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