Intercollegiate Horse Showing
Anyone who has grown up showing horses knows how addicting it can be. But what are you supposed to do when you move away for college and can't take your horses with you? Fortunately, for those with this problem there's an association for collegiate horse showing called IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association). Now, if you're like most college students chances are you're broke. However, IHSA makes it possible for even the poorest students (like me) to show.
What is IHSA and How Does it Work?
IHSA is an association that was founded in the 60's. It is made up of both hunt seat/over fences and western/reining. It started out with only hunt seat, but several years later they added a western division.
Whether you are doing English or Western, the basic rules are the same. Before your first show you'll be placed in the division that is based on your riding history and achievements. This makes it possible for even the most beginner riders to show. For hunt seat riders, the top three divisions may also compete in the jumping classes. For Western only open, which is the highest class, may also compete in reining.
If you've grown up showing like I have, then IHSA will be very foreign to you at first. IHSA makes it possible for even those without horses to show, and therefore at the shows you will not be riding your own horse. The school that is hosting the show is responsible for finding people to "donate" their horses for the day. This makes it fair, because everyone that shows has to ride a horse that they've never ridden before.
Once your team arrives at the show in the morning you have a chance to watch the horses warm-up in the ring. After that, a meeting will take place where horses are drawn for the riders. It's all completely random and you can't change your horse. If you're lucky you'll get to watch someone else ride your horse before you do as horses can be drawn multiple times.
After the draw the show will begin, starting with the highest division and going down. And here's the kicker: you're not allotted any time to warm up. You get on and go straight into the ring.
If you know anything about showing then right about now you're thinking "How is this fair? What if someone else gets a better horse than I do? They will obviously win". That's not true. IHSA shows are not judged at all on the horses abilities. They're judged solely on the rider's equitation and horsemanship. Think of yourself as a catch rider. You have to be able to get on a horse you've never ridden before and effectively ride him without any time to warm up.
When I started riding IHSA I thought it would be easy because of my past riding experience. I was dead wrong. I had to remember that I wasn't riding my horses anymore, and the things that I always did on them would not always work on different horses. It was frustrating at first, because some horses just wouldn't cooperate and others I just didn't know how to ride. However, after doing it for a while you begin to learn how to quickly analyze the horse the you're on and figure out how to ride it right.
You may be asking yourself "Why should I do this?" Let me tell you from firsthand experience that my riding has improved so much from doing this. We tend to look down on things that are different, especially when we've learned something one way our whole lives, and IHSA is definitely different, but trust me if you want to improve your riding this will do just that.
How Do I Join A Team?
If this article had sparked your interest then the first thing you need to do is see if your school has an IHSA team. Usually these teams are filed under club sports, so I would look to see if your school has an equestrian club and go talk to them.
If your school doesn't have a team but you know of at least 5 to 10 people who are interested then you can attempt to start your own club and then start your own team, however just know that this will require a lot of work, time and patience. The system can be difficult to learn.
Once you find out if your school has a team go talk to the president or captain of the team that you're interested in being on. From there you can meet the people who would be on your team, and also talk to your coach who will put you in the proper division. Pretty soon you'll be on your way to showing!
Check out the video below to see IHSA explained in depth by the founder himself! This is a great video and can really show you the meat of what goes on at the shows for IHSA.
Hope you enjoyed the article and happy riding!