Hunter derby action at HITS Chicago in Wayne, Illinois, kicked off on Friday, June 7, during the first week of the Lamplight Spring Spectacular Series with the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby — one of three derbies scheduled for the weekend. An impressive field of 23 horse-and-rider combinations aimed for top performances, but it was Danielle Urban of Omaha, Nebraska, who took home first place with Gabrielli in the highly competitive class.

The classic round tested smoothness and consistency from competitors with ten obstacles, including four high options, multiple rollbacks, and an in-and-out, ultimately concluding with  the final high option — a large oxer toward the front of the ring. In contrast, the handy round demanded an increased level of agility and precision with options for tighter turns throughout the intricate course.

Danielle Urban and Gabrielli. Photo by Alison Hartwell Photography

“The classic round is always a bit tougher for me since I’m primarily a jumper rider trying to perfect my hunter ride,” admitted Urban. “Today, Gabrielli rode perfectly in the first round. It was a nice course; the lines rode well, and everything came up nicely out of the corners. Going into the handy sitting in third place, I decided to stick with our usual approach and give it 100 percent. He’s a very reliable horse in the handy round, making inside turns that other horses can’t.  I think we were the only ones to take a gap and slice to the last jump, which he jumped brilliantly. I couldn’t ask for more today!”

Urban and the nine-year-old Warmblood gelding by Galeno Tyme truly impressed the judges with each of their rounds, earning a total score of 176 to take home the winning honors. Capturing second place was Robert Nathan on MTM Concord, Annika Ruh’s eight-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Casino Grande. They earned a total score of 174. Rounding out the top three was Leighton Goldberg on her own Cristiano, a 15-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding by Click and Cash, with a two-round total of 172.

“Gabrielli’s owner, Cheryl Matranga, has been a client of mine for the past six years,” explained Urban. “I actually started Gabrielli in the hunters when he was a four-year-old. Over the last two or three years, we’ve been focusing on performance hunters and derbies. We joke that he’s my traveling buddy because he just goes to all the horse shows with me.”

Urban spent many weeks competing at HITS Chicago in 2023 and is excited to be back this year, stating, “The facility is beautiful. There are few places as stunning as Lamplight. The footing holds up well, even with a lot of rain. The courses are good, with great options for many classes. It’s great for my young jumpers to step up into some money classes and for my clients as well.”

Kaylee Dawidziuk and Cheneaux. Photo by Alison Hartwell Photography

Hunter derby excitement continued on Saturday, June 8, with junior and amateur competitors aiming for winning honors in the $750 Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby and $750 Tiny Bit O’ 2’ Hunter Derby. Kaylee Dawidiuk from Naperville, Illinois, claimed the blue ribbon in the $750 Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby with an impressive round on Les Cheneaux, Meghan Taylor’s 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Babuschka. The week’s derby events concluded with Anne McLean from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, winning the $750 Tiny Bit O’ 2’ Hunter Derby on her own Lucera, a 23-year-old Argentinian Warmblood mare by Groom V.

Anna McLean and Lucera. Photo by Alison Hartwell Photography

For a full list of results, please visit