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CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN PLATINUM PERFORMANCE & THE USEF TALENT SEARCH

Meet the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search. The Talent Search Program tests the abilities of an individual as a show jumping rider and is designed to lay the groundwork for skills needed by young jumper riders for international success as part of the United States Equestrian Show Jumping Team or as individual ambassadors. Form follows function in the preparedness for show jumping, and this prestigious and grueling equitation Final focuses specifically on nurturing the future of American show jumpers.

PHOTO BY KATIE BROWNE
“For me, being more of a jumper rider, I was able to really understand the ‘why’ of the things we were doing in the different phases of the Talent Search. Why we are doing the difficult flatwork, why we are doing the crazy gymnastics stuff. It’s functional; it prepares horses and riders to answer questions on course.”
Peyton Warren, 2016 TS West Champion

1950s

The Show Jumping Talent Search Program dates back to the 1950s, where it was held annually at the National Horse Show in New York City until 1963.

2007

Platinum Performance® became the title sponsor when the Program became what it is called today: the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search

Earning A Spot

All Talent Search classes consist of both a jumping phase followed by a flat phase.

The jumping phase is judged on style, function and execution throughout the course.

The flat phase is judged on the rider’s position, seat and the correctness and effectiveness of the aids.

The cumulative scores from both phases will result in the overall placing of the rider. A graduated point scale based on difficulty and class specifications will determine how many points a rider has earned to go toward a coveted spot at the yearend Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals.

Medals

Riders are awarded USEF Talent Search medals as recognition for wins in Talent Search classes at horse shows, which are cumulative throughout their Junior or Young Rider years.

•  5 Wins - Bronze
•  10 Wins - Silver
•  20 Wins - Gold

Since the beginning of the program, only 97 Gold Medals have been awarded. (943 Bronze, 360 Silver)

Rich in History

The Show Jumping Talent Search Program dates back to the 1950s, where it was held annually at the National Horse Show in New York City until 1963. At the time, the champion rider won the Harry T. Peters Trophy. The predecessor to the current Talent Search Program, this class was a combined test format that included a dressage test and a jumping test.

The class was renamed the USET Equitation Class in 1965 when the United States Equestrian Team re-designed it to fill in a much-needed gap for junior equitation riders who had already qualified for the “Medal” — now the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final — and the “Maclay” — now the ASPCA Maclay Final — early in the show calendar year and did not have incentive to continue showing in Equitation classes or at that time known simply as “horsemanship.”

Young Rider development has always been a priority for the US Equestrian Team, so the USET Medal Classes were started to encourage junior riders by awarding gold, silver and bronze medals for wins earned in Medal Classes at horse shows throughout the United States. The year-end Finals were incorporated in 1982 as a further goal for rising equitation stars, and, in 1994, the name was changed once more to the USET Show Jumping Talent Search Program. Changing the name from a medal program to a talent search program better reflected the actual focus of the entire platform. Developing riders must meet a more difficult set of standards than what is required in other equitation classes. The uniqueness and difficulty of the Talent Search class is a more realistic preparation for quick and effective decision-making necessary on course in an international show jumping team setting.

In 2003, when the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) became the National Governing Body for equestrian sports, the Show Jumping Talent Search Program was included as part of USEF’s Show Jumping High Performance Department. Platinum Performance® became the title sponsor in 2007 when the Program became what it is called today: the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search.

More than any other equitation class, the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search serves as a pathway for successful athletes to represent the United States in Show Jumping competition. Lizzy Chesson, the US Equestrian Managing Director of Jumping, says, “The Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Program plays an important role in the athlete pathway, as it addresses the principal that form follows function, and that it is important for an athlete to have equitation basics and a solid jumper seat position in order to become an effective jumping athlete. The Talent Search Program fosters this tradition in US Show Jumping and builds on preparing our up-and-coming athletes, with the goal of representing the United States at the top level of the sport. This wonderful program is both educational and competitive and focused on developing our next generation of international show jumping athletes.”

#JoinTheJoy | USEquestrian.orgPlatinum Performance® is the Official Sport Nutrition Supplement of the USEF!

“More than any other equitation final, the talent search prepares riders for the challenges of international competition.”

McLain Ward3-Time Olympic Medalist in Show Jumping, Won the USEF East Coast Talent Search Finals in 1990 & Platinum Performance® Client since 2003

A Cut Above

There are upward of 700 horse shows throughout the country that are licensed to host the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Class qualifier. Depending on the horse show, Talent Search qualifying classes are designated as 1*, 2* or 3* based on the difficulty and class specifications with a 3* being the most difficult.

All Talent Search classes consist of both a jumping phase followed by a flat phase. The jumping phase is judged on style, function and execution throughout the course. The flat phase is judged on the rider’s position, seat and the correctness and effectiveness of the aids. The cumulative scores from both phases will result in the overall placing of the rider. A graduated point scale based on difficulty and class specifications will determine how many points a rider has earned to go toward a coveted spot at the year-end Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals. Riders must earn a set number of points and a ribbon placing in a 2* or 3* qualifying class to earn a spot at the finals, and a 3* win automatically qualifies a rider for a trip to the finals.

The Finals

The Talent Search Finals are uniquely hosted in two locations: the Finals East is held at the USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey, and the Finals West is held at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano, California. Qualifying riders have the option to compete at either location, regardless of home residence or where the qualifying classes were held. However, each rider is only allowed to compete in one of the finals.

The finals consists of four phases. Phase I is the flat phase with the purpose of preparing a horse for jumping. Riders can be asked to either ride as a group or individually and are literally put through their paces. Judges ask riders to demonstrate working on the rail, showing in both directions at a working walk, working trot rising and sitting and a working canter. They are expected to hold the counter canter for an entire revolution of the arena, show extension and collection at any of the gaits and demonstrate advanced flat movements, such as shoulder-in, shoulder-out, haunches-in and haunches-out.

Phase II is the gymnastics phase and is judged on effectiveness of execution over several series of gymnastic lines that may include combinations, bending lines and a pinwheel that is a series of jumps set in a circle with a designated number of strides in between fences. Riders may have to ride a set line in a specified amount of strides between fences, then have to ride back through the same line leaving a stride out or adding a stride in to demonstrate control and efficiency at collecting and lengthening the horse’s stride.

Phase III is the jumping phase using grand prix style fences set with 10 or more obstacles set at 1.15 to 1.20 m (3'9" to 3'11") with spreads of 1.50 m (4'1"). The course will include double combinations, a triple combination and an open water jump. Grobs, banks, ditches and other natural obstacles are also allowed. There is a set time to complete the course, and time faults or penalties will accumulate if a rider goes over the time allowed. Jumping faults will occur with fence rails down or refusals. This phase is also judged on the rider’s effectiveness of execution.

The culmination of the finals is Phase IV: the Ride-Off. Modeled after the Show Jumping World Championship, the top four competitors, based on the cumulative scores from the previous three phases, return for a rideoff. Scores do not carry over, so all four finalists start again as equals. In the Ride-Off, all four finalists will first ride their own horses over a pre-determined course of fences, then will switch horses and ride each of the three other finalists' horses over the same course. The course will consist of approximately 8 fences set at 1.15 to 1.20 m (3'9" to 3'11") in height with spreads to 1.50 m (4'11"). There is a set time, and faults are accumulated for going over the time allowed, having a rail down or refusing a fence. Finalists are given a two-minute warm-up period on each horse and are allowed to jump two warm-up fences during that time in a designated warm-up area. The winner is the rider that has the overall skill set to be the most proficient, not only on his or her own mount but to demonstrate the same consistent and solid equitation on unfamiliar horses.

What the Talent Search Program hones in on is not necessarily pretty riding but effective riding. The 2016 winner of the Talent Search Finals West, Peyton Warren, notes, “The Talent Search class is more like a jumper medal and is more preparing for realistic circumstances compared to the other Medal Finals. Compared to just staying slow, lofty and pretty on an equitation course, which is important but there isn’t going to be an equitation Olympics. For me, being more of a jumper rider, I was able to really understand the 'why' of the things we were doing in the different phases of the Talent Search. Why we are doing the difficult flatwork, why we are doing the crazy gymnastics stuff. It’s functional; it prepares horses and riders to answer questions on course. I’m going to admit, I probably really don’t have the best equitation out there, but I knew that if I rode well and that my horse was prepared, we could be successful because I knew we could answer the questions on course and be effective.”

“Since the beginning of my equitation career I had aspirations of winning the USEF Talent Search Finals, specifically due to the list of accomplished equestrians that won in the past and the strong correlation this class has to the jumper ring.”
TJ O'Mara, 2016 Talent Search East Champion

The Pathway

The Talent Search Finals are grueling but so is representing your home country in international show jumping competition and that is exactly the objective of the program — to prepare young riders. The mission of the Talent Search Program is to equip riders with unshakeable equitation basics and a solid jumper seat position to produce an effective jumper rider. It is a simple equation. However, getting to that stage in a show jumper’s career takes years in the saddle, countless training hours, show after show after show (in the heat, in the cold, in the rain), determination and sacrifice.

Past winners of the Talent Search Finals include an impressive list of “who's who” in American show jumping. Wilson Dennehy, Patti Heuckeroth and Carol Hofmann Thompson were early winners of the Harry T. Peters Trophy, the predecessor the Talent Search Program. More recent Talent Search champion notables include Greg Best, Chris Kappler, Peter Leone, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Beezie Madden, Katie Monohan Prudent, Richard Spooner, McLain Ward, Andre Dignelli, Joie Gatlin, Lauren Hough, Brianne Goutal and Charlie Jayne. And there are many more rising stars from the past several years on the brink of making their mark on American show jumping history.

One of these current rising stars is Jacob Pope, the 2012 Talent Search Finals East champion, who says, “I would recommend any young rider to train and be inspired to compete at the highest levels through the Talent Search Program. The Talent Search encourages riders to use top horsemanship skills in order to master all phases of the event. It’s so unique and challenging throughout the detailed aspects of the four-phase format. Being able to win such a prestigious final gave me the confidence and recognition to be able to compete at a higher level and eventually turn professional.”

Competitors from the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Program are more than likely whom you are going to see on TV, live stream on the computer and share headlines and clips about on Facebook, representing the United States in the Olympics, Pan American Games, World Equestrian Games, Nation’s Cup and Champion Leagues. The program filters out the best of the best and chooses those few to go on to be ambassadors of the sport. American show jumping will continue to be successful because programs like The Talent Search produce riders with fine-tuned skills, grit, ambition and mental stamina that do not comprehend 'quit.' They will become the legends, and the equestrian youth that are just phasing out of the pony divisions will look up to this year’s winners for riding goals and inspiration. Because at the end of the day when the braids are undone, the tack is wiped down and the horses are loaded back on the trailer, America’s got talent.

Congrats to the 2017 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search winners: West Champion Halie Robinson and Caracas 89 and East Champion McKayla Langmeier and Skyfall!

Emily Smith
  • by Emily Smith, MS, Platinum Performance®