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Talent Search Finals Champion Perspectives with Emma Reichow and Ellie Ferrigno

by Kathleen Landwehr | Sep 17, 2020, 11:30 AM EST

The Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals serve as an excellent stepping stone for junior athletes looking to further their riding careers. The 2019 Finals champions learned much from their experiences and feel they are better prepared to reach their goals. Emma Reichow and Ellie Ferrigno topped the West and East leaderboards, respectively, and shared a look back at the 2019 Finals.

2019 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-West with Emma Reichow

Emma Reichow piloted Campitello 5 to top honors in the 2019 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-West (©McCool)

Reichow’s third appearance was the charm at the 2019 Finals-West. Unlike her two previous appearances, Reichow rode Campitello 5, a Hanoverian gelding owned by Highpoint Farm, LLC, who was a catch ride. The pair got to know each other by competing in a few classes the week before the Finals-West. Leading up to the event, Reichow also practiced at home to prepare herself with the help of her trainers Harley and Olivia Brown.

“I had been riding my [equitation] horse as usual, and my trainers were letting me school other horses to practice if I made it to the final four,” Reichow explained. “We were doing a lot of flat work on my horse and a lot of gymnastic work on the other horses. My trainers would let me get on and jump a course to try to let me get a feel for riding other horses, and they let me show some other horses to kind of prepare them for their riders.”

When the time for the 2019 Finals-West came, Reichow had a solid start in the first two phases to sit in sixth place going into Phase III, the jumping phase. “I knew I had to lay it all out in the final round to make it into the top four,” Reichow said. She did just that to clinch a spot in Phase IV.

“When they announced the final four, I was really excited. I knew I just had to stay calm and stick to my instincts when riding the other horses,” Reichow noted. Her preparation and skills paid off as she claimed top honors.

From her Finals experiences, Reichow learned how “the effectiveness of the flat and gymnastics are important and how your results in the stadium phase are altered by that. If you don’t have a good foundation in the flat or if you don’t have your horse responsive and listening in the gymnastics, you are not going to be as successful in the ring.” She added that having a great partnership starts with a horse with a solid foundation who is listening and supple.

For riders aiming for the Finals this year or in the future, Reichow pointed out that it will be hard work as riders prepare, but the hard work will pay off in the end. “Stay positive and, honestly, just enjoy it,” she said. “The results are going to follow if you have a good mindset and preparation.”

Reichow said that the skills tested in the Finals will help those with aspirations for their equestrian careers. She hopes to represent the U.S. on the world stage at international competitions, such as the Olympic Games, Nations Cups, and FEI World Cup Finals, and feels better prepared having competed in the Finals.

“The Talent Search Finals are an amazing step on the pathway to the top, as it encourages forward and effective riding, and it highlights the basics of preparing the horse to succeed in the ring,” Reichow said. “I think that with everything I have learned in the Finals—the pressure and not letting it affect you too much, having a good basis—that will help me move up in the jumpers and be successful and, hopefully, ride for the U.S.”

In the meantime, Reichow is looking forward to starting college in the fall and riding on the National Collegiate Equestrian Association team at the University of Georgia, where she will test the adaptability of her skills yet again as she rides unfamiliar horses in competition. “I am just excited to try something new with being on a team and experiencing that,” Reichow said.

2019 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East with Ellie Ferrigno

Ellie Ferrigno guided Discovery-O to the champion title in the 2019 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East (Andrea Evans/US Equestrian)

After having made one previous Finals appearance at the age of 12, Ferrigno was able to shine at the 2019 Finals-East and take home the win. Leading up to the 2019 Finals, Ferrigno and her trainers, Val Renihan and her mother Abby Ferrigno, decided she would ride Discovery-O, a Dutch Warmblood gelding she leased from Derbydown as her junior jumper. Discovery-O’s polite nature and talent allowed him to fill in as an equitation mount for the Finals.

For her preparations, Ferrigno explained that “we did a lot—a lot—of flatwork, because one of the most important things there is the flat phase. And also jumping lines and changing numbers, just a lot of stuff you see in the first two phases to get [Discovery-O] more accustomed to the equitation style.”

The 2019 Finals-East began with Phase I’s flat work without stirrups, which was no problem for Ferrigno, who has gone through several growth spurts over the years and has regularly ridden without stirrups to help reestablish her balance and strength. Phase II was slightly concerning for Ferrigno, as her junior jumper would have to hold the counter canter twice during the gymnastics course, a skill he was capable of but not accustomed to doing in the show ring.

“I jumped the beginning of the course and when I got around the first turn with the counter canter and I had held it, I was like, ‘Okay, I am locked in now. I am good. I know I will be able to hold the second one.’ It was the moment that I felt like I really could win, once I got past that first counter canter,” she said with a laugh.

Ferrigno had an excellent round in Phase III to put her into Phase IV. “I wasn’t nervous to ride everyone else’s horses, but I was nervous about the process,” she explained. “I kind of went in there and was like, ‘I just have to do what I do.’ I do a lot of catch-riding, so once I jumped the first round on Discovery and I started to get on the other horses, I realized that I was very comfortable in that position, just getting on other horses.”

Ferrigno excelled in the final phase to be crowned champion, but the atmosphere of the four different barns during the Finals’ climax was almost as rewarding. “It was so nice, and we were all helping each other. I was wearing a pair of spurs and I would give it to the next person who got on my horse, and we all would give each other tips,” she shared. “We were all just having fun standing together, and it was a really nice atmosphere that we had going during the final four. I feel like it was that good atmosphere that helped me come out on top.”

The Finals have a long history of highlighting up-and-coming talent, and Ferrigno agreed that it is a sight to see. “I think the Talent Search Finals is an excellent final to showcase real, true riding and true talent, because to get to the final four is so difficult in itself, then once you are there, you get to really see who has the natural feel once they get on each horse and really do a great job,” she said.

For young athletes hoping to compete in the Finals, Ferrigno suggested, “Take it one phase at a time. Start with the flat phase; make sure you have practiced and feel ready for that. As you go through each phase, take it as a learning experience. You are definitely going to learn something just from doing all of the phases there.”

Ferrigno has big goals for her future, including riding at international finals, such as the Olympic Games, and becoming a trainer. For this year, she is eyeing top results in the other equitation finals. “My ultimate goal for junior career when I was 12, I said I wanted to win the four big equitation finals,” Ferrigno said. “It seems like a big thing, and I would be happy just with good ribbons at all the finals this year, but if I am really saying what I really hope for, I really hope I could win the Maclay Final, the Medal Final, and the Washington Final.”

Ferrigno thinks her experience at the 2019 Finals-East put her one step closer to her short-term goals. “I just felt like the atmosphere was really nice [at the 2019 Finals-East], and hopefully at some of the other finals I can match that feeling this year,” Ferrigno said.