The U.S. Equestrian Federation announced a new structure for the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search classes for the 2014-2015 season, which begins in September of this year.
The new program creates three tiers for Talent Search classes, which increase in difficulty.
For example, fences at one-star classes are set at 1.1 to 1.15 meters, at two-star classes at 1.15 to 1.2 meters and at three-star at 1.2 meters. At a one-star level, a liverpool is required; at a two-star level, both a liverpool and a water jump at least 8' wide are required; at the three-star level both a liverpool and a dug-in open water jump 10'-12' wide are required. Three-star classes must be held in a grand prix ring and may be held only once every three weeks at multi-week competitions.
There’s a new qualification system for both East and West Coast Finals, too, with riders receiving more points for each placing as the level increases. Also, riders at one-star and two-star competitions earn points through fourth place. Three-star competitions award points down to sixth place. To qualify for the West Coast final, a rider must earn 30 points and a ribbon placing at a two-star class, and to qualify for the East Coast Final, a rider must earn 90 points and a ribbon placing at a two-star class. A three-star win automatically qualifies a rider for finals.
“The aim was to have maybe 15-20 three-star competitions each year, but at this point it’s wide open, and we don’t know who will step up and offer them,” said Amy Serridge, the USEF Assistant Director of Show Jumping High Performance programs and the coordinator for the Talent Search program. “We hope by offering more points that’s a big carrot for horse shows to have them and get more entries, but that’s something we’ll have to learn.”
This isn’t the first recent change to the program. The classes called for a dug-in water jump at the start of the 2014 season, same as is required at major senior-level championships. This was a controversial decision as many showgrounds can’t accommodate the requirement, and some trainers feel that requiring open water in all Talent Search classes isn’t the right decision.
The program has long struggled to balance its historic purpose as a pipeline for identifying international talent with remaining a viable class in today’s show world. The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Equitation Task Force largely oversees the specifications for other national equitation classes like the ASPCA Maclay and Pessoa/USEF Medal, but the USEF High Performance Show Jumping Committee governs the Talent Search class. The committee, made up largely of international riders and trainers, does look for recommendations and input from the USHJA task force, which is largely composed of trainers with students who compete in equitation classes.
The idea of a three-tier Talent Search class gained momentum at the USHJA Annual Meeting last December. The four-phase final is generally regarded as the toughest of all the national equitation championships, with jumping, flat and gymnastic sessions before the final four riders swap horses for another jumping round. At the Annual Meeting many trainers expressed that too many riders arrive at both the East and West Coast editions of the final unprepared.
In April of 2013, that committee formed a task force headed by Ronnie Beard to revamp the program. The were charged with examining all aspects of the program, from course design to judging to qualifying to quantifying how the program fits into the pipeline of developing international riders.
They started by writing a mission statement: “The Talent Search Program plays an important role in the rider pipeline as it addresses the principle that form follows function and that it is important for riders to have equitation basics and a solid jumping seat position in order to become an effective jumper rider. The Talent Search classes test a rider’s ability to ride a jumper type course effectively while maintaining the classic American forward style of riding. The Talent Search program fosters this tradition in U.S. Show Jumping and builds on preparing the next generation of International jumping riders.”
The task force unveiled the final specifications for the class in late May.
“This isn’t just another equitation final,” said Serridge. “There’s a lot of meaning behind it. Looking back at this history of the program and it's really impressive to see that the winners have gone on to do really impressive things.”