Persistence paid off last weekend for T.J. O’Mara of Rumson, who set a goal and returned year after year to the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation in Gladstone attempting to realize it.
On his fifth try, he finally won the Platinum Performance/U.S. Equestrian Federation Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East, topping a stellar group of riders with a performance that was long on consistency and style.
Trained by Stacia Madden of Beacon Hill Show Stables and Max Amaya of Stonehenge Stables, both in Colts Neck, T.J. said winning the Talent Search “has been one of my dreams for my junior career. I’m so proud of my horse.”
He has had a long relationship with Kaskade, his only equitation mount, who sadly will be for sale after indoors as T.J. ages out of the division.
“It’s going to be very emotional to see her go, but this was obviously on my checklist and I’m just happy to have won this on her, and not on another horse,” he said after the Talent Search award presentation.
He went from 11th after the initial flat phase to fifth after gymnastics on Saturday.
“Then I snuck into the top four,” said T.J., who won the Sunday morning jumping phase with a 92, though Daisy Farish still held the overall lead, as she had throughout the competition.
So T.J. was happy to have a clean slate to start over for the last phase, the “final four,” when each exhibitor rides their own horse, and then that of their competitors, over a shortened course.
Daisy had a refusal with her own horse, Ganjana, in the first round of the final four, and then the low score in every round thereafter.
Sophie Simpson won the first three rounds of the final four competition until she got on Ganjana, then put in eight strides where everyone else did seven between fences two and three, cross-cantered at the end of the ring and met the in-and-out in less-than-optimal fashion.
She wound up second with a score of 350 to T.J.’s 355, while Vivian Yowan was third with 347 on McLain Ward’s Clearline, who won the Grappa trophy as best horse of the final. Daisy was fourth with a score of 246.
It was 2012 when T.J. first competed in the Talent Search, geared to spotting riders who could someday represent the U.S. in international competition. He was out of the ribbons, but his sister, Meg O’Mara, finished second that year. That was when he set his sights on winning someday.
His determination continues. T.J. is gearing up for his last shot at the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, which his sister won at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. While there originally may have been some sibling rivalry, he notes that now, “Meg has been a huge support for me. She texts me at every single final and I know she’ll be proud of me, and my other two sisters will be proud of me as well.”
Meg told him that depending on how he did at the Talent Search, she might show up to support him in person at the other finals. After the Medal, he has the Washington International’s equitation championship and then the ASPCA Maclay finals at the CP National Horse Show.
I met T.J. at the 2012 Hampton Classic when I was interviewing Meg about her blue-eyed horse, Sinatra, on whom she had won the junior jumper championship. She advised me that T.J. was going to be good, and I took it for what it was worth. She was, after all, his sister, which means she might have been prejudiced. He was just a kid, so I have to admit I didn’t pay a lot of attention. But Meg turned out to be right.
T.J. is an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Kentucky, where he is majoring in agricultural economics. His father, Tom, advised him that he needed something to fall back on if riding didn’t work out for a career, and he’s very interested in horse feed anyway.
He is a serious young man, with an earnest demeanor and excellent manners. All in all, a pleasure to deal with, and gracious, too.
He gave credit to everyone who helped him get this far, from Don Stewart, who trained him initially, to Max and Stacia and their teams, and his family and friends. While in Kentucky, he also got some help from Federico Sztyrle, a friend of Max’s, and his partner, Chris Ewanouski.
T.J. is grateful for his experience, noting, “The equitation gives you a sense of who you are as a rider. It’s built a ton of confidence in me over the years.” Next for him is focusing on jumpers with his new horse, Queen Jane.
The victory meant a lot to T.J.’s trainers, not only because of what he did, but also because of who he is.
“I am so happy for T.J. because I look at him as not only an unbelievable developing young rider, but he’s been like an assistant to Stonehenge and Beacon Hill,” said Stacia.
“He knows the horses. He can tell you what every horse in the barn eats, and probably what they wear for shoes. If I’m ever at the ring and one of my assistants isn’t there to answer a question about rules, he knows the rules because he reads the prizelists. He’s one of the few kids that actually gets a prizelist at the beginning of each horse show and reads it. He knows the rules of not only the competitions he rides in, but the rules of other competitions.
“He studies riding,” she continued.
“He watches videos, he reads books, he goes old school on you.” That makes winning the Talent Search “so well-deserved in that respect, because everything’s not coming from the trainer, even though we like to think we’re a very important part of it. He’s done a magnificent job of educating himself and I think that is what really pulled him through.”