Wellington, FL – March 25, 2016 – Week eleven of the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) continued on Friday with a win for T.J. O’Mara riding Kaskade in the Ninth Annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship.


The riders of the Ninth Annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championships with ringmaster Christian Craig and George H. Morris. Photo: Sportfot

The Championship was held in three rounds with 35 riders competing in round one. The top 15 returned for round two, and the top four rode for additional testing in round three to determine final placings. Course walk plans and schooling were the sole responsibility of the riders as competitors were allowed no contact with their trainers during the class, turned in their cell phones before the start of the class, and were responsible for time management, warm up, and schooling of their own horses with the assistance of one groom.

Bobby Murphy designed the course, in conjunction with the judges. The riders were judged by two panels and also received a score in the schooling area after the first and second rounds. Judging Panel 1 included Jimmy Torano and Candice King; Panel 2 included Bobby Braswell and Chris Kappler, with Karen Golding as the Schooling Ring Judge.

T.J. O’Mara led through both rounds to make it to the final four and come out on top riding Kaskade, a ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare. The rider earned the high score of 91.5 in round one and returned for round two to score a 92. His two round total of 183.5 combined with an excellent test in the final four put the rider in first place overall.

TJ OMara GHMEEpres Sportfot 132_5258T.J. O’Mara and Kaskade in their winning presentation with ringmaster Christian Craig, trainers Krista Freundlich, Stacia Madden, and team. Photo: Sportfot

McKayla Langmeier finished second riding Eclipse with scores of 91 and 83.75 for a 174.75 heading into the final four, and a bold test that was rewarded in the work-off. Sophie Michaels rode Acortair to third place honors, and Ava Stearns finished fourth aboard Micah.


McKayla Langmeier and Eclipse. Photo: Sportfot

Judge Jimmy Torano spoke about the class and what went into the final decision on the top four placings.

“I think it is a great class. This is the ninth year, and I think I have judged it seven times,” Torano noted. “I love judging these championship classes, and I think the format really makes the kids think for themselves. It is at the end of the circuit, and you are seeing the top riders. Especially when you got to the second round, and then you saw the top four work off, it was really some top riding from the kids.

“Obviously T.J. and McKayla are outstanding,” Torano continued. “They are both going to ride on the team, and they are both going to go anywhere they want to go in the future. Unfortunately for McKayla, that horse clobbered one jump in the second round. In my mind I said 89, take off the four points for the rail and give her an 85. I think they [judged] her a little harder on the other judging panel. T.J.’s rounds were good, time and time again. He came in and nailed it in the first round. He led for both rounds, and to be honest, he would have had to really flub up in the test not to win it. McKayla came in and knew that the first two riders did not really hand gallop, so she really got our attention. She hooked the corner and turned and went for it, and that horse landed and was at a stand still. T.J. I would say did not gallop as strong as she did, but he did not really need to. He was far enough ahead.”


Sophie Michaels and Acortair finished third.
Acortair was also named Best Turned Out Horse by the judges.
Photo: Sportfot

Commenting on his win, O’Mara stated, “It feels great. This is my third year doing the class and I have slowly moved up the ranks, so I am really happy. My horse felt great today, and I could not have asked for better rounds.

“The first round, me and my barnmates were not really sure what we should do,” O’Mara admitted. “We were originally planning on going around and just catching a nice second jump, but as the class went on, more and more people started doing the inside turn, so we thought that in order to stay with the competition we needed to step it up a little bit. I thought the gymnastic was very steady, and it really tested the rider’s ability to stay collected and maintain the position while keeping impulsion at the same time.”

O’Mara continued, “The second round was a little confusing for some riders on what to do in strides. The beginning of the class we saw some doing six strides in the one line, but with my horse I was worried about her swapping off to the left at that vertical, so I opted to go around and do a steady seven to get straight and soft to the inside. We were also thinking to go inside at that vertical after the triple bar, but we thought it looked better going around and catching a flow to the oxer.”


Ava Stearns and Micah placed fourth. Photo: Sportfot

Without trainers to tell the riders what to do, they had to work together to come up with a solid plan.

“We really focused on teamwork in this,” O’Mara detailed. “As each person was going, one of us was at the in-gate telling them the new plan and giving them helpful hints. In the course walk, we really collaborated on what we should do for each line and what we should do as an entrance. I felt bad at the beginning of the class because the riders in my barn were a little unsure what to do and I was not really sure myself, so I really just told them to go with their gut and see what their horse was best at, and most of them did.”

Speaking of his mount, Kaskade, O’Mara stated, “I have had her since 2013. She has really just become my horse of a lifetime. We have really bonded together, and we have a great connection. She was amazing through all of these rounds. She listened to every single thing I asked her to do. She really was amazing and I could not have asked for her to be better.”

Langmeier also worked together with her barn mates, and although she had a rail in the second round, she finished out strong in the work-off and was happy with her mount, Eclipse.

“It is nice having a team to walk the course with you with all of the other juniors that qualified from your barn,” Langmeier noted. “It is like having multiple trainers with you.

“I liked my first round,” she said. “I really liked my second round besides the rail; I kind of let him shift in too much. I could have done the six strides there in the second round, and I probably should have to avoid the rail. Then in my test, my hand gallop jump was my favorite.”

Speaking of Eclipse, Langmeier detailed, “I have not ridden him that much. I [rode] him at Medal Finals and WIHS Finals. I showed him last week in one class and then this week. He is somewhat newer, but I have had multiple lessons on him.”

Along with the top prizes, several other awards were presented at the end of the evening. Sophie Michaels’ mount, Acortair, was named Best Turned Out Horse by the judges and her groom, Moses Hernandez, received a special prize to acknowledge his hard work. O’Mara’s mount, Kaskade, also received the award for Best Equitation Horse. Stacia Madden and Krista Freundlich received awards as the trainers of the winning rider. Special awards were also presented to the families of the champion and reserve champion, and the top eight trainers received prize money.

WEF 11 continues on Saturday with the $50,000 Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Series Final, presented by Equiline, on the derby field at The Stadium at PBIEC beginning at 11:10 a.m. with a brunch hosted by Equiline in the Tiki Hut at The Stadium beginning at 10:30 a.m. The $130,000 Engel & Völkers Grand Prix CSI 4* will be the feature event in the International Ring on the main show grounds on Saturday evening beginning at 7:45 p.m. For full results and more information, please visit www.pbiec.com.

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
R1/J1 81.50 -1.00 R1/J2 79.00 79.75
R2/J1 74.00 -2.00 R2/J2 68.00 70.00 149.75
R1/J1 83.75 1.00 R1/J2 73.50 79.12
R2/J1 56.00 -2.00 R2/J2 58.00 56.00 135.12
R1/J1 85.00 2.00 R1/J2 85.00 86.00
R2/J1 36.00 2.00 R2/J2 40.00 39.00 125.00