San Juan Capistrano, Calif. – The 2023 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – West concluded on Sunday at the Blenheim International Jumping Festival with Phases III and IV. The youth athletes rode a jumper-style course in front of judges Linda Hough and Lauren Hough for Phase III, the jumping phase, which had a multiplier of two for the overall weighted scores of the competition. After the scores were calculated, Camilla Jerng, Paige Walkenbach, Zadie Stack, and Sabine Close returned for Phase IV, the ride-off.
In Phase IV, the top four athletes started on a clean slate for their scores. They rode a shortened course on their own horse before swapping horses, having a brief warm-up period, and riding the same course on each of the other top four horses to determine the final placings. The phase served as an additional test for the top four athletes, allowing them to show the adaptability of their riding skills on unfamiliar horses. The tight time allowed for the shortened course required athletes to be mindful of their track around the course despite the added task of riding unfamiliar horses. At the conclusion of Phase IV, Jerng was declared the winner.
“It was really unexpected to be honest, especially starting in eighth for the third phase but we just kind of worked our way up and tried to keep it going from there,” said Jerng.
Jerng (Woodside, Calif.) had strong results throughout the competition with Nopik van de Munte, her own 2013 Belgian Warmblood gelding.
“The first phase I thought we did pretty well. We got a nice flat score to be put in fifth,” said Jerng. “The second phase was not the round we were hoping for, but we were expecting it especially because we weren’t planning on using him for the class. He was a little inexperienced at the gymnastics, but I thought he was really good about adapting to everything. He got quieter throughout the weekend, so the third phase was nice. It was a little bit more relaxed, and there wasn’t a lot of pressure. I really liked our jumping round.”
Jerng was fourth in the standings after Phase III, but smooth rounds on Nopik van de Munte and the other top four horses helped her clinch the champion title.
“I thought the ride-off was really fun, especially getting to ride horses that I have watched go around so many times [at shows],” said Jerng. “It was all very fast, but I thought it was really fun.”
As the champion, Jerng received the Denali Perpetual Trophy with a Phase IV score of 304.0. Jerng’s trainer, Susie Schroer, received the Leading Trainer Award. In terms of words of wisdom for other competitors who are aiming to compete in the Finals, Jerng explained that athletes should persevere through the end of the competition.
“You shouldn’t dwell on your scores from each phase,” said Jerng. “You can’t give up until the entire thing is over, especially with the third phase, which is the most important one. A lot of changes can happen throughout the three days, so you should stay positive and keep on trying to improve throughout the Finals.”
Close (San Carlos, Calif.) showcased her solid riding skills with Off to Neverland, her own 2015 Swedish Warmblood gelding, to set herself up well for Phase IV. Close earned the reserve champion title with a score of 301.0.
Walkenbach (Paradise Valley, Ariz.) finished third in the Finals with a score of 300.0. She performed well in the first three phases with Cavaljo, Spyglass Hill’s 2007 Warmblood gelding, before having respectable rounds in Phase IV to close out the competition.
Stack (Santa Cruz, Calif.) was fourth in the Finals with a score of 287.5. In addition to finishing in the top four, Stack and her mount Cetello earned additional honors. Stack took home the Hollow Brook Wealth Management Sportsmanship Award for her positive attitude and support of her fellow competitors. Cetello, Ella Dyson’s 2007 Holsteiner gelding, received the Gulliver Trophy as the best horse selected by the judges following Phase IV—his second consecutive year winning the award.
Additional prizes from LeMieux and YETI® were awarded to each of the top finishers.
US Equestrian subscribers and members can watch the on-demand replay of the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – West on USEF Network powered by ClipMyHorse.TV. Not a member? Join now.
The USEF International High Performance Programs and the USEF High Performance Pathway Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, the philanthropic partner to USEF. High Performance Program support is also provided by the USOPC and USEF sponsors and members.