Gladstone, NJ – After two days of rigorous testing, topped off with a final-four ride-off, 16-year-old Brianne Goutal surpassed even her own expectations with a well-earned, but nonetheless, surprise victory.
“I was never expecting to get into the top four,” Goutal says. “I asked my trainer before the last round what score I would need and she wouldn’t give me an answer. She just said ‘ride well.’”
And ride well, she did. Give her a few years, and she may be replacing her French Leave Perpetual Trophy for a chance at Olympic glory—much like past finalists have done.
Show jumpers Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Chris Kappler and Peter Wylde all made their mark at the 2004 Athens Games, years after claiming top rankings in Talent Searches themselves.
That’s part of the reason the BET/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals are unlike any other competition. Without fail, the system of tests identifies some of the most talented riders, who often go on to compete for the USEF in international and Olympic competition.
“I feel this system has proven itself,” says Ronnie Beard, one of two judges for the Finals. “It really brings the best riders to the top.”
The system Beard refers to is composed of three phases—each judged out of 100 points, but weighted differently based on the level of importance and difficulty of each skill. During the flat phase, judges maintained the original score; during the gymnastics phase, scores were multiplied by one and a half, and during the final jumping phase, scores were multiplied by two.
“We ended up with the four that were clearly the best riders over the two days,” says Laura Kraut, the other of the two judges.
After the scores were tallied from each phase, the top four riders competed against each other to determine the grand champion. With the score card wiped clean, each was required to ride a new and shorter course of jumps four times—first riding her own horse, then rotating with each of the other finalists’ horses.
“We had to help each other,” says Goutal, whose strong performance led the way to a solid first place finish in the final ride-off. Goutal secured 367 out of a possible 400 points.
Not far behind, 15-year-old Addison Phillips of New York City came in second place with a final score of 360. “I wanted to be as good as I could be,” Phillips says. But don’t expect her to call it quits after making it to the top four. “I’ll be here next year,” she says with a nod.
With a score of 357, first-time finals competitor Megan Young of Jacksonville, FL guaranteed a third place finish. “It was a lot different than I thought it would be, but it was a lot of fun,” says the 18-year-old Young. “It was a good test—a good course.”
A mere five points behind Young, 17-year-old Catherine Wright of Old Chatham, NY rode to a fourth place finish with 352. “I liked this year’s course better than last year’s course,” Wright says.
The judges say one thing that sets these four ladies apart—their ability to take a chance.
“They weren’t cautious—if they were cautious, they had time penalties and that’s a no-no,” Kraut elaborated.
Fellow judge Ronnie Beard agreed wholeheartedly. “They were bold, they had very correct position and they got the job done,” Beard says. “They weren’t posers, but they had all the finesse and style you’d want to see.”
Other riders ranking in the top ten include:
5. Gabby Slome, Riverdale, NY
6. Cassie Herman, Westport, CT
7. Michael Del Fiandra, Delray Beach, FL
8. Whitney Hollinger, Dover, MA
9. Julie Welles, West Simsbury, CT
10. Caroline Kelly, New York City, NY
For more information, contact Sarah Lane, Public Relations Manager, by phone (859) 225-6974, or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.