The lights of the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium gleamed down on competitors for the return of the HITS Equitation Championship. Cooper Dean, of Fayette, Alabama, took home the evening’s top honors in Ocala, Florida.
“This was a great opportunity and it feels amazing to win a class as important as this one,” said Dean. “The course was tougher and was a good challenge; I thought the course designer was very unique. I think a lot of my ground work as a groom in the past contributed to my success, that foundation is just as important as a winning ride.”
After ten weeks of qualifying opportunities throughout the HITS Ocala Winter Show Circuit, thirty-two juniors took their chance at the technical course, set at 3’6”, designed by Tim Hott of Cumming, Iowa. Competitors were judged by two sets of officials who evaluated their abilities as emerging horsemen and women. The course tested not only their competence in the ring, but also their efforts in the schooling area, as all riders turned in their cell phones and left their trainers in the stands.
A warm-up judge was solely assigned to evaluate how efficiently the riders utilized their time in the warm-up ring and their effectiveness in schooling their horses. Riders banded together as they walked the courses, warmed up and competed all on their own, forming a sense of camaraderie among opponents. The course included gymnastics, trot fences, oxers, verticals and combinations in the first round, with the second round displaying a more technical, jumper-style course, including an open water element at an option fence.
As the top 12 returned to contend for the blue in the two-round championship, Dean was feeling confident after sealing the second-highest score of the first round, an 89, to continue into the second round. Dean earned a second-score of 85.5 in the second round, which combined with his first-round score, produced a winning total of 174.5.
“This class requires the kids to do the work on their own, and as a trainer you have to trust that they’ll use everything that you’ve taught them up to that point,” said Dean’s trainer Aaron Vale. “Cooper is a great rider and works very hard, and it’s great to see that last night’s scores rewarded him for all of his efforts.”
Grace Boston of Owings Mills, Maryland, trailed Dean with a close finish for second-place. She received a first-round score of 87 and a second-round score of 85, just a few points shy of Dean’s victorious round for a total of 172.
Also in the ribbons was East Rockaway, New York, equestrian Alec Tolle. Tolle earned scores of 83 and 86 for a total of 169 for third-place.
Abigail Russo of Grantville, Pennsylvania, secured the fourth-place prize with consistent scores of 83 in both rounds.
Rounding out the top five just behind Russo was Elizabeth Bailey of Roanoke, Virginia. She earned a first-round score of 84, combined with a second-round score of 81 for a total of 165, giving her fifth-place.