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A Talent Search Tale

An Important Step in the Show Jumping Athlete Pathway

by Alyssa Bansbach & Caitlin Azevedo | Sep 17, 2019, 3:00 PM EST

Since the Show Jumping Talent Search Program began in the 1950s, it has played a key role in the pathway for promising riders to represent the United States in show jumping competition. Familiar names like Beezie Madden, Richard Spooner, Lauren Hough, McLain Ward, and Meredith Michaels (Beerbaum) are just a handful of the previous Talent Search Champions to go on to international show jumping fame. In the case of Lauren Hough, her Talent Search Final win preceded her Olympic debut by only six years. Many credit the Talent Search Finals for helping prepare them for the challenges of international competition. To predict which riders are on the path to joining the next generation of show jumping stars, one might look at the list of top placing riders over the last decade. Sophie Simpson would be on that list of “Ones to Watch.”

Sophie Simpson and Henri HX
(Captured Moment Photography)

Last year, Simpson clinched victory in the prestigious Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals—West. Her riding prowess was apparent during each phase of the competition. Simpson masterfully piloted her young, six-year-old mount, Henri HX, through the tests of the flat phase, challenges of the gymnastics phase (including the now infamous S-line), and technical jumping phase to earn a spot in the final four. Demonstrating exceptional catch-riding skills, and the ability to adjust to each type of horse, she produced smooth rounds on each of the final four mounts. This consistency put her ahead of the other three talented riders: Austin Krawitt (second), Kaitlyn Lovingfoss (third), and Jake Wasson (fourth). Simpson’s win cements her spot among an elite crowd of previous winners, many of whom went on to major international success in show jumping.

As a young professional, the Talent Search Finals were the only equitation class Simpson was eligible to compete in. So, when she was given the opportunity to bring Henri HX along in the spring of 2018, competing in the Talent Search Finals became their goal. Winning this title was a dream of Simpson’s junior career, which she didn’t quite achieve. She had only competed in Talent Search Finals once as a junior, placing second at the Finals—East in 2016.

“It was my last junior year, and I was close but it wasn’t my time to win it. At the time, I thought my dream of winning the Talent Search was over until I got the privilege to ride Henri HX.”

Henri HX, owned by Sloan Lindemann-Barnett, peaked at the Finals after strategic planning and preparation during the show season leading up to the September event. In fact, the process of preparing a young horse for this challenging class is what Simpson remembers most fondly. A sentiment that reflects true horsemanship.

Sophie Simpson and Henri HX
(Captured Moment Photography)

Looking forward, Simpson hopes to join many fellow Talent Search Finals champions on the international stage. To represent the U.S. at the highest level of the sport, including Nations Cup teams, the FEI World Equestrian Games™, FEI World Cup™ Finals, and the Olympics, is Simpson’s future goal. The Talent Search Finals were part of the journey towards her ultimate dream.

She believes, “The Talent Search Finals are a good steppingstone for future goals because every part of the final teaches you discipline, from the flatwork to the last day of jumping the water. All these parts translate to the grand prix ring and the international stage of our sport.”

For young riders chasing the dream of competing in Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals this year, Simpson offers this advice: “It’s not a posing contest; it is a final that you have to ride and show your talent as a rider, not just a poser. Also, don’t give up if one of your scores isn’t as high as you would like; it’s not over until it’s over and a lot can happen over the three rounds. So stay strong and keep fighting for those good rounds!”

While her junior and equitation years are behind her, Simpson carries the knowledge and experience she gained to her career. She and her partner (and future husband!) Sean Leckie started their own business, Blue Ridge Farms, in California. With their collective strengths and experience, they make a great team. On the path to the international show jumping stage, we look forward to seeing Simpson’s name in lights on leaderboards as she travels to the top.

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