My Experience with IHSA

My Experience with IHSA

I’ve seen different posts on blogs throughout the past year where people had a negative experience with IHSA, which is the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. Reading those posts always made me a little sad, because I absolutely would not be the rider I am today without participating in this program. Instead of being bummed, I decided to write about it… and here we are at today’s post.

Disclaimer: I’m writing from my personal experiences only, and I stopped riding IHSA in 2007 to give you a time reference.  Things may have changed!

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For those of you who don’t know much about it, IHSA turns riding into a team sport for college students.  It is not the same as NCAA and ranges in competitiveness depending on your school basically.  Divisions run from Walk/Trot to Open, which I believe is for people who have shown 3’6″+ on the circuit.

Shows are held at host universities, and each school brings a certain amount of team members.  Of those team members, one rider per class is designated a “point rider”.  The only points that count for the overall score are from the point riders, and the same rider could be the flat and jumping point rider for their division… but no rider can compete in two divisions.

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Horses are drawn out of a hat, and there are rarely exceptions made – unless a 6′ tall person draws a 14hh pony.  The rider is allowed to walk only on the horse.  They can’t do any lateral work or practice turns on the forehand, etc…. just walk until the class.  When it’s their turn to jump or the flat class starts, they just go in and ride!

So that’s how it worked, but why did I love it so much?

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Me, Beg. WTC at Virginia Tech

For starters, IHSA was my first real look into the hunter world.  Previously, I had only done hunter/jumper schooling shows where strides were “how many times you canter before the jump” and I never thought twice about my rubber dress boots.  Getting a peek into the way the elite A hunter/jumper girls worked was fascinating.  Plus, my equitation had kind of morphed into “stay on the horse” from years fox hunting without doing much showing at all.  No joke, I had forgotten all about diagonals and could only trot on the left diagonal during try-outs.  Only trot on the left diagonal folks!  WTF?!?

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Elvis being used at the UNC Show

With that in mind, you can imagine I was a bit ghetto and I bet you’re thinking, “So how on EARTH did you make the team?”  This is where I’m lucky for how my school, NCSU, ran their team.  It was a club sport, which means “come one come all.”  I was placed in Beginner Walk/Trot/Canter (the lowest division possible based on my riding experience) and I took weekly lessons as the club required.  And guess what?  I got better.  I was eager to learn, improve, and the Equestrian Club gave me a great avenue to do that!  Before the first semester, I was able to go to my first IHSA horse show.  Not as a point rider of course, but I was so happy to be there.

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Me, Beg. WTC at Virginia Tech

Besides advancing my skills, I made lifelong friends.  Attending a university with 30,000+ students had me feeling pretty alone at first.  Joining the Equestrian Club and competing in IHSA gave me a dependable group of people that I would see in club meetings, lessons and shows.  Some of the most fun I had in college was attending overnight shows at Virginia Tech and Virginia Intermont.  We were oh-so-classy staying in the sketch ball La Quinta and going out at only the finest places 🙂

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The NCSU Team at the Tournament of Champions… and I look like a baby here.

So if you’re a high school kid or someone attending college now, don’t be afraid to investigate IHSA and your school’s equestrian club or team.  Some of the negatives people talk about are absolutely true, but you may be missing out on much more than you know by immediately writing it off!

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Me, Beg. WTC at Virginia Tech

Did any of you show IHSA in school?  Love it?  Hate it?  Tell me, I’m genuinely curious!

41 thoughts on “My Experience with IHSA

  1. I dreamed of showing IHSA in college, but the program at my school was so poorly run that I gave up. Downside to being a club sport, I guess 🙁

  2. I did IHSA! Coming from an eventing background, there were a lot of bad habits my trainers had to beat out of me. However, I did learn a lot more about jumping and the theory behind it. It feel like it make me a better rider. I learned a lot about horse shows and learned to be super comfortable and confident on show grounds. So much learning! Plus, a lot of the girls on my team were legitimately GOOD at their chosen disciplines. It was fun to be around them.
    Without IHSA, I would have spent 4 years at college without any access to horses. I can’t imagine how coming back to riding after college would have gone if I hadn’t kept my feet wet in the horse world!

  3. I loved IHSA! My school’s team (Delaware Valley) was really competitive, and our coach was EXTREMELY serious about winning, very tough, and admittedly had a habit of playing favorites, so some people had a bad experience with the team, but I had a blast. It was a time in my life when I could show every weekend, be competitive, and be part of a team. There’s nothing quite like walking into the ring and having your coach say, “You need to win this class. We’re all counting on you.” YIKES! IHSA isn’t the be-all and end-all of horse showing, but I had a wonderful time and a lot of fun doing it.

  4. I was on the hunt team for a few years up at North Dakota State. I LOVED it. Yes, there were drawbacks to it, just like there are drawbacks to every club sport, but I learned a lot through the process and had a blast with my team mates. My little cousin is now on the same team at the same school and I hope her experience will be as good as mine was!

  5. I never got a chance but would have loved to. My sister did and she had some great and some not so great experiences. Like everything else in life it so much depends on the people around you.

  6. My experience would take a blog post of its own… I rode for West Texas A&M (yes, last years national champion western team). It was a varsity sport there, and if I remember correctly I think we were the only team that shows IHSA and NCEA.

    I tried out for THREE YEARS. The third year the coach sat me down in her office and told me “You need to take your time, dedication, and athleticism and do something else, because this isn’t it.”

    She went on to tell me I could have a JV position and work my butt off for two years and never be good enough to show, but it that was what I wanted I could have it.

    I did spend my junior year as a JV team member.

    She underestimated me though, and made me varsity my senior year and I showed beginner wtc/advanced wtc.

    So I had a coach I was terrified of and a tough team – we practiced 3 days a week and worked out with a personal trainer the other three days.

    My biggest triumph was that not only did she let me show, but she moved me to jumping practices and let me jump with the novice riders. My last practice I got to jump the toughest, craziest jumper we had that was an open horse.

    But the friends I made and the teamwork we had were the best part of college. I had some major major confidence issues about my riding after her little chat with me, I actually got into the habit of placing my foot inthe stirrup with my hand from the mounting block because I was so nervous I couldn’t get my foot in there.

    And my favorite horse on the team (that I had my senior picture taken with for our senior plaques) was an obese pony sized furball of a QH.

    1. That’s crazy intense. I don’t know how I would have liked that environment, but sounds like there were pros and cons to it (like everything). Kudos to you for proving her wrong!

  7. I rode IHSA and really liked it 🙂 I was also the designated “team ringer” because at this point I had ridden upper level dressage but never shown over fences… so technically I could be entered in the Adv. WTC division even though I was capable of a bit more. Needless to say I pointed out of that division quickly and then slowed my roll 😉

    The only complaint I had about IHSA was that the barns we rode at around here were usually ill-equipped for the number of riders at each show. There were several times that I scratched out of an over fences class (as long as I wasn’t point rider) because I had been watching the horse I pulled get used for round after round and it just didn’t seem worth it. I will say that there was no other way I could have ridden so many horses in such a short amount of time however. For me it was definitely a positive experience.

    1. We were lucky in that there were two horse-focused universities in our region, and they hosted most of the shows. The other colleges who hosted usually teamed together, that way they borrowed horses from multiple students/schools and there was a good variety to choose from.

    2. similar experience here… I am a bit cynical about IHSA, but I enjoyed my experience. I was able to start as a Novice (I can’t remember why, but most of my eventing stuff didn’t point me out..). My two largest complaints were that 1) the number of girls in Open who clearly rode wonderful horses 3’6″ in real life but fell off nearly every show with a random draw school pony and 2) the horses/facilities at some of the shows. Some were great! some made me sad and I too withdrew a couple times when horses looked lame/unhappy/incapable of what they were being asked to do.

      But all in all I loved the girls on my team, loved having an affordable avenue to keep riding in college and really enjoyed the late night boot polishing parties and learning more about Hunter Land.

  8. I rode IHSA and didn’t have the best experience — it wasn’t terrible persay, but I didn’t love it either. I think that what school and zone you’re in has a lot to do with your IHSA experience. I’m glad you enjoyed it though because I really do think that IHSA has a lot of positives.

  9. I admittedly have said a negative thing or two about IHSA in my past, however, I did actually try out this year (mostly because I knew most of the girls from school and wanted a social thing to do!) and made the team but practices were held when I couldnt make it. Honestly I am not sure how much I would have loved it either. We are known for having one of the worst areas with the worst horses donated. I am very much a laid back no stress kind of person and it just seemed like people got way to stressed out about it. I also thought why in the world am I going to pay$30 per to compete someone else’s (potentially incompetent) horse in a rail class. But hey, thats just me 🙂 Who knows though I may end up doing it next year with some girls I know just for giggles.

  10. I had the unique experience of riding both IHSA and NCEA for the University of Tennessee-Martin. When I was a freshman the team was only IHSA and very poorly organized. The horses were mostly students’ horses they boarded at school in exchange for allowing them to be used in the program. Club members were responsible for picking up all the costs of showing- travel, food, etc. Instruction was offered via a physical education class; the class was at night, once a week, and included all riders regardless of level. The coach was one of the animal science professors who’d had a horse once, or something. I didn’t ride on the team because my horse was already boarded nearby and I preferred to work on my eventing goals rather than drop time and money into something that I didn’t feel was worthwhile.

    My sophomore year, UTM decided to add equestrian as a varsity sport; the team would ride in IHSA for a year, then make the transition to NCEA competition. The coach was replaced with a woman who’d coached Kansas State to several championship appearances, the horses were booted from the barn and replaced with quality mounts, prospective members had to try out for the team, and the university bought new tack and started picking up hotel, travel, and food expenses for team members. I tried out, made it, and was assigned to ride in the intermediate division both on the flat and over fences (lolz @ that).

    I enjoyed the NCEA experience over the IHSA one. I felt the head-to-head format was more fair, the horses were far more consistent, and the competition more accessible to riders who couldn’t otherwise afford to travel and pay show fees.

    I learned a LOT from my coach and while riding hunt seat didn’t make me want to take up the discipline, it DID improve my riding. Regardless of what association a school competes in, I think good instruction and the experience of riding a zillion different horses is a valuable one!

  11. I was not on IHSA or IDA (although we did try to put together a collegiate eventing team for our college, which totally failed) – my friends on IDA absolutely LOVED it, some of my friends in IHSA loved it, some hated it… it was really hit and miss. I distinctly remember the CareFlight helicopter coming to most every IHSA show we had, and remember walking into the arena to watch a w-t-c class… everyone, literally every horse, was galloping around the ring on the wrong lead. I walked back out laughing… that was about the extent of my experience!

  12. Good write up! Makes me nostalgic. And not that you’re asking my opinion, but I had good/bad experiences with IHSA, and I was on two different teams. .. you know, what, you just gave me a good idea for a blog. So, I’ll just write it out instead! Ha!

  13. Of course you know I was on Dressage team at State, and it sounds like our stories are somewhat similar (ex foxhunter who did dressage in order to event, and that’s it). Very cool to read your perspective! Maybe I will have to write up a post myself!

  14. I’ve written about my IHSA experiences before. I really enjoyed it and thought it was a great way for a college student to travel, ride, and incur fewer expenses than if we were doing regular shows and having to haul. I loved my team. And it was completely voluntary, so if you tried it and hated it, you could just drop the team.

    I’ve seriously thought about showing Alumni!

  15. I wanted to show in IHSA really bad in college, but the coach was a terrible person. She screamed and put people down and never had a supportive word to say. I think the theory of IHSA is awesome, and I would have probably participated if not for the horrible coach.

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  17. I rode in IHSA and felt the same way as Tracy. I liked it, didn’t love it. I was at Purdue, and being a Big 10 the team was HUGE! I think if the group was smaller I would have gotten more out of the experience.

  18. I rode IHSA with Ball State University for 3 years. I LOVED it. Our team didn’t have super nice horses to practice on, but we made it work. We were usually beaten out at shows by bigger universities such as Purdue but our scrappy little team did get Reserve High Point a few times! After getting on strange horses and jumping them over 3 foot jumps, nothing really made me nervous after THAT. haha.

  19. I rode NCAA and liked it.. some of the girls were snotty and others were super nice.

    It wasn’t for beginners by any means and we had some interesting horses but it was a great experience for my riding to grow and I got on lots of different horses!

    1. The coach was a dressage rider and it was very interesting how the style that she wanted us to ride was NOT how I was taught at all in CA. I stuck to what I knew from having some great trainers growing up and fared well despite not conforming to her ways lol!

  20. 30,000 people at your university! That’s more people than my entire hometown. Obviously we don’t have anything like IHSA in Canada, but it sounds really neat! Are you saying that you take a horse into the arena that you may have never ridden and jump it around a course? That’s got to be helpful for the riding skillz! I would have loved to be part of an organization like that in university

  21. I actually went to Virginia Tech but I’m not sure if they had a team back in the dark ages. Anyway, if they did, it was just hunter and I really only rode western back then. Glad you had a good time.

  22. I don’t think I was on our team as long as you, Lauren, but I absolutely loved it! I loved belonging to a team that did such a. Cool thing as ride horses, I loved the meetings, I loved the shows, everything! I started out in Beginner WTC and quickly moved up to Advanced WTC, but didn’t stay in it long enough to move beyond that. I seem to remember our team having to change barns? I think that’s why I quit, the new barn was too far away for me with my school and work schedule. I’m so glad I did it, though, it was such a great experience! I still love looking at my old ribbons and the mug I win at VA Intermont that one time. And the show we hosted was SO much fun to me! ( :

  23. I showed for Wheaton College in Illinois back in the early 1990s! They didn’t have an equestrian team, but there were other colleges in our region that did, so I nosed around and found some other girls on campus who had ridden or wanted to try riding. We launched the Wheaton Equestrian Team and went to several shows in the Midwest (Taylor University, Purdue, Ball State). It was fun and I met people I never would have met before. I don’t believe the club lasted for very long after our group graduated, but it was a good time while it lasted. Thanks for reminding me of a slice of my past.

  24. Hello from back in NC! I remember that UConn trip! I too, thought IHSA was a great experience. I sold my horse after high school and enjoyed riding several different horses in lessons and the random draw at shows. There is no experience that can compare to the depth you gain when riding different horses and figuring them out in a brief time during your class. You learn to be sensitive, observant, and react quickly yet subtly.
    I hope you are doing well and I enjoy reading about Simon 🙂

  25. Ah! Just now stumbling upon this post! I definitely LOVED that the Equestrian Club was composed of the Hunt Seat and Dressage team (which sadly isn’t the case at State anymore:( ) It was so fun getting a chance to meet you guys with IHSA and I felt like the IDA team was it’s own version of a more fun sorority – pros and cons to everything but the pros outweighed the cons by leaps and bounds!

  26. Hi there,

    I’ve been lurking through your blog and love it! I know I’m like a year late, but I want to leave a comment here 🙂

    I was a member of the Equestrian Team at my college (Western Michigan University). I went through high school showing (not very well) on the Morgan Circuit + 4-H and open, so it was a HUGE HUGE difference going to an actual true hunter seat. When I started I had never jumped a horse before, so I really knew nothing other than the typical go around in circles looking pretty thing. Our coach, Rob, was absolutely awesome. He taught me so much and I realized taking lessons at his farm how little I really knew. I was in the Advanced W/T/C on the flat and was generally the key rider for our team. I’ll never forget the 3rd place I earned in a huge class at Findlay U. Awesome experience and I’d recommend it to anyone 🙂

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