Natalie Jayne and Charisma Rise to Top of Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final
Natalie Jayne & Charisma in their presentation ceremony. ©Kind Media
Gladstone, New Jersey – Natalie Jayne (Elgin, Ill.) and Charisma secured a win in the prestigious Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East after three days of intense competition at the historic United States Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey. Jayne rode to a final phase four score of 365 to earn the victory ahead of Dominic Gibbs (Colorado Springs, Colo.), who finished in second place with a final score of 359. Audrey Schulze (Saddle River, N.J.) took third with a phase four score of 336, while Luke Jensen (Denton, Texas) rounded out the top four finishers on a 335. Jayne and Charisma, a 14-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by Heritage Farm, Inc., started their week with an impressive and correct flat phase, earning a 90 from the judging panel of Chris Kappler and Michael Tokurak to hold fifth place overall after the first day. Jayne and Charisma received an 82.5 in the gymnastics phase, keeping them inside of the top six combinations leading into the final day. Producing a nearly mistake-free trip in the jumping phase and earning an 89, the pair were called back for the final work off phase to determine the ultimate winner after finishing on a three-phase score of 391.8. Trained by Andre Dignelli and Heritage Farm, Jayne has competed in Talent Search Finals – East before and wanted to make the most of their time in Gladstone.
“I really like the format over three days. I think it’s nice to have the flat and know how you did and go from there. Also, the three different formats with the flat, gymnastics, and jumping really set this championship apart from the other equitation finals,” said Jayne. “My horse Charisma was awesome in the ride-off. I wanted to have a really nice solid round and I know him obviously way more than I know the other horses, so I really just wanted a nice smooth round and go from there with the other rides,” said Jayne, as she discussed her ride-off strategy. “I loved all of the other horses, but Mac One III was probably my favorite. He’s just so soft and his jump is amazing, and I loved him, but they were all awesome to ride.” Jayne will now look ahead to the other championship classes over the next few weeks and look to remain consistent in her run through the fall equitation finals. A senior in high school, Jayne has another year left of junior eligibility and will plan to ride at the NCEA level in college next year with plans for continuing her riding career at the international level but discussed the learnings competitors can take away from riding in a championship like Talent Search Finals. “I think really consistency, especially on my own horse day to day. I know how to ride him very well at this point since I’ve had him for a while, but it’s that consistency and also getting on all of the other horses and being able to get a feel for them quickly and doing the best you can getting to know them the best you can with the time you have,” added Jayne.
Gibbs and Cent 15, a 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Mountain King Ranch LLC, are becoming one of the most competitive combinations on the equitation circuit in Gibbs’ final junior year, having placed in the top five of nearly every major championship in 2020, and so far in 2021. The pair earned a class-topping total score of 400 after three phases, and ultimately finished just behind Jayne following the ride-off in phase four. “My horse Cent and I have been partnered with for about three years now, so I know him like the back of my hand and in round three, like Natalie said, I also just wanted to have a nice solid round and a “lock-it-in” type of ride,” said Gibbs. “My favorite horse in the ride-off was also Mac because he gave a beautiful feeling in the air and throughout the round and you couldn’t ask any more from a horse to swap onto in this competition.” Gibbs competed in the Talent Search Finals – East last year and noted that the format allows him to set goals before each phase to really focus on trying to accomplish a strong overall performance, which makes the competition unique. “This final is different because it is over the three days, and I like having the different phases and different goals for each phase. You get to see the standings as you go and I think that this class is different and sets itself a part because it prepares riders for future U.S. Team events and showcases the riders that are able to do that,” he added. Schulze has been leasing Mac One III for the past year and the experience of the 12-year-old Anglo European Warmblood owned by Taylor Madden has given her confidence in the bigger equitation classes. Schulze commented, “My round with Mac was great. I’ve been leasing him all year from Taylor [Madden] and I know he was experienced with this since he was in the top four last year, so I really wanted a nice round to get a feel for the course on the horse that I knew best before I swapped.” Discussing the gymnastics phase, Schulze noted that many of the questions presented in phase two are exercises that you would use at home to prepare and train, so their inclusion in a competition setting allowed you to apply what you practice at home to see how effective you are as a rider. “A lot of the exercises included in the gymnastics phase are exercises that you would do at home to set up your jumper for a bigger class and it reminded me of that, like the gymnastics set at the end of the course with the forward two, to the very steady four, to the one would help set your horse up for something bigger.” One of the newer combinations to the competition, Jensen and Conthacco, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Wolfstone Stables & Sales Inc., made their mark, earning a 92 in the flat phase to top the leaderboard following the conclusion of the first phase of competition. The pair continued to excel and returned for their first appearance in the final phase of the championship. “The strategy was really trusting the team. Taco [Conthacco] comes from Schuyler Riley and he was just amazing. It was about trusting the preparation that everyone does to help us get ready and do well. Besides Taco, I had a lot of fun on Cent. I think the jump feels so amazing and the stride is so big and he’s so fun to ride,” explained Jensen. “It’s a great test of consistency having to compete over three days and then shows versatility when you have to swapping onto four different horses in the final phase is sometimes hard to do, so you have to be very versatile and that was fun.” Judges Kappler and Tokurak discussed the weekend from their perspective and why they incorporated the challenges and questions they did to see how the riders would respond and adapt. “I thought this was a very strong group with a lot of top riders and with the format, we had a lot of opportunities to see what they could do with the different questions we asked in the flat, in the gymnastics, and in the jumping phase,” said Tokurak. “The cream rose to the top in the final phase, and it was very close. For us, it came down to the final round and Natalie had the best round when she needed it in the moment.” Having represented numerous international teams for the U.S. Jumping program, Kappler elaborated on the talent and character it takes to compete at the highest levels of the sport and what the judges saw over the weekend is the right foundation for success at the next level. “It was really exciting to see because their demonstration in the final four. They all rode those rounds so well. I set up a nine stride in a long line to see who could really tell where they were on new horses and they all rode it within inches,” said Kappler. “They’re all solid riders and great to see the quality of riding in that final. They did a great job, and it was a really great competition. I think they’re all candidates for future teams and it is the people who continue to grind away at it and work at it. It’s a hard sport and these riders have all done the grind and done their jobs and they have team qualities that we could rely on in team settings in the future.” The USEF Show Jumping 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. The French Leave Memorial Perpetual Trophy, donated by the Gerald A. Nielsen family, was awarded to Jayne as the champion, while the Leading Trainer Award, donated by the late Mr. Hugh J.B. Cassidy, III, was presented to Jayne’s trainer, Andre Dignelli. The Grappa Trophy, donated by Sarah Willeman, is given to the best horse, which went to Mac One III. Catalina Peralta (Geneva, Fla.) was awarded with the Sportsmanship Award presented by Hollow Brook Wealth Management.