Consistency is Key as Benjamin and Sir Neel Take Home Top Honors in the 2008 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final – East
RELEASE: October 6, 2008
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: Joanie Morris
Lexington, KY - Gold medals from this summer’s CN FEI North American Junior/Young Riders Championship at the Colorado Horse Park Presented by Gotham North spelled good things for competitors
Sir Neel and Sophie Benjamin (Jennifer Wenzel/Rein Photography)
in the 2008 Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals. Talent Search Final-East winner Sophie Benjamin followed in her teammate Hannah Selleck’s (who won the West Coast Final two weeks ago) footsteps by winning the East Coast version on Sir Neel. Held on the hallowed grounds of the USET Foundation Headquarters, the Talent Search is a proving ground for the country’s best-up and-coming riders. Olympians McLain Ward, Lauren Hough and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum are just a handful of previous winners who have gone on to win medals internationally.
Benjamin, an 18-year-old freshman at Princeton University is a California native, but made her presence known on the East Coast by convincingly winning the Talent Search-East - besting 93 other riders.
“I didn’t think I had a shot,” said Benjamin. “I haven’t shown on the East Coast that much, I did a lot of catch riding in Florida but I didn’t really click with any of those horses. I rode a lot of horses but I wasn’t very consistent which was mostly my fault. I’d been struggling with being consistent. I wanted to prove myself on the East Coast and I was worried about keeping it together over the two days. I just took it one step at a time. I’m so happy with how my horse went; I knew if I could pull it together, he’d be there for me.”
The Talent Search is a unique format for riders 21 years old and younger - it features four phases: flatwork and gymnastics (held on Saturday) and then Sunday’s program: a regular jumper course and then the final phase, where the top four riders all switch horses and jump the same course four times, once on each horse. This final phase is similar to how the individual medals are determined at the World Equestrian Games. Judges Anne Kursinski and Ralph Caristo had a tough task to pick an eventual winner as the top four riders all rode impressively.
“We loved Sophie’s forward riding,” said Kursinski, who was fresh from her trip as the traveling reserve from the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. “She was very loose and fluid to the jumps, not attacking but great, forward riding. Some of the others got a little conservative and a little safe. She rode beautifully, the way I like to ride - nice, forward riding. With my courses, we were trying to ask a variety of questions: lengthening and shortening, effective riding not just looking pretty but they had to be able to read the courses, where you need to gallop, make a shorter turn, be more collected. I hope the kids could really learn from it, and think about it the same way as we think when we’re riding a grand prix course.”
The riders enter the final phase on a clean slate, so the fact that Benjamin was third going into the deciding rounds was irrelevant. She ended up winning on a final score of 350, well clear of Matt Mettell and Rhythm & Blues (344) who were second, Jacqueline Lubrano and Lennox were third on 343 and Victoria Birdsall on Cheyenne rounded out the top four on a score of 333.
“Once I was in the final four, I felt more confident as that’s what I do, I ride lots of horses,” said Benjamin.
“She was pretty consistent from the flat phase all the way to the final four,” said Caristo. “She took it upon herself to impress us on the different horses, as far as she was concerned she rode like she was riding her own horse. She was a go-getter and wasn’t apprehensive at all. Nothing intimidated her. Not to take anything away from the other riders, but she improved the horses. She was so consistent the whole time. I also thought that the final four certainly rose to the top, because they were all capable of winning that ride-off. There wasn’t much to separate the top four. It all paid off and these four riders really belonged in the top.”