in the phase with a fluid and smart ride over the track that was rewarded with a score of 92. With excellent performances from all the riders at the top of the leaderboard the scores were very close. Yowan finished second on 91.50, Sophie Simpson moved into a coveted finalist position with a score of 91 aboard Ashland Farms’ Breckenridge, and Farish rounded out the top four with 90.50.
Featuring the top four riders on the overall leaderboard following three phases, Phase IV tested the riders’ abilities to catch ride three different horses over a nine-effort track. In Round 1 of the ride-off, the riders presented their own horses over the winding course. For the final phase, they all started on a clean slate score.
Farish ran into trouble with a refusal on her own Ganjana then dropped rails on Yowan and Simpson’s mounts, leaving the door open for the other three finalists who rose brilliantly to the occasion.
TJ rode with quiet confidence aboard each horse, executing near foot-perfect courses to secure the title with a score of 355.
Like TJ, Simpson went from strength to strength throughout the weekend, climbing the leaderboard from an eighth place finish in Phase I to the reserve championship. In Phase IV, Simpson earned the two highest scores, earning a 92 aboard both her own horse and TJ’s Kaskade.
Sophie Simpson accepting her second place. Photo by The Book LLC
Yowan placed third and Farish finished in fourth.
TJ was awarded the French Leave Memorial Perpetual Trophy donated by the Gerald A. Nielsen Family. He also received an engraved iPad mini from Platinum Performance. Max Amaya and Stacia Madden, who train O’Mara, took home the Leading Trainer(s) Award, donated by the late Mr. Hugh J.B Cassidy, III. The Grappa Trophy, donated by Sarah Willeman, was awarded to McLain Ward’s Clearline, Yowan’s entry, whom the judges chose as the best horse of the competition.