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Wellington, Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, Wellington, Florida

T.J. O’Mara 'Kaskades' to the Win in Ninth Annual George Morris Excellence in Equitation Final

Allyson Lagiovane

Reporting from Wellington, Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, Wellington, Florida
Friday, March 25, 2016 :: Posted 09:41:06 PM EDT

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© Emily Riden: T.J. O'Mara and Kaskade
T.J. O'Mara and Kaskade on their way to the win in the 9th Annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship

Wellington, Fla. – March 25, 2016 – What do you get when you pair a top equitation rider with a top equitation mount, give them a groom and take away their phone and their trainer? You get the top Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) equitation riders vying for the win in this year’s ninth annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Final. Besting the field of 35 riders, it was T.J. O’Mara that took home the first place finish.

Winning an equitation class during the first ten weeks of WEF qualified riders to compete in the equitation final, and this year’s group of riders was the largest in the history of the class. Not only were riders judged on their ability to navigate an equitation course, they were also judged on their schooling and preparation of their horses. Karen Golding gave riders warm-up scores ranging from minus two to plus two, and riders were judged over fences by Jimmy Torano, Candice King, Chris Kappler and Bobby Brasswell.

The first round of the night posed many questions for riders, including a trot fence into a triple line, bending lines and a triple bar. Only the top 15 riders were invited back to compete in round two, an even more challenging course, asking riders to complete a simple change of lead in the outside line. Round two then narrowed the field down to the top four, T.J. O’Mara, McKayla Langmeier, Ava Stearns and Sophie Michaels.

© Emily Riden: T.J. O'Mara and Kaskade_presentationT.J. O'Mara and Kaskade

O’Mara led after the first round, earning himself an average score of 91.5. He continued his lead by earning an average score of 92 in his second round, finishing with a total score of 183.5. Going into the work off, O’Mara was clearly the leading rider.

Judge Jimmy Torano commented, “T.J.’s rounds were time and time again – he nailed it. He led after both rounds. To be honest, he had to really flub up in the test.”

The test round had each of the top four riders navigate five fences that included a counter canter, jumping two fences backward, hand galloping to the final fence and halting afterward. All four riders attempted to answer each question the judges were asking, but T.J. O’Mara maintained his lead and clinched the win.  

O’Mara has qualified for this class for three years, and finished in third place in last year’s final. “This is my third year doing it,” he said, “And I’ve slowly moved up the ranks. I’m really happy. My horse felt great today, and I couldn’t have asked for better rounds.”

© Emily Riden: T.J. O'Mara and Kaskade  T.J. O'Mara and Kaskade

Kaskade and O’Mara have been working together for more than three years, and you can clearly see their teamwork operating in the ring.

“She’s really just become my horse of a lifetime,” he said. “We’ve really bonded together, and we have a really good connection together. She was just amazing through all of these rounds. She really listened to every single thing I asked her to do. I couldn’t have asked for her to be better.”

Finishing in second place was seasoned equitation competitor, McKayla Langmeier. Langmeier came into the work off tied with Ava Stearns for second place with a score of 174.5, but really impressed the judges with her hand gallop to the final fence, ultimately earning her the second place spot.

“McKayla came in, and she knew, the first two riders didn’t really hand gallop,” judge Torano said. “McKayla came in and really got our attention. She turned the corner, and she hooked and went for it. The horse landed, and he was at a standstill. She really got our attention.”

© Emily Riden: McKayla Langmeier and Eclipse
McKayla Langmeier and Eclipse

Lamgmeier was riding a newer mount, Eclipse. She said, “I haven’t ridden him that much. I did him at Medal Finals and Washington Finals and then here. I did him last week in one class and then this week. He’s somewhat newer, but I’ve had multiple lessons on him.”

Even though riders were not allowed to have their trainers by their side, you could see riders course-walking together and depending on each other for guidance. Langmeier explained, “It’s nice having a team to walk with you, with all the different juniors that qualified from the different barns. It’s like multiple trainers.”

O’Mara also felt a sense of teamwork with his fellow riders from Beacon Hill. He said, “We really focused on teamwork in this. As each person was going, one of us was at the in-gate telling them the new plan or what to do or giving them some helpful little hints. In the walk we really collaborated as to what we should do for each line and what we should do as an entrance.”

© Emily Riden: Sophie Michaels and Acortair
Sophie Michaels and Acortair

Not only did O’Mara win the class, his horse, Kaskade, won the Best Horse award for the evening. Sophie Michaels finished up in third place, riding Acortair. Michaels’ horse won the Best Turned Out Horse award, which was presented by Shapley’s to her groom, Muoy Hernandez. Ava Stearns finished in fourth place riding Missy Clark and North Run’s Micah.

The Excellence in Equitation Final is like on other equitation class offered, and really challenges riders to be independent and focused. Torano commented on the format of the class saying, “I think it’s a great class. I love judging these championship classes. I think it’s a great format. It makes the kids think for themselves. It’s at the end of the circuit; you’re seeing the top riders. Especially when you got to that second round and you saw the top four work off, it was really some top riding for the kids.”

These equitation riders don’t stop here. There is still a weekend of competition to go for WEF week 11, and many riders will transition to the jumper ring Saturday, March 26, for the U-25 Grand Prix finale beginning at 11:10 a.m.

© Emily Riden: Ava Stearns and Micahfourth place- Ava Stearns and Micah

© Emily Riden: Brett Burlington and Jefferson fifth place - Brett Burlington and Jefferson

© Emily Riden: Daisy Farish and Cassio sixth place - Daisy Farish and Cassio

© Emily Riden: Giavanna Rinaldi and Rockafellaseventh place- Giavanna Rinaldi and Rockafella

© Emily Riden: Katherine Strauss and Quinn 13eighth place - Katherine Strauss and Quinn 13

Final Results: George Morris Excellence In Equitation Championship
*Please Note: Round 3 scores were not announced.
R1/J1 92.00 2.00 R1/J2 89.00 91.50
R2/J1 90.00 2.00 R2/J2 92.00 92.00 183.50
R1/J1 89.00 2.00 R1/J2 91.00 91.00 R2/J1 85.50 2.00
R2/J2 80.00 83.75 174.75
R1/J1 84.50 1.00 R1/J2 83.00 84.25
R2/J1 84.00 2.00 R2/J2 83.00 84.50 168.75
R1/J1 90.00 2.00 R1/J2 87.00 89.50
R2/J1 86.00 2.00 R2/J2 82.50 85.25 174.75
R1/J1 77.50 2.00 R1/J2 81.00 80.25
R2/J1 87.00 -2.00 R2/J2 86.00 85.50 165.75
R1/J1 83.50 2.00 R1/J2 90.00 87.75
R2/J1 78.00 2.00 R2/J2 74.00 77.00 164.75
R1/J1 84.00 2.00 R1/J2 88.00 87.00
R2/J1 77.00 1.00 R2/J2 77.00 77.50 164.50
R1/J1 83.25 -1.00 R1/J2 80.00 81.12
R2/J1 83.00 -2.00 R2/J2 81.00 81.00 162.12
R1/J1 83.00 -2.00 R1/J2 82.00 81.50
R2/J1 79.00 2.00 R2/J2 79.00 80.00 161.50
R1/J1 76.00 1.00 R1/J2 78.00 77.50
R2/J1 85.00 -2.00 R2/J2 82.00 82.50 160.00
R1/J1 82.00 2.00 R1/J2 84.00 84.00
R2/J1 60.00 1.00 R2/J2 78.00 69.50 153.50
R1/J1 86.00 -2.00 R1/J2 79.50 81.75
R2/J1 70.00 2.00 R2/J2 70.00 71.00 152.75
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