HARRISBURG, Pa.--After finishing second to McKayla Langmeier of East Granby, Conn., in the Show Jumping Talent Search Finals - East on Oct. 8, Taylor St. Jacques, 18 of Glen Allen, Va., was thrilled to finally break through and win the Hunter Seat Medal Final on Oct. 15 at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg.
It was an emotional win as this is her last year of eligibility as a junior and therefore her last chance to win the Medal Final.
"This is it," said St. Jacques. "This is honestly a dream come true. I have always wanted to win a Final, and hopefully we can win the rest, and I can go out with a bang."
"I thought the courses were great," said St. Jacques, who rode Charisma. "They tested enough without being too difficult. I thought from the moment my horse came out of the stall today he had his absolute "A" game on. He was ready to go out there and put his best foot forward and he did. He was absolutely incredible. I could not ask him to be better any part of any round."
"I was a little nervous coming back for the final test.," she said. "I've come back on top a few times at some smaller shows, and I think that really prepared me for this big class. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be. I was really excited when they said no stirrups. I think that's a strong suit of mine. I thought that was pretty cool and funny. My mom called it down at the Winter Equestrian Festival, that at the final there was going to be a test with no stirrups and it happened!"
The long day began with 257 riders in the first round, and the top 25 were called back for a second round, then the top four were tested again.
In the final test, riders jumped a course of eight numbered obstacles, or nine fences, without stirrups.
IN THE second round and the final test, riders returned in reverse order of preference, and St. Jacques led throughout, so she had to wait to go last in each test.
Judges Tammy Provost and Jack Towell had not planned to test the riders, but the scores were so close, they felt it necessary to see them again.
"Taylor never made a mistake," said Provost. "In the final test we were looking for who was strong without their stirrups and Taylor was really strong. We were thinking more Hunter Derby and Hunter Seat Equitation Finals, with a soft and light position."
Towell further explained the reasoning for their choice of a straight forward course instead of one with tricky turns and distances.
"It's called hunter seat equitation finals and in our minds, one of these riders would win the hunter derby and become world champion hunter rider. That's what they are supposed to do. We wanted to keep the course nice, safe, comfortable, and let us judge it. Let us decide who we thought was the best rider. We judged it more than the course. We judged the pace, the position, all of it and keeping in mind a hunter seat rider."
Andre Dignelli, who won the Trainer's Award, trains both St. Jacques and second placed Cooper Dean of Fayette, Ala.
Sam Walker of Ontario, Canada, riding in his first equitation final, was third, and Jordyn Rose Freedman of Longmeadow, Mass., was fourth.
ST. JACQUES had led the Show Jumping Talent Search Finals - East after the first day at the USET headquarters in Gladstone, N.J., but Langmeier proved more consistent on day two to take over the top spot.
Judges McLain Ward and Jimmy Torano designed the courses, and the course on the second day tested flexibility and precision, with one fence, the water jump, causing a lot of riders a problem.
Four riders, Langmeier, St. Jacques, Abigail Brayman of Charlestown, R.I., and Taylor Griffiths of Brewster, N.Y., were chosen for the fourth phase of competition in which each rider first rode the course on their own horse and then rode each of the other three horses over the course.
St. Jacques rode Charisma in both the Talent Search Finals and the Medal.
“Charisma is owned by Andre and Michael Dignelli, and I’m so very fortunate that they give me the opportunity to have him as my finals and equitation horse," said St. Jacques. "He is very special to Andre, who imported him about two years ago now. The moment he saw him he knew he was something special. It was perfect timing last year when the girl’s lease was up who had him, so I got the ride on him right before finals. I think he and I really, really click. I show off his strengths, and he shows off my strengths, and I think he is just an extraordinary horse. Everyone who rides him loves him, but he is new to this, too. He isn’t a seasoned veteran. Last year was his first year at indoors finals and at USEF Finals, so I think he is taking this all very well.”
UNFORTUNATELY for St. Jacques, she misjudged a line on Charisma in the final round and so lost the championship by just a few points.
“Obviously everyone wants to win, and I was hoping it would work out in my favor," said St. Jacques. "I think I made my biggest mistake on my own horse, and that’s my own fault. I should have known how to ride that line a little better than I did, so all my fault. All the horses performed so well. They were each completely different rides, and I think that put us all to the test, but I think we all handled it well. We all had a few mistakes here and there, but in the end I thought all of us rode really well, and I’m so happy for McKayla. She’s been so close so many times. She deserves it.”
“I was surprised," said Langmeier, who rode Skyfall, a horse she's ridden for years, including in the 2015 Talent Search where she finished reserve champion. "I knew I was going to be somewhere in the top four obviously, but I really didn’t know where I was going to end up. It’s nice to finally win after being so close in the past.”
“My horse has been here for a few years now, and obviously I know him really well," said Langmeier. "Taylor's horse was unbelieveable, and he is so smooth, and Taylor Griffiths’ horse, which I think is new to her, looked pretty straight-forward. Abigail’s horse was very scopey. Other than my horse, they were all catch rides for me.”
I’ve been with Skyfall for about five years now," said Langmeier." My mom and I went to Europe and found him. He’s a very special horse for us. He has put me through all the finals and has been top at every final that I have called on him. He is always there for me, and he is just an extraordinary animal.”
“I’m thinking a little bit more jumper ring for me in the immediate future," she said. "After the upcoming finals, I’m going to college for the next four years, so I’m planning to reassess at that point what I want to do. For the next few years I’m going to focus on college and getting my degree.”
“As far as the final four work-off, I think it’s a phenomenal format and today was a prime example of that," said Ward. "Taylor St. Jacques on her own horse didn’t have a great round and was a little behind the eight-ball even after the second horse, and it was looking like she had no chance to win, and then McKayla made a pretty large mistake on the third horse, and it got very close.
"I knew the score that McKayla needed to have to win and to see if she could meet that standard," said Ward. "For me, it was exciting right to the very end. That’s the beauty of this, it changes - it ebbs and flows and it’s not ‘one mistake and you’re out.’ Taylor fought back and made it very close to the end. There was really not a lot of room for McKayla to make a mistake, and she had a beautiful last round and got the job done. I think that’s exciting, it’s interesting.”