Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 16
Four years, ago, T.J. O’Mara sat in the stands and watched as his sister Meg won the Pessoa/USEF Medal Final. This year, he got to take the spotlight in the class, working his way up from fifth after Round 1 to second going into the test and then into first with a brilliant test ride showing off two flying changes to counter-canter.
Now he and Meg are the second siblings to have won the Pessoa/USEF Medal Final. The Nieslon sisters—Sandy and Karen—both won it on the same horse, French Leave. Karen won in 1987 and Sandy won in 1982.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet, I’m kind of in shock!” T.J. said. He was even more gobsmacked with the fact that this is his second major equitation win of the month as he claimed the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final—East (N.J.) on Oct. 8-9. “My goal was just to be in the test here; I would have been happy to have been in the top four.”
The judges—grand prix riders Jimmy Torano and Mary Lisa Leffler—asked for two counter-canter turns in the final test, one to the right and one to the left. “We wanted to show they could do it both ways,” Torano said. The second counter-canter was the downfall of the class leader, McKayla Langmeier.
Langmeier came into the final test on top, but in the second counter-canter Skyfall fell off his counter lead around the turn. “I just took my right leg off a little bit and made a mistake,” Langmeier said. She ended up third.
That enabled T.J. to move up to the blue, as he completed two slick flying changes to the counter leads and held them easily around the turns. He was the only one of the four testing to choose flying changes to the counter leads. “My mare is just incredible at flying changes. I kind of thought she’d land on the counter lead the first time, but she didn’t, so I thought I’d switch gears and do the changes,” he said.
Ironically, T.J. thought those flying changes might have been his undoing in Round 1, which had technical lines that required that riders kept their horses really straight. “My horse has a tendency to swap [leads] so I was really focusing on that today. In fact, my sister was watching online and she texted me, ‘This course is not good for Kaskade,’ before Round 1. So I had to really focus in that round on keeping her straight on the lead. But she’s so flashy that she can step into any ring and show how perfect she is.” T.J. trains with Stacia Madden, Max Amaya and the team at Beacon Hill.
Watch T.J.’s test, couresy of USEF Network and Eq Sports Network…
Annabel Revers, 15, surprised even herself by taking second place behind T.J. Revers, of Weston, Mass., trains with Peter Wylde and has never placed in an equitation final before. “I think I got better as the day went on, more consistent in each round. Coming into here, I definitely wasn’t expecting to be second! But today was really my day—my horse was perfect and I was able to ride as well as I can,” she said.
Revers was in 13th place after Round 1, but moved up into the final four to test with a brilliant Round 2. “She was really the first one of that group to lay it down,” Torano said. “She’s such a stylist. We gave out scores in Round 2 and we gave her a 95. It was flawless.”
Revers came back to test in fourth and put in a solid round there. With Langmeier’s swap off the counter lead and a few mistakes Taylor St. Jacques made, she moved up to first.
But the judges were especially impressed with T.J.’s consistency over the three rounds. “T.J. was amazing. The nerves it took to keep it together like that are amazing,” Torano said. “He obviously knows his mare very well and was able to ride the course to suit her and that’s what we were looking for.”
The class was full of drama, as Round 1 leader Sophie Simpson had a bit of a disaster in Round 2, losing impulsion in the turn to a narrow gate and having a stop there that took her out of the running.
The first round combined technical questions with tight snaking turns over jumps set across the middle of the ring with two big oxers set at the ends of the ring. “The course looked really simple when you first saw it, I think from the [small] amount of jumps in the ring,” T.J. said. “But it had a real old-time Medal Finals feel to it because it rode really technical. It really separated the experienced riders from the inexperienced ones.”
Some of the less experienced riders had real trouble with the big oxers, with several eliminations from stops and falls there.
“Maybe in hindsight we could have tweaked the two oxers down a bit for the less experienced riders, but our concern was to make sure we were really testing the top riders, too,” said Torano. “We didn’t want them to have to have a big-strided, scopey horse. We really thought the true test would be the middle jumps. We wanted them to really know their horses and think about how to ride the course to suit their horse. We wanted it to be a rider contest and not a horse contest.”
For a round-by-round blog of ALL the action in the Pessoa/USEF Medal Final, check out Molly Sorge and Mollie Bailey’s running commentary. Make sure to read the Nov. 7 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse for more in-depth coverage of the Medal Final, including more about T.J. O’Mara’s special relationship with his Kaskade and what made the difference to make this a standout year for him.