This weekend, judges McLain Ward and Jimmy Torano crowned the second of two victors in one of the country’s most prestigious Junior and Young Rider championships: the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East. This year’s most recent winner, a student of North Run’s Missy Clark and John Brennan, is no stranger to the top of the Big Eq leaderboards: Mckayla Langmeier has previously won the 2017 George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship and came in second in the 2016 Pessoa/USEF Medal Final. Her win this year was aboard her mother, Linda Langmeier’s, Skyfall.
West Coast class winner Halie Robinson is equally qualified, having placed both second and fifth in the class in years past. A student of James Hagman, Robinson is currently studying aboard in Amsterdam and flew home in order to compete in the event on Caracas 89, owned by Elvenstar. Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – West, which took place on September 21-23 at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding in San Juan Capistrano, California, was judged by Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffith. “[This final] is a real riding test—it’s not a contest of who has the nicest horse. As a working student, that was something that I could always really appreciate,” says Robinson, 21, who made the class a priority in her final year of eligibility. “I just always wanted to get in the final four and have my experience of riding anything with four legs hopefully pay off!”
With such prestigious industry names as McLain Ward, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Lauren Hough and Richard Spooner among the past winners of the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, the future is certainly looking bright for Robinson and Langmeier. Here are 10 ways they’ve reached the top of their game—and you can too.
1. Embrace your equitation training.
“I think having an equitation background definitely helps with your position and your track in the jumper ring. [The equitations] kind of get you familiar with the track at a lower height, so being able to do it as close to perfection as you can, when you do move up to the bigger rings, it’s familiar,”
2. Keep your eye on the big picture—not just results.
Halie’s mount, Caracas 89, had a large tumor removed surgically earlier this year, and Robinson says that keeping her mind on the important thing—his survival—was all that mattered. The good news? It paid off. “[After Caracas recovered] we entered the last qualifier in August. I qualified with him, and then the next week after that, I left for Europe, and then I was just like, Well, I guess I’ll go ahead and come back for the final! It’s funny, when I just let everything happen, it seems to work out a lot better.”
3. Realize your attitude counts as much as your riding.
“Mckayla is great. Work ethic A+, talent A+, dedication A+, interest level A+. All of it. She has worked so hard for so many years and has always been so respectable, polite and appreciative, and I can’t say enough good things about her. She’s a good one.”
-Mckayla’s coach, Missy Clark, North Run Stables
4. Remember there’s no “I” in team.
“Jim [coach James Hagman] had been riding Caracas and getting him ready while I was away, so I knew I had a really good team behind me. I think [knowing that] made me feel like I could land [at the airport], go to show, get on the horse, and have him be perfectly prepared, do the class and [stick] to my plan, and [be] successful. Everyone knew the routine, it was just a matter of sticking to the strategy and staying focused.”
5. Master your nerves.
“I feel like everybody has nerves going into the equitation, but how you deal with them determines the outcome. So definitely, I always [tell myself to have] confidence and discipline when I’m going in.”
6. Live (and ride) in the moment.
“Going into the final four, I tried to appreciate the moment. I said to Jim, who’s like my dad, that it was really fun to be there with [him] again, like we had been a few years back. He said to me, ‘It’s just like you’re schooling a horse at Elvenstar,’ and so I went into [the ring] with that attitude. Knowing that it was a riding test and not a test of who can be the most perfect—that really made me feel more confident. I really felt like I had a strong foundation, riding lots of different horses, so I just tried to ride how I normally do.”
7. Jump your own round.
“I have a thing where if I am doing well [in a jumper class], I do not watch the rest of the competition. But, obviously, I can hear the announcer sometimes.”
8. Do your homework.
“The night before [Phase IV], I went on the computer and watched videos of all the horses in the top six that night, so I felt prepared in every way and I could just enjoy the moment.”
9. Listen to your mother.
According to Mckayla, she still thinks of her mother (trainer Linda Langmeier’s) words whenever she walks into the ring: “My mother would always tell me, ‘Conquer the course.’”
10. When it counts, go with your gut.
“I think the final four was actually the easiest part, even though that seems like the hardest. You’re on a new horse and you’re riding truly off feel. There’s so much going on at one time, with the switching, that you really just ride off your natural ability and your instincts.”
You can watch on-demand coverage of the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East on the USEF Network. To learn more about the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, click here.
-Photo credit, Halie Robinson: McCool.
Written by Nina Fedrizzi
Nina Fedrizzi spends her days writing about horse sport, food, and travel. She began her career at Travel + Leisure and is a former editor at NF Style. When she's not tapping away on her MacBook, Nina can usually be found on a horse, sleuthing out the local pho, or refusing to unpack her carry-on. Watch her do all three on Instagram @ninafedrizzi.