When Taylor St. Jacques and her trainer Andre Dignelli opted to enter the WIHS Eq Final on Di Samorano rather than Taylor’s front-and-center Eq partner, Charisma, they knew there was a certain amount of risk involved. But the gamble made the moment all the more sweet for Taylor when she was announced as this year’s WIHS Equitation Finals Champion.
“It’s honestly a feeling I can’t describe to win on my own horse. I’ve never cried before, and I honestly cried. It’s such a sweet feeling. When we first brought him over, the first time I saw him I was like ‘Oh. He’s not a very cute horse!’ He wasn’t really the favorite at the barn. He went in and did his job and I don’t think anyone thought he would turn out to be a big fancy horse.”
“Except for me!” Interjected Andre, who saw a world of potential in the now-nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood who just helped claim one of the most coveted equitation prizes in the world.
Taylor was sitting a bit out on the outer rim of potential glory going into the final round tonight in sixth place, but the pieces came together to put her in the final slot when she had a round aboard Annabel Revers’ Contigo worth a score of 93.
“When my horse went into the first round he opened his eyes a little bit, which is understandable since it’s his first final, but he held himself together. I know it wasn’t my absolute best round, but we came back in a good spot. In the second round my horse performed incredibly — He went in there and he did his job, he jumped amazing and he did everything I asked.”
“In the final round I just wanted to go in there and give it my all and go for it and it worked out,” continued Taylor. “I’m over the moon.”
Reserve honors went to another rider who had to battle their way in from farther back: 2015 Maclay winner McKayla Langmeier of Keliada Farm, who entered the final round in fourth and nearly stole the show in her very last Equitation appearance of her junior career aboard Haley Redifer’s Vendel DH.
“Kind of like Taylor, I wasn’t in the top positions, but the scores were so close together. I had to think through this callback round and just simplify because the horse was just so lovely and simple. I had to calm myself down just to go through the motions a little bit slower. But it’s incredible. Just to be in the top three is a privilege.”
McKayla is trained by her mother and father Kenny and Linda Langmeier, and Linda is herself a former Maclay Winner.
Third place went to a sensational young rider from Ontario, Canada, Sam Walker, who had two exceptional rounds despite being green in the WIHS scene. But the 14-year-old seemed to approach the whole affair with a relaxed and professional manner that gave him a slight distance from the pressure.
“My horse came out day one and was just fantastic. He ended up second in the hunter phase, he came out day two in the jumper phase and he was also fantastic. We were a little low — we were tenth but still in the running. I went back into the top ten in second, so I had the privilege of watching and going back with a real game plan to see if I could maybe move myself up an extra spot. I got a very very nice horse in the test and he was great and I think any one of us could have come out on top.”
Among the heartbreaks of the day was a respectable but anticlimactic ending for Ava Stearns, who had been leading after the first two rounds of competition. Aboard Sam Walker’s Waldo, Ava added a stride in the first line that cost her the advantage she’d built in the first round, and ultimately finished sixth.
One of four esteemed judges in the final, Chris Wynne shared his thoughts on what set the top three apart from the crowd in his eyes.
Any of the three [finalists] could have been the winner and I’m sure watching it you could have made reasons why they should have been in front of the other one, but we just had to make some decisions and go with the score they earned.
“But with these three, it’s not just a class – it’s a career sitting up here. It looks like three future Olympians, Hall of Famers, Great professionals who ten or fifteen years from now are going to be winning all the ribbons. Or sooner! You can see that talent in each of these kids.”
Other final big moves in the standings included Brian Moggre moving from ninth after round two to fifth place overall, and Madison Goetzmann moving from eighth to fourth. Emma Kurtz finished second in the Jumper round to battle back from a rough start in the hunters, and just missed the cutoff for the callbacks by finishing 11th.
As for next week and Maclay Final, Taylor says she hasn’t yet decided if she’ll be riding Charisma or Sammo. “We’re going to let them duke it out this week!”
Much dueling yet to come, but for tonight, it’s a sweet victory for Taylor and Sammo.