Athletic Spotlight: Triumph at Nationals

Athletic Spotlight: Triumph at Nationals

Julie Warnick Claims First National Title in Wilson’s History
By Chris Bailey

For the Wilson College equestrian program, the 2023–2024 season saw the realization of dreams and the shattering of records. At the heart of this journey stood Julie Warnick, a soft-spoken sophomore from New Oxford, Pa., whose quiet poise masked an extraordinary gift with horses.

From the start of the season, Western Coach Cathy Woosely Luse could see something special in Warnick. “She’s a shy and quiet person, but she observes everything and studies her craft,” said Woosely Luse. Beyond the confines of collegiate competition, Warnick dedicates herself to honing her skills, competing on her personal horse, and soaking up every lesson the equine world has to offer.

The path to the national championship was an arduous one. She first had to earn her way through regionals and then semifinals, beating out a staggering 8,000 riders to become one of the best. “Last year, we didn’t make it past the semifinals,” Woosely Luse recalled. “But that pressure and experience made us better prepared this year.”

In early May, the Tryon Equestrian Facility in North Carolina set the stage for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) national competition and Warnick’s big moment in the Western event of reining. This event is mentally and physically demanding as it pairs riders with horses whom they have never trained. Once randomly matched, riders control the horses while pushing them to their limits with breakneck
speeds and dramatic sliding stops.

On top of the normal challenges of reigning, the footing at this facility was not conducive to sliding stops, which posed a conundrum; push the horse to perform and risk injury or put the health of her new companion first and  ride more cautiously. “I was concerned we might have been too conservative,” Woosely Luse admitted. But Warnick’s instincts proved true. She represented Wilson with striking maturity and tailored her approach to put the well-being of her mount above all else.

As the scores were tallied, the placements were announced in reverse.
10…Cathy leans over to Julie.
7…No matter the result,
5…she had been a success,
3…her hard work and care defined a
journey that she should be proud of.
1. Julie Warnick.

When her name rang out as the champion, the emotion was overwhelming. Woosely Luse, herself a former national champion, fought back tears of joy. “It was a moment for me too,” she confessed. For a program not considered in contention, Wilson had announced its arrival on the grandest stage, and Julie Warnick had
etched her name into the records of equestrian greatness.

While deserving fanfare for Warnick and Woosely Luse is in order, IHSA honored Wilson before the weekend events started by requesting several Wilson horses to be included for random matching with competing riders. “We took three horses, and of those horses, we had National Champion Horse, Reserve National Champion Horse, then the other horse was third,” shared Woosely Luse.

One of those horses, Ned, presented a unique situation when he was paired with a rival rider in the same event as Warnick. Even so, when her competition sought Wilson’s counsel on handling Ned, Woosely Luse did not hesitate. “It’s about doing the right thing for the horses and being an advocate for them,” she explained.

In that moment, the true essence of the sport shone through–a partnership between human and animal, built on trust, respect, and an abiding love for these majestic creatures.

As the dust settles on this historic season, the impact of Wilson’s success is already reverberating. “It will affect recruiting,” Woosely Luse affirmed. “We’ve proven the program.” It’s clear this championship has ushered in a new era of prestige and possibility.

Samantha Gilley Shines in Hunt Seat
Sophomore Samantha Gilley from Sykesville, Md. also made Wilson history by being the first rider since 2009 to represent Wilson at the National Hunt Seat Championships. Gilley, lead by Coach McKenna Debus, placed an impressive 5th in the individual intermediate equitation on the flat event, beating out riders from over 380 colleges across the country.

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