Jillian Stuart Wins The Plaid Horse High Score Junior Derby Award

Photo by Savannah Stuart
Photo by Savannah Stuart

By Caroline Nicklaus

At only fourteen years old, Jillian Stuart is steadily climbing the Junior Hunter and equitation ranks and is making a name for herself on the West Coast show circuit. The talented young rider is from San Diego, California and currently trains with Philip Cillis of Westwood Show Jumping Stables.

Most recently, Stuart impressed onlookers as she tackled the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby during Blenheim EquiSports’ Spring Classic II amongst 21 other skilled horse and rider combinations. She was the only junior rider to advance to the second round, which landed her in sixth place overall. Stuart’s partner was Magnolia Farm’s Verdana, an 11 year old Holsteiner mare who was passed down to Stuart from her older sister, Mikayla. Most notably, during their time together, Mikayla and Verdana won West Coast Junior Hunter Finals.

To make the day even more special, Jillian Stuart claimed The Plaid Horse High Score Junior Derby Award, and Verdana earned the Shapley’s Best Turned Out Award.

Stuart’s sixth place finish in the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby was bittersweet as it would be the last time Stuart would show Verdana as she was just sold yesterday.

“I took her last year in Junior Hunter Finals and I had only done the Junior Hunters the weekend before that. We got third. She is a nice horse and she’s very reliable. She’s so easy. Sometimes it can be hard how easy she is. You think walk, and she’s already halted. It took a little bit of getting used to, but she’s perfect.”

As far as going into the highly-anticipated and nerve wracking derby, Stuart tried her best not to put too much pressure on herself. “I did the first round on Verdana. I took her and Andover in it. I wasn’t really expecting much because it was just a 3’ derby and for some reason, doing the smaller jumps has always been harder for me. It’s more difficult to find distances to them.”

She continued, “I was really wanting to do well, but I didn’t really put a lot of pressure on myself. In the first round on Verdana we got a 78 with 4 bonus points for doing all of the high options, so it became an 82. The second round was the handy, and she’s always been super handy. You just look and she turns. She used to be a jumper. Then I got a 78 in that round as well, and we ended up sixth overall.”

Stuart explained that she has been involved in the sport for many years, probably because it is a family passion.

“I have two older sisters, and they both did ride, but Mikayla stopped this year to focus on college stuff. She’s a senior in high school. My oldest sister [Savanah] still rides, and she’s at University of San Diego.”

Stuart’s many accomplishments are not limited to horses, however.

“I started riding when I was five. I did the county shows on my pony, Domino. Then I got my first real small pony, Prima Ballerina, in 2009. I did the Small Pony Hunters on her for a few years. We were 4th in the nation one year. Then I took her to Pony Finals and she was 14th overall and High Point Welsh Pony and 4th Virginia-bred Pony. I then got Anisette, who I did the Mediums on two years ago. We won the Zone and Prima Ballerina won Zones too. Then she was 6th in the nation and grand champion at Thermal and first half champion and second half champion.”

“Then I got Baltimore who was my Children’s Hunter. He was also my oldest sister, Savannah’s horse. I took him in the Children’s and started my equitation career on him. Then I think he was reserve champion in the zone for the equitation and Children’s Hunters. Then I got Alaska (Centurion) and started doing all the equitation on him last year. Then I got Andy (Andover),” Stuart said.

Stuart is a rising up-and-coming star who already boasts a superb resume of career wins at a mere fourteen years old. Keep your eyes out for Jillian Stuart