Judges Jimmy Torano and Mandy Porter wasted no time posing questions to the 33 riders who tackled the Gymnastics Phase of the Platinum Performance/ USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals West. The course started with a canter rail to a vertical with a landing rail, and the rail fell often. Riders then had to trot into a grid comprising a trot rail to a vertical then 23 feet to an oxer followed by 21 feet to another oxer.
Hannah Von Heidegger (Will Simpson, trainer) found the best answers to questions posed by grand prix veterans Jimmy and Mandy. “Hannah nailed it,” Mandy stated. “She rode with conviction.” Although Hannah had trouble with the counter canter Thursday night in the Flat Phase, her score of 82 in the Gymnastics vaulted her into seventh. Chandler Meadows (Joie Gatlin, trainer) was the only other rider who earned a score in 80s and moved up to fourth.
Olivia Champ (Karen Healey, trainer) put in a solid performance, but she dropped rails in the bounce and her horse bucked and kicked out. Regardless, with a Gymnastics score of 76.5 she holds on to the lead with a score of 204.75, and Sydney Hutchins (Kay Altheuser, trainer) is on her heels with 202.5.
“We wanted to see them do something,” continued Mandy. “We wanted to see riders put their leg on their horse (at the trot grid). The distance to the oxer got long and a lot of riders just sat there.” Jimmy agreed with Mandy’s assessment. “To me it looked like our gymnastics exercises were foreign to most riders. The test of three verticals set with 18' distances created a lot of problems. That exercise lives in my ring.”
The bounce at the far end of the ring created its share of problems, and riders had to negotiate it both ways. “Bounces can be difficult for horses,” Mandy remarked, and the judges did not heavily penalize riders if a rail was not the fault of the rider.
The whole course was testy, and the line along one length of the ring presented the riders with two verticals with planks set at 21' followed by an 80' line to two oxers set at 26'. The judges did not care if riders rode up in five strides between the two combinations or compressed for six, but they wanted to see a definite plan and they wanted it executed well. Most riders opted for the six strides, and of those who chose to ride for five strides, not many did so effectively. “Olivia was particularly good in that line,” Jimmy recalled.
The Show Jumping Phase on Saturday will count for double the score, where the Gymnastics Phase counted 1.5 and the Flat Phase was a multiplier of 1. The top four riders after the Jumping Phase will enter the ride off, where the riders negotiate a shorter course on their own horse and then again on each of the other of the top four horses. USEF Network will broadcast this phase of the competition.
Jumping was fast and furious in the feature class of the day, the $7,500 Allon 1.35M Jumper Classic. With a six-horse jump off, it was a horse race for the top spot. Mark Watring threw the gauntlet down with his own Pinot H, and while Jenni McAllister almost caught him with LEGIS Touch the Sun (LEGISequine.com, owner), a tenth of a second separated the two. Jenni also took third with her new ride, Casseur de Prix (Granville Equine, owner) in only her third class with the experienced bay gelding. “He has done a lot of winning,” explained Jenni, “and we just have to get to know one another. I said ‘Whoa’ coming to the vertical and he about stopped and then I was kicking and saying, ‘Go! Go!’ But we are getting there.”
Mark was thrilled with the win with his 16-year-old veteran. “We about scissored the last jump,” laughed Mark. “I couldn’t believe how close to it I was and we were parallel. I don’t know how he figured out how to jump it.”
In the hunter rings, junior and amateur riders took over from the pros. Jane Fraze (Peter Lombardo, trainer) showed that she picked a winner with Academy Award when they won the first Adult Amateur Hunter classes for riders 51 and Over. In the middle age group, Anne Marie Mueller (Patrick Spanton, trainer) was first and second with Calypso, first with Athabasca, and second with Amuse Me. Jennifer Rawlings (Patrick Spanton, trainer) scored with First and Goal when they won the first two Low Amateur Owner Hunter Classes. Deni Hird (Stephanie Haney, trainer) rode Freedom C (Vicki Dimitri, owner) to first and second in the Junior Hunters.
The actions resumes over the weekend with more jumpers, more hunters, medal classes, the conclusion of the Platinum Performance/ USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals West, and it will all be wrapped up by the $30,000 LA International Grand Prix.