November 6, 2016--Saturday night at the CP National Horse Show was about the professional show jumpers, a who's who of Olympic medalists, Nations' Cup veterans, World Cup winners and grand prix victors, competing for $250,000 and a ticket to the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals in Omaha.
Today the show was about the future superstars, the up-and-coming riders--most still in their teens--who aspire to all of the above.
Since I was a kid, I've seen a lot of ASPCA Maclay finals, more than 45 (I've lost count), at National Horse Show venues from Madison Square Garden to the Washington International (one year), Syracuse and a pier in New York City.
Now it's the Alltech Arena that hosts the most prestigious U.S. equitation finals, and things certainly are changed since the old days. The simple courses of yore have become tests that in their complexity are the equivalent of scaled-down grand prix courses. And they have to be ridden in style, which makes them more difficult in a way.
If you don't know the importance of the Maclay, take a look at this explanation, beautifully written by National announcer Kenn Marash, and used with his permission.
The CP National Horse Show is proud to include in its storybook history the ASPCA Horsemanship Trophy, the Maclay.
The name says it best: horsemanship. Not just riding, beyond form and beautiful style. Horsemanship is unity with a horse, truly understanding the animal, its needs and abilities, touching heart to heart, building trust—two beings performing as one. The unique format of the Maclay championship tests riders not only over fences but also in the critical, fundamental skills gained through flat work. This event is more than a test of horsemanship. It tests the person, their composure, determination and focus. In some ways, the riding is the easy part. This pressure cooker has created legends in equestrian sports. Olympians, iconic teachers, eventing superstars, brilliant course designers. Bill Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, George Morris, Wilson Dennehy, Michael Plumb, Mary Mairs Chapot, Bernie Traurig, Conrad Homfeld, Katie Prudent, Leslie Howard, Peter Wylde, Linda Langmeier, Stacia Madden, Nicole Shahinian Simpson, Kelley Farmer, Erin Stewart, Megan Young. The outgoing president of the USEF, Chrystine Tauber, is a Maclay champion. A new generation was highlighted in an Animal Planet hit TV series that featured Brianne Goutal who won in 2005. International jumping star Jessica Springsteen was Maclay champion in 2008. Hayley Barnhill, Lillie Keenan and Victoria Colvin added their names to the historic roster. And last year’s champion, Mckayla Langmeier, followed her mother’s footsteps to become the first-ever mother/daughter Maclay champions.
The harsh reality is that not everyone will achieve their goal of a flawless ride. Errors, miscalculations and nerves will dash some dreams. But, soothe disappointment with the prize of simply being here on this stage. In itself, that is an accomplishment few achieve. Do not let your mistakes define you; use them to fuel your growth.
I felt the group we watched today lived up to that advice. T.J. O'Mara of Rumson, N.J, who finished third, won the Dennehy trophy as the rider with the highest number of points in the equitation finals this fall. He took the titles in both the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search East and the Pessoa/USEF Medal under the guidance of Max Amaya and Stacia Madden.
I heard that T.J. first rode in the Maclay in 2011, and fell off at the second fence. The fact that today he was covered in glory shows (and I hate to use this cliche, but it seems so appropriate) that what counts isn't where you start, it's where you finish.
Click on the right-pointing arrow to watch this video and hear his thoughts about the end of his junior career.
The Maclay went to Hunter Holloway, who took the equitation championship at the Washington International Horse Show last weekend. Hunter, of Topeka, Kans., is coached by Don and her mother, jumper rider Brandie Holloway, who sadly couldn't be here because she was under the weather. But she got to watch anyway through the beauty of live stream.
The horse Hunter rode at Washington had been running a temp, so she picked up the ride on C'est La Vie.
The starting field of 175, culled from regional competitions around the country, yesterday rode a very difficult route designed by judges Diane Carney and Rachel Kennedy, both of whom were officiating at the class for the first time.
I thought it was the most difficult Maclay course I had seen, aside from the time George Morris used a lot of liverpools at the Garden one year. The most interesting test on the route was going from fence 2, a log, to the 3AB combination of birch rails (A) and a skinny wall (B). Diane said the optimum was seven strides from 2 to 3A, but it could be done in eight. However, the one-stride distance was long and she thought the seven was the better choice. There were many problems at that junction; T.J. had a rail there, but that was the least of it. I saw people putting in two mini-strides and some who didn't get through.
Ransome Rombauer, for instance, who won the Talent Search West last year, missed at 3B.
Thirty were chosen to ride on the flat. Brian Moggre was at the top of the callback list after the first round, with Lucy Deslauriers second, Hunter third, Taylor St. Jacques fourth, Cooper Dean fifth, Eve Jobs sixth and T.J. ninth at that point. After the flat, all 30 were asked to jump another tough course that involved two counter-canter tests a trot jump and a series of other problems. Coming back in reverse order of preference, T.J. was sixth, Annabel Revers fifth, Taylor St. Jacques fourth, Hunter third, Brian second and Lucy first.
Sadly, Lucy's horse decided to manure before the first element of the triple combination and he frog-hopped over it, dropping her to 10th. Hunter was stellar, ditto Taylor, of Glen Allen, Va.,who wound up as reserve under the coaching of Andre Dignelli and company aboard Charisma, a horse that competed in the Second-Year Green Hunters here. And you already know where T.J. finished.
Hunter, who rode in the grand prix last night, ending up 37th (but hey, give her credit for getting around!) is going to be a professional, no surprise there.
“It’s such an honor to win such a prestigious class and I couldn’t be happier with how the day went and how my horse performed,” Hunter said.
I talked with judges Diane and Rachel about their experience and what they thought of the talent they saw. Click on the right-hand arrow to see their video.
The morning was devoted to the U.S. Equestrian Federation Under 25 National Championship, a jumper competition that is a place for young riders who are ready to move on from junior jumpers and the amateur classes, but not ready to ride against the likes of Kent Farrington, Saturday night's winner.
Hillary McNerney, who was leading throughout the U25 classes here, had two rails at the end, elevating Brett Burlington on Bluf to the championship. Lucy finished second with her reliable Hester, while Abigail McArdle came in third on Adamo, owned by Plain Bay Sales. That's the outfit of Adam Prudent, son of Katie and Henri.
Abbie, who’s 22, praised the U25 division, which is a relatively recent innovation.
“It’s nice now that I’m a professional, there’s a division I can show in that’s not so competitive as me walking into a World Cup class, but still a lot of very good riders and very competitive,” she said.
DiAnn Langer, the U.S. Young Rider Show Jumping chef d’equipe, noted, “The U25 has stepped the whole group up and become the bridge it was meant to be. They’re a step away from, what do you think, making Kent sweat a little bit? This is an amazing development since I’ve come on board. This is the biggest carrot, right here. It’s just amazing what these riders do and how they gear up to come here.”
Brett, a poised 17-year-old from Coral Gables, Fla., talked with me about her experience here. Click on the right-pointing arrow to see her video.
That’s it for me in Kentucky, but now I’m heading to Canada for the Royal Winter Fair. Check back on Thursday for my story about the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Toronto.