Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Justina Vanagaite Is A Lithuanian Dressage Pioneer—And A Lot Of Fun To Follow

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In a final filled with riders from powerhouse equestrian nations, Justina Vanagaite stands out. The 33-year-old is the first rider from Lithuania to ever compete at the FEI Dressage World Cup Final, and she is doing so on the first horse she’s ever ridden in international Grand Prix competition.

“It’s awesome. Like wow! I’m speechless, honestly,” she said. “I couldn’t be more happy about everything, what’s going on now in my life. And to represent Lithuania for the first time here, wow, it’s a huge thing for me.”

In her debut performance, Vanagaite scored 68.19% for 12th place Wednesday in the Grand Prix with Nabab.

“The feeling was really nice,” she said. “Only in the end I had a mistake on the extended trot, but otherwise I’m super happy about the start. Just to be here, it’s just ‘wow’ for me.”

Justina Vanagaite and Nabab. Amy Dragoo Photography Photo

Vanagaite has owned Nabab, a 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Sir Donovan—Tamarinde, Krack C), for four years. Initially the gelding didn’t scream international competitor.

“In the beginning was super hard,” she said. “When I was competing for the first time in M level—in riding club competition with amateur riders—I was the last one, and scored 61, something like that. … Some journalist came and said, ‘Oh your horse is crazy,’ and I said, ‘No, no, it’s just not experienced.’ ”

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As a 7-year-old Nabab qualified for the World Young Horse Championships, and in 2020, they made their international debut at Prix St. Georges.

“Then one year later I just I was thinking, why not? I can go to the Grand Prix,” she said. “[Nabab is] the first horse for me in this level which I made by myself, so I’m also really proud.”

The pair have started in two senior international championships before: the 2021 FEI European Championships (Germany), where she also was the first Lithuanian to compete, and the Blue Hors FEI Dressage World Championships (Denmark).

“Every time I have a feeling that he would be better and better,” she said. “What he needs is time and nice riding with a lot of relaxation, and I think he will be a really great horse. He already is.”

Vanagaite’s Instagram account, which includes her posts from Omaha and a healthy helping of humor, has endeared her to dressage fans:

Vanagaite lives in Vilniaus, Lithuania, an 11-hour drive from the big international competitions, so she plans to do several in a row to cut down on the amount of travel for Nabab. During competition season she only rides him three times a week, and between those competitions she keeps his work light, primarily longing him in a halter.

“It’s OK for me,” she said. “Normal riders are not doing like this, but it’s fine by me. For me the goal is that the horse needs to be happy, then I’m happy.”

Vanagaite will compete in the Grand Prix freestyle today. Competition starts at 6:15 p.m. Central. Click here for complete ride times.

The Chronicle has a reporter on the ground in Omaha, bringing you photo galleries and stories about each day’s competition at the FEI World Cup Finals on www.coth.com. Also make sure to follow along on the Chronicle’s social media outlets: FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

For useful links and more information on how to follow the competition, click here.

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