Gladstone, NJ – The prestigious 2012 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East got underway Saturday with the flat phase and gymnastics phase. Held at the beautiful USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey, 92 competitors competed in the first two phases of the event, vying for the coveted winning title. Seventeen-year-old Jacob Pope of Columbia, MD, is currently atop the leader board after winning today’s gymnastics phase with a score 95.5, and also earning a score of 86 during the flat phase for a total of 229.25.
The flat phase kicked off the competition Saturday morning. Under the watchful eyes of judges Karen Healey and Robert Ridland, riders showcased their mounts at the walk, trot, and canter, while also demonstrating changes of the lead, voltes, and the counter canter. The leader after the flat phase was Charlotte Jacobs of East Aurora, NY, who showed Stallone VDL to a score of 92. A solid score of 86.5 in the gymnastics phase has them currently ranked sixth with a total of 221.75.
Later in the day, riders participated in the gymnastics phase of the competition. The course designed by Healey and Ridland featured four tests with increasing difficulty alongside increasing point value. The tests included making circles through four cross rails on each lead with an add stride, and then a second add stride the next direction, as well as hand gallop to a triple bar followed by two liverpool verticals and concluding with rollbacks to a single oxer.
Jacob Pope executed a flawless test aboard Heritage Farm’s Uno. The pair mastered the difficult circle test through the cross rails, choosing to do four strides the first direction and five strides the second direction. Pope and Uno flowed through the remaining challenges and the judges awarded their effort with the day’s high score of 95.5.
“The wheel with four jumps that actually walked in a nice three strides,” explained Pope. “On the course sheet they told us how many strides they wanted us to do and it was a very tight add. The first time around I did four because my horse lands left easier, so I decided to make him land right and do four strides. Then on the way back the five strides worked well landing left and shaping left for that tighter distance.”
Pope is a working student for Andre Dignelli at Heritage Farm, in addition to co-training with Street Moore, and partnered with his mount Uno in August. “I was riding whoever was an extra at Heritage and they are all amazing, but Andre decided he wanted me to have a steady mount. I showed Uno at the Hamptons and did a couple other shows with him and it has worked out great.”
“I’ve never done this Final before,” added Pope. “This is my first time, so I had a mindset that it would be nice to have a good round. That’s what let me do so well today. There wasn’t a whole lot of pressure. There is a little bit of pressure going into tomorrow, but Uno is an amazing horse and I know that he will be awesome. It’s more pressure on me, but I know it will be great.”
Dignelli was very proud of his student, stating, “Jacob is riding a very special horse named Uno. It’s a great physical match; the horse is a real athlete. I thought he had an excellent round from start to finish. He hasn’t really found himself in this position before so I hope that he can handle being the top dog. He rode great; it’s no shock to me that he is in the lead today.”
Today’s technical track was exactly what Dignelli thought the judges would present to the riders. “I thought the gymnastic was very much as I expected it,” he explained. “Both of the judges are real horsemen and any horse could have performed that gymnastic. I think what made it difficult is there were a lot of jumping elements and it was hard to do without some mistake. There were over 20 obstacles and I think the cream rose to the top; hopefully we’ll stay there.”
Catherine Tyree of Chicago, IL, and Meg O’Mara of Rumson, NJ, who are tied for second place with a total score of 228.25 after earning scores of 88 on the flat and 93.5 during the gymnastics phase, currently follow Pope. Mattias Tromp of North Salem, NY, is ranked fourth with a 224.75, followed by Michael Hughes in fifth scoring 222.000.
The 2012 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talents Search Finals East will continue Sunday with two more phases of competition. The morning will begin with Phase III: Jumping. Based on their cumulative scores in Phases I, II, and III, the top four competitors will then return for a ride-off. Using a format modeled after the World Championships’ final ride-off; the top-four competitors will ride their own horses, as well as the three other competitor’s horses over a shortened course to determine the champion.
For more information about the 2012 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talents Search Finals East, please visit http://usef.org/_IFrames/breedsdisciplines/discipline/alljumping/sjTalentSearch.aspx.
By Rebecca Walton/Phelps Media Group