byEsther Hahn| Oct 17, 2016
Photos by Erin Gilmore
TJ O’Mara made it two-for-two on Sunday, October 16, when he won his second medal final of the year, the Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Medal Final. In his final year as a junior, the University of Kentucky student repeated his older sister’s victory at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show four years prior.
As noted before the Final, many of the past winners have gone onto successful international show jumping careers. Here, O’Mara talks about what he’ll take away from the experience of capturing the coveted title. And we can be sure these truths will come into play in his next steps with his riding career.
1. I still can’t quite believe that I won the first equitation final of the year last weekend, the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East, but for it to happen again this weekend has been completely surreal. I just want to thank all who were involved, but especially Max Amaya and Stacia Madden.
2. I thought the first round required confidence in your horse and yourself as a rider in order to do the striding that was best for the both of you. The layout of the jumps looked minimalistic, but I thought it emphasized the shape of the ring because you had to use every corner and all the space available to have the best approach to each jump.
3. After I went in the first round, I waited for the standby after horse 200, but as soon as they announced it, I didn’t go back into the stands to watch any more. I would support my friends who were competing, but I wanted to stay to myself and not get worried about being moved down on the standby.
4. Once the first round was over, I was sitting fifth but I was content with that position. I had a feeling that the top six going into the second round were all close together in scores, so my goal was to produce another solid round. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any nerves going into the second round, which I think helped to my benefit.
5. Right before I walked in for the second round, my trainer Max Amaya came up to me and said that everyone was messing up this round just from simple mistakes. He told me to trust what I believe is right for both my horse Kaskade and myself and that I have ridden courses like those thousands of times.
6. Once they asked for the top four to test—and that they required that we couldn’t watch one another—was when I got the most nervous that day. When I was about to walk in, I kept thinking back to what my trainer Stacia Madden has always told me before testing, and that is to “do the test.” So before I walked in, I told myself to keep it simple and not to try and outdo myself.
7. My dad has always told me to not focus on the outcome of the results in equitation. He has engraved in my mind that if I ride the course to the best of my ability, then the results will follow. I kept on thinking back to this before each round, and I had to continuously build confidence throughout the day in my partnership with Kaskade in order to move up in the standings.
8. Before I came here this weekend, I think I watched every winner’s rounds from this class over the past ten years. I am a visual learner, and I think that the more that you study at home then the more prepared you are as to what to expect for a certain class. I have done this ever since I started the equitation six years ago, and the fact that I am one of the winners for this prestigious class is something I’ve only ever dreamed of achieving.
9. I thought the judges, Jimmy Torano and Mary Lisa Leffler, did an outstanding job during this final. I have done finals where Jimmy has judged before, and I know the classes he judges always test the rider’s abilities, so I thought the courses were almost exact to my expectations. I couldn’t imagine how hard it must be to judge 276 riders in one day, but the way that these two judges conducted themselves make me want to judge one of these finals in the future.
10. When I watched my sister Meg win this Final in 2012, I had this Final on my list of goals. When I was little I always fantasized about winning any equation final, but I always imagined the Pessoa/USEF Hunt Seat Medal Final as being the one I would win so we could be the first brother-sister winners of the class. I can’t thank my three sisters and my parents enough for all the support they give to me. Yesterday will be a day that I will remember for the rest of my life!