Western IHSA team qualifies for nationals once again

Team members and coaches worked hard all season to get them to this point and that continues as they prepare for nationals

By Brooke DeSnyder, DeSnyderB@Findlay.edu

UF’s western IHSA team gears up for nationals, which has become a yearly recurrence due to their outstanding performance year-after-year.

IHSA is a college level catch-riding, showing competition, where riders compete individually and for their teams to gain points throughout the season and place high enough to qualify for nationals. Over the years, the team has been National Champions six times and Reserve Champions three times. The team will show off their hard work at Nationals from May 3 through May 5.

Spencer Zimmerman coaches the western IHSA team. When it comes to post season practices, they mainly consist of rail and pattern work, but exactly what the riders work on tend to be flexible.

“At this point, our riders know their weaknesses, so I usually ask them what they think they need to work on and that gets us started,” Zimmerman said.

Some of the members are also pursuing western equestrian studies degrees, which gives them more time to ride other horses for class, not just during practices. Kait Howe has been co-captain of the team the past two years and uses her time during class to focus on how she can improve her riding overall.

“I try to make every ride that I have on any other horse feel like I am preparing for nationals,” Howe said. “I think this is the best preparation I have since this makes showing feel like any other day being in the saddle and riding whatever I have to the best of my ability.”

Sidney Hawk has had a successful season in the reining division. She and the team took advantage of time outside of the saddle to stay fit to help improve their time in the saddle as well.

“I have also been working out more often,” Hawk said. “I can’t expect my horse to be the only athlete, so I train myself as well to be better for them.”

Zimmerman has seen the growth of each member and the effort they have been putting in as the season progressed not only as riders, but also as individuals.

“They have the passion to get better and care for these horses to the best of their ability,” Zimmerman said. “Where there is passion and dedication, there is growth.”

The team’s comradery plays a big part in their passion and dedication to the team. They want to win for each other.

“My teammates are always on the sideline cheering me on,” Hawk said. “We all try to never miss anyone’s ride and if we hear someone’s name announced, we make sure it gets really loud in the arena.”

Similarly, the team Instagram page has “leave no doubt” in its bio. This has many different meanings, but one of them focuses on how the team works together.

“As a team, this quote models how we interact with each other,” Howe said. “We work together to put on horse shows, to practice, to compete, and to learn which means it takes all of us to make this happen. Therefore, each one of us takes responsibility to show up the best we can and push each other to do the same.”

All of this has allowed them to compete in Nationals once more and it’s something they plan to bring with them.

“I am most looking forward to the team comradery,” Howe said. “It is always so much fun to cheer on our teammates during their rides and having the same enthusiasm from them during my time in the arena.

Hawk described the feeling as wonderful when she placed in her classes this season.

“The team always cheers during everyone’s runs and when placings are announced everyone is pretty good at yelling when one of us is called in the placings,” Hawk said. “I really couldn’t ask for a better team.”

The team supports every rider no matter what and they are taking that with them to nationals.

“My goal for the team is to go there and ride every horse we draw to the best of that horse’s ability,” Zimmerman said. “But I get the feeling the team wants to win.”