University of Findlay IHSA Hunt Seat Team Going to National Championship

By Vanessa Crowe

The University of Findlay IHSA Hunt Seat team competed in the Zone 6 championship at Lake Erie College on April 1. The team left the champions of Zone 6 and secured its spot in the Nationals. The IHSA Nationals is going to be held at Kentucky Hose Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Nationals will be held from May 4 to May 7.

IHSA, Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, which was founded in Robert Cacchione in 1967, is a competition involving college students in the English and Western riding. College and university teams compete in zones. There are eight zones which include thirty-nine regions in North America. IHSA welcomes all riding levels.

Emma Lynch is a freshman student in the equestrian studies.

“I’m just so grateful to the team and coaches for giving me the opportunity to be on this team,” Lynch said. “Starting with no experience, growing, and winning has been such a crazy fun journey.”

IHSA competitions are held at colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. The hosting schools provide horses for the teams to compete with.

“Our last show was the Zones competition at Lake Erie College. The way IHSA works is there is a pool of horses, and you draw which horse you will ride out of a hat. So, you have no idea who you will ride until about 10 minutes before you compete,” Lynch said. “At Zones, I rode an adorable paint pony named Riley, and ended up winning my division on him. At Nationals, I will draw a horse randomly from the pool once I get there. I have no idea who I will draw, it can be anything from a tiny pony to a massive Clydesdale. This is a fun but very nerve-racking part of IHSA!”

Marianna George shared the horses she drew.

“I rode a few different horses at the Zones competition. When I competed in the Team Open Fences, I rode Avatar, who is a horse from Miami University,” George said. “In the Individual Intermediate Fences, I competed on Cat, which is one of UF’s horses. For Team Open Flat, I drew Avatar once again. To finish up, for the Individual Intermediate Flat, I ended up with Luna, a horse from Lake Erie College. I will not know who I am going to ride at Nationals until the day comes! The horse I am paired with will be the result of the random draw for my class.”

The horses students draw can effect points earned in the competition depending on their skill sets.

“Depending on the horse that you draw, some things in a jumping course may be harder than others,” George said. “Horses have strengths and weaknesses as well. For example, some are better suited for things such as sharper turns than others.”

Just like the horses, riders have to focus on skillsets to earn points.

“There are certain skills that are really tough for me,” Lynch said. “If the judge asks us to sit trot, it means we have to keep ourselves glued to the saddle as the horse bumps up and down. This is very challenging for me as it can be very bouncy.”

There is a plentiful amount for students to learn when training for IHSA, especially for those just entering the sport. There are rules and styles riders must follow while competing.

“Since this season was my first ever experience showing horses, I had SO much to learn,” Lynch said. “I basically learned an entire new sport in a span of just a few months, so I definitely was not as comfortable as some of the other girls heading into competition. My teammates and coaches have been so helpful and have really taken me under their wing as I learn all of the rules.

“The hardest challenge for me has been adjusting to all the different kinds of horses I ride during competition. In the Findlay Equine program, I ride the same horse every day, and have gotten very comfortable with that style of ride,” Lynch said. “Every horse rides differently, so not knowing what you are going to get until you’re on the horse and in the ring can be very stressful. I overcame this by riding all kinds of different horses in practice and getting used to all the different styles.”

“I competed at IEA Nationals a few times which is the high school level, but this will be my first time at IHSA Nationals,” George said. “I’ve never been to any sort of national competition as a full team. In high school, I made it as an individual.”

Riders are full time students that not only have to focus on riding, but also have to focus on their physical and mental well-being.

“I have been working through some health complications the past few years, but this has been my healthiest year yet,” George said. “It has been hard to ensure that I practice the amount needed, while maintaining my physical health to ensure I can continue in this sport.”

For any athlete it can be exciting and emotional when achieving a spot in Nationals.

“At the Zones competition, I was the second to last division to compete,” Lynch said. “All I knew was that as long as I didn’t get last, we had a pretty secure shot at qualifying. When the division ended, and I found out I got first, I was honestly in shock. I looked up and my mom was happy crying in the stands. Then my teammate Emily closed out the show with another first, and we knew for sure we had won. It was surreal. When they called our name as champions our coaches teared up, we were all hugging each other. It was such a special moment.”

“I could not be more excited about going to nationals. I’m fairly new at riding compared to most of the other girls, and I cannot believe how far I’ve come in such a short time,” Lynch said. “If you told me in October I would be heading to nationals with 5 regular season blue ribbons, I wouldn’t have believed it. I competed in my first ever horse show just 7 months ago and now I’m going to nationals? The feeling is unreal. This team really is so special.”

Students prepare for nationals by practicing what they have experienced at competitions and from riding different horses.

“We have been trying to get as much time in the saddle as we can! Every horse has different quirks and feelings requiring us to adjust how we ride to work with the horse under us at that given moment,” George said. “The best way we can prepare is by riding many different kinds of horses to learn how to adapt to as many different kinds of rides as possible, so when we arrive at Nationals, we will be better prepared for the variety of horses that will be there! We have also been putting in extra time at the gym to keep building our strength to help while in the saddle.”

With many students being in the equestrian programs, there is a significant amount of riding along with team practice.

“A good portion of our team is in the English equine program here at Findlay,” Lynch said. “So, through that program we ride 5-6 days a week with instructors. Through the team, we practice 1-2 days a week. During our IHSA practices we ride all kinds of horses and focus on specific weaknesses we need to strengthen for the next show.”

Information about IHSA and IHSA National Championship can be found here.