Have you ever thought about riding in college? Did you even know you could continue your riding career while continuing your education?! Today we are highlighting just one of the many ways you can ride in college.
IHSA stands for Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association and is a college riding organization that offers competition in hunt seat equitation, western horsemanship and reining. There are over 400 schools in the U.S. and Canada that have participating teams! With so many schools offering IHSA teams the way each team is formatted can look different school to school.
Some colleges and universities offer their IHSA teams as more of a club sport where a handful of riders get together and ride at a local barn and then compete at the shows, while other teams are made of hundreds of riders with the schools having their own barn and horses and some even cover the expenses of showing and offer scholarships. As you are looking around for your perfect fit for a school, if you are interested in riding on one of these teams be sure to reach out to the coach ahead of time to see if their team seems like the right fit for you!
How does IHSA work?
Well, basically you show up to the horse show and draw a horse's name out of a hat and then get on and show that horse. The hosting team provides all of the horses so owning your own is not necessary to be on the team. A typical day at an IHSA show would look like this: You and your team arrive at a crazy early hour to watch the warm up of the horses. You have no clue who you might be riding so you watch them all to try and see if you can pick up any clues on what they might be like. Then there are meetings and things for the coaches and captains, so unless you are one of those, you do a lot of waiting. Then you find out who you are riding. Sometimes you actually get to draw your horse's name out of a hat but most of the time the steward will do the draw to save time.
Then you wait for your division (there is a lot of waiting). The levels range from 3' Open to Walk/Trot. What level you end up riding in is determined by your coaches at the beginning of the year and they take in to consideration your previous riding experience. Each coaching staff will have their own strategies on how to place riders but generally you want to be in a much lower level for IHSA than you would do on your own horse, or the horse you consistently ride.
The reason for this is because riding a horse you don't know either over fences or through a reining pattern can be very difficult! And this horse you randomly are assigned, yeah, you don't get to warm it up at all! You literally get on, adjust your stirrups and then are led into the ring to go show. You don't even get to walk the horse independently, someone is always there handling the horse. All of this is to make sure there is a level playing field and that no one is getting to know their mount better than the next person. Each class is judged on the rider exclusively to help level the playing field and account for some horses being harder draws than others.
Throughout the season riders compete in local shows hosted by different teams and earn points in each class to "point out" to the next division and to qualify for post season competition. After the regular season there is the Regional show and the top riders in each class from Regionals qualify for Zones. Below is a list of each zone and the states within that Zone. Then the leading riders and teams from each Zone participate in the National Finals that is held in different areas each year.
What are the benefits to riding on an IHSA team?
There are a few major benefits to riding on an IHSA team.
1) It is probably the most feasible way to horse show ever! Let's face it, riding and showing is EXPENSIVE but doing so through IHSA is an amazing opportunity. At the most you can only ride in two classes per show and every show costs the same dollar amount to enter, so for the shows themselves they never add up to being more than you expected! Now each school can be different on the other costs of showing so be sure to ask about travel, coaching, equipment, meals and practices. For the most part, however, riding on an IHSA team is the easiest way to continue riding and showing throughout college.
2) Riding is typically a very individual sport so being in a team atmosphere is usually missing in regular horse show environments. So cheering on your teammates and traveling together can be a totally new experience for some. But, it is so worth it and the people you meet on your IHSA team often become friends for life!
Did you ride on an IHSA team when you went to college? Tell us all about it in the comments below!