Familiar faces complete the leaderboard after day two of dressage at the Defender Kentucky Three Day Event in Lexington.

But USA is knocking on the door.

Great Britain takes one-two on the podium with Tokyo silver medalist and last year’s reserve champion Tom McEwan on JL Dublin surpassing Yasmin Ingham’s test of yesterday with a 24.6. It’s a repeat of last year’s dressage results but swapped between Ingham and McEwan.

“It’s hours and hours of work no one ever sees but you try and do it so you can perform on stage with this,” said McEwan of the effort behind the score.

Joining Great Britain in equal third is USA’s Lauren Nicholson with veteran partner Vermiculus and Liz Halliday with five star first-timer Cooley Nutcracker on 30.6 each.

Nicholson had her hands full with a hot 17-year-old Anglo Arab fit to run a five-star cross country course. Luckily, “Bug,” as Vermiculus is known in the barn, kept a lid on a it in the electric atmosphere of the Rolex Stadium.

“It was definitely a big team effort [to get in the ring],” Nicholson laughed.

“He’s had a very long career. Amazingly, he did his first four [star] long as an eight-year old and his first Kentucky five-star as a ten year old and has done two big things every year for the last decade. Last year was the first year he hasn’t and when we got here, he certainly let us know that he was very pleased to be back.”

With over a decade of experience together, Nicholson has put together a plan to keep Bug happy and mentally stimulated. Her warmup before the her test is only seven minutes of walk interspersed with small moments of work but lots happens behind the scenes to make those seven minutes productive.

“Thank God for Sally [Robertson] my head groom!” She said. “She’s been my partner with all the horses for many years and has put in five times as much work as I have [this week]…we do a lot of ground work with him because it works his brain and keeps him interested and busy without drilling on his body and everything. He’s an Arab cross so you’re never going to wear him out. So that’s never the tactic.”

When she saw her score, Nicholson was pleased. “It came together well because he felt extremely fresh in the ring. It’s a fine line between that freshness being impressive and being airs above the ground!”

Halliday shared in the thrill of a successful dressage test with rookie Cooley Nutcracker, or Bali in the barns.

“I was really thrilled with him actually. He’s very much a horse in the making still. For him to be in the top three with what I wouldn’t consider the finished product sort of test, I’m thrilled…I’m [also] really pleased I went after the break because he definitely noticed the crowd cheering earlier in the warm up!”

All eyes now turn to the second phase of competition with Derek Di Grazia’s cross country test. Consensus among the riders is it is not as simple as it looks and that’s what makes them worried. But their faith in Di Grazia’s design to reward forward riding without catching the horses out and ruining their confidence means they are ready for the challenge, even if they are a bit nervous.

Five star cross country commences tomorrow at 1:30 pm EST and the Kentucky Invitational CSI4* Two-Phase begins at 6 pm EST in the Rolex Stadium.