Mill Spring, N.C. – Elli Yeager (18) and Copperfield 39 topped the leaderboard following four phases and three days of competition at the 2020 Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search – East hosted at Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC).
Ava Stearns (19) of Chilmark, Mass. and Acer K, a nine-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by North Run, secured reserve champion honors for the second year in a row, while Zayna Rizvi (15) of Wellington, Fla. and Finnick, a 14-year-old Westphalian gelding owned by Jordyn Rose Freedman, placed third. Taylor Griffiths-Madden (18) of Wellington, Fla. and her own Mac One III, an 11-year-old Anglo European Warmblood, rounded out the top four placings.
The competition was judged by Lauren Hough (Wellington, Fla.) and Archie Cox (West Hollywood, Calif.), who also served as the course designers, with assistance from Technical Delegate Anthony D’Ambrosio.
The Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search is an essential competition for the U.S. Jumping program, emphasizing the continued development of the disciplines’ well established pathway for youth riders. The competition is comprised of four phases. Phase I demonstrates each rider’s abilities and skill with judged flatwork exercises. Phase II provides an opportunity for combinations to test a technical gymnastics course designed by the judges. Phase III and Phase IV take place on the final day of competition, with Phase III requiring the riders to complete a 1.15m jumper course with an open water element, followed by Phase IV, the work-off, where the top four riders must complete a jump-off style course aboard their horse and each of their competitors’ horses to ultimately determine the final results of the class.
Finishing on a final score of 363.0 at the conclusion of Phase IV, Yeager (West Lake Village, Calif.) narrowly edged Stearns, who finished with a score of 360.5. Rizvi finished on a 354.0, while Griffiths-Madden received an overall Phase IV score of 329.0.
“My goal this week was to come out on top, but really, I came in just wanting to have nice consistent rounds and have some fun. It’s my last year [in these finals] and it’s with my best friend, so I really just wanted us to have fun,” said Yeager. “He and I have known each other for so many years, so it just clicks when we get on and go in the ring.”
Yeager and Copperfield 39, her 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding, have worked diligently on their flatwork with trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan of North Run. In what is typically their most challenging phase, the duo finished in tenth on Friday, setting them up nicely to continue their move up the leaderboard through the remaining three phases of competition.
“The flat is definitely the hardest for us. Missy, John, and I have worked a lot on that. We changed the bit and we haven’t had a jumping lesson,” Yeager explained, “We’ve really just had flat lessons because that was our biggest concern coming into this weekend.”
When asked about the advice her trainer Missy Clark gave to her before the work-off, Yeager explained that Clark, who won this year’s Leading Trainer Award, alongside her husband, John Brennan, ultimately told her to just ride and trust in her own abilities and judgement.
“We all know how to ride and her advice was just go out there and be calm. We know how to jump the horses and all of them were amazing,” added Yeager. “This was always the hardest class for Copper and I. We would always win the Medal or the Maclay classes and then would be fifth in the Talent Search, so this one will definitely stick with me forever and is really, really special.”
Both judges commented on their key focuses of the week and explained what they wanted to see riders demonstrate throughout the four phases. “We were looking for strong, confident, forward-thinking riders that could think for themselves and we asked different questions of a forward ride, a conservative ride. The top four riders did it beautifully,” explained Cox.
Hough wanted to see precise execution and decision-making best suiting the needs of each riders’ horse. “I spent a lot of time on the gymnastics course. I sent Archie a lot of pictures and I really wanted to ask questions. I didn’t really care if they did four or five, but if you didn’t do the four well or didn’t do the five well, you were penalized,” commented Hough when discussing the judging process. “This has always been my favorite final. You get the elite of the elite, and the young kids who compete in this class will all leave as better riders.”
The French Leave Memorial Perpetual Trophy, donated by the Gerald A. Nielsen family, was awarded to Yeager as the champion, while the Leading Trainer Award, donated by the late Mr. Hugh J.B. Cassidy, III, was presented to Yeager’s trainers, Missy Clark and John Brennan. The Grappa Trophy, donated by Sarah Willeman, is given to the best horse, which went to Copperfield 39.
The 2020 Show Jumping Talent Search medalists include:
The USEF 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.
For photo galleries, leading ride videos, and more from the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East, visit USA Jumping on Facebook, US Equestrian on Twitter and Instagram, and USEF Network on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOPC, and USEF sponsors and members.