Justine Wilson from Beech Island, S.C. is relatively new to dressage having previously been a jumper rider, she is seeing her share of success at the Markel/USEF Young and Developing Horse National Championships. In Thursday morning's 4-year-old test, she rode her own KWPN stallion Hero BHS (Cover Story - Andante, Prestige VDL) to first place in a field of 14 with a score of 8.28.
"I think that I had a very reliable horse for a 4-year-old stallion," Wilson said. "He has a pretty good mind. I was happy that I had 100% of what I asked for today and I'll maybe ask for a little more on Saturday. I definitely had a partner in there which was a nice feeling."
The judging panel was impressed with Hero BHS's temperament, rideability and focus, and they gave a few suggestions on aspects to work on for Saturday's final test.
"They loved his trot, his loft in his step, and how much he gets off the ground," Wilson explained. "The judges would like to see more power behind, which certainly comes with strength and conditioning for a 4-year-old. He was very uphill and covered a lot of airspace but needed to reach more in the canter. We can push for that on Saturday but I think that we are starting at a good place today."
Wilson was full of praise for Lamplight Equestrian Center and was enthusiastic about the opportunities that the young horse competition affords competitors.
"It's a beautiful venue," Wilson said. "It's a special place and the championships really develops your eye towards what your goal is. While schooling a 4-year-old you can see the 6-year-olds schooling and see where you're supposed to be in the next two years."
Sitting in second place after the first class was Craig Stanley and his own Habanero CWS (Idocus - Caliente DG, 00 Seven) a KWPN gelding just behind Wilson with a score of 8.22. Stanley who again travelled cross country from Madera, California had a bit of a tack mishap prior to Thursday morning's test when a billet broke on his saddle and he had to scramble to find a new saddle right before the test.
"I guess I'm going to have to use that saddle on Saturday," Stanley chuckled. "Now that he went so well in that saddle how can I change it?"
Rounding out the top three was Nadine Schwartsman and Nancy Weaver's Harvard R (Sir Donnerhall - Coco Chanel R, Farrington) with a score of 7.98. Harvard R was purchased, unbroke, last year with the goal of becoming his amateur owner's competition horse, but when he began to excel with Schwartsman, Weaver was happy to support their success in the young horse program by the side of the ring. Schwartsman was happy with how her horse comported himself on Thursday.
"I'm just so happy that he's so comfortable in his own skin at such a young age and that he's handling the big environment as well as he is," Schwartsman said about her ride. "He was very relaxed and happy to be here, I love how much he enjoyed himself! He tried his best and he was just very relaxed so we are going to give him a nice day off tomorrow and I hope I have a little bit more energy on Saturday to improve the scores."