Natalie Jayne and Charisma on Sunday won the prestigious Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals—East after three days of competition at the historic U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey.
Jayne, of Elgin, Illinois, rode to a final score of 365 to earn the victory ahead of Dominic Gibbs (Colorado Springs, Colorado), who finished in second place with a final score of 359. Audrey Schulze (Saddle River, New Jersey) took third with a score of 336, while Luke Jensen (Denton, Texas) rounded out the top four finishers on 335.
The competition is comprised of: flatwork, in which riders are evaluated on the rail; gymnastics, with a course that requires quick turns and lengthening and shortening of the horse’s stride while maintaining rhythm and balance; show jumping over a grand prix-style course; and a ride-off where the top four competitors complete a course with their own horse, then switch mounts to ride the same course on each of the other three top horses. The format is set up to have riders use their own knowledge and experience to create a strategy for each phase; trainers are not allowed to school the horses for the duration of the competition, and only riders are permitted to walk the courses. Chris Kappler and Michael Tokurak judged the competition.
“I really like the format over three days. I think it’s nice to have the flat and know how you did and go from there,” Jayne said. “Also, the three different formats with the flat, gymnastics and jumping really set this championship apart from the other equitation finals.”
Jayne and Charisma, a 14-year-old warmblood gelding owned by Heritage Farm, Inc., started their week by scoring 90 in the flat phase to sit in fifth place after the first day. They received an 82.5 in the gymnastics phase, keeping them inside of the top six combinations leading into the final day. Producing a nearly mistake-free trip in the jumping phase and earning an 89, the pair were called back for the final work-off phase to determine the ultimate winner after finishing on a three-phase score of 391.8.
“My horse Charisma was awesome in the ride-off,” she said. “I wanted to have a really nice solid round, and I know him obviously way more than I know the other horses, so I really just wanted a nice smooth round and go from there with the other rides.
“I loved all of the other horses, but [Schulze’s horse] Mac One III was probably my favorite,” she continued. “He’s just so soft and his jump is amazing, and I loved him, but they were all awesome to ride.”
Jayne is looking ahead to the other fall equitation finals. A senior in high school, she has another year left of junior eligibility and plans to ride at the NCEA level in college next year before continuing her riding career at the international level.
Judges Kappler and Tokurak discussed the weekend from their perspective and why they incorporated the challenges and questions they did to see how the riders would respond and adapt.
“I thought this was a very strong group with a lot of top riders, and with the format, we had a lot of opportunities to see what they could do with the different questions we asked in the flat, in the gymnastics, and in the jumping phase,” Tokurak said. “The cream rose to the top in the final phase, and it was very close. For us, it came down to the final round, and Natalie had the best round when she needed it in the moment.”
Watch that round:
Kappler elaborated on the talent and character it takes to compete at the highest levels of the sport and what the judges saw over the weekend is the right foundation for success at the next level.
“It was really exciting to see because their demonstration in the final four. They all rode those rounds so well. I set up a nine-stride in a long line to see who could really tell where they were on new horses and they all rode it within inches,” he said. “They’re all solid riders and great to see the quality of riding in that final. They did a great job, and it was a really great competition. I think they’re all candidates for future teams and it is the people who continue to grind away at it and work at it. It’s a hard sport and these riders have all done the grind and done their jobs and they have team qualities that we could rely on in team settings in the future.”
The USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Program encourages young and junior riders to develop the skills needed to become an effective jumper rider, preparing them to become the next generation of top international riders representing the United States.
The French Leave Memorial Perpetual Trophy, donated by the Gerald A. Nielsen family, was awarded to Jayne as the champion, while the Leading Trainer Award, donated by the late Mr. Hugh J.B. Cassidy, III, was presented to Jayne’s trainer, Andre Dignelli. The Grappa Trophy, donated by Sarah Willeman, is given to the best horse, which went to Mac One III, ridden by finalist Schulze and a favorite among other finalists. Catalina Peralta (Geneva, Florida) was awarded with the Sportsmanship Award presented by Hollow Brook Wealth Management.