Rebecca Slater and Happy Dance in their winning presentation.

The action was in full swing at the HITS Chicago Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois, as the Main Hunter Ring hosted the country’s top horse-and-rider combinations on Friday afternoon, May 10, 2024, during the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby. After two rounds of competition, Rebecca Slater’s masterful performances in both the classic and handy rounds aboard Happy Dance earned a two-round total score of 176 to lead the lap of honor. 

Dean Battaglia designed a smooth and flowing first-round course that featured three bending lines and four high options, giving riders different opportunities to choose tracks that best suited their mount. Pairs then returned for the handy round, which added a trot jump as well as several openings to make inside turns and earn handy points before galloping towards the final option fence near the gate. 

“Happy Dance is owned by Sabina Holtzman, who imported him from Belgium two years ago as a six-year-old,” said Slater of the now eight-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Casalido) that she has been helping bring up through the levels since his arrival to the United States. “He is incredibly brave and scopey. For the handy round, I decided to take all inside turns and Happy Dance was perfect to everything. We’ve only done a handful of derbies, and this is his first derby win.” 

Rebecca Slater and Happy Dance

The pair laid down two beautiful rounds to impress the judges, garnering an 81.5 in the first round and then an impressive score of 90.5 in the handy for a total of 172, earning them the blue ribbon. Following closely in second was Ashleen Lee with Soho, scoring a two-round total of 171.5. Rounding out the top three was Emmelia Forbes on her mount, Silent Partner, receiving a two-round total of 167. 

Slater expressed her love for the showgrounds saying, “I just love coming here to HITS Chicago. The jumps are always so fresh; the staff is amazing, and it’s just so beautiful here.”