Reflections on Competing at IHSA Nationals

A Cazenovia College senior shares her experience competing at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Nationals competition.

The first week in May has been a week I have always looked forward to for the last four years, not only because it is the beginning of nice weather in Cazenovia, New York, but it is also the week of the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Nationals. This was my last year going to IHSA Nationals with Cazenovia College. I am a senior and will be graduating at the end of May. This year, we were in Syracuse, New York only a short 30-minute drive from Cazenovia, and 20 minutes from my hometown of Baldwinsville, New York, which was a lot closer than Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or Kentucky where we had gone the last three years.

Gabrielle Baker (right) with her teammates, Shelby Jacquier (left) and Danielle Beinars (mounted), on the official schooling day of the competition. Courtesy, Gabrielle Baker

I was fortunate to have qualified and competed in the Individual Open Over Fences class this year at Nationals. This year was the first in a while that Cazenovia did not bring horses, so I was thankful that on Tuesday I was able to find some horses to school in the unofficial schooling, just to get a feel for the venue and get some extra practice in. A big thank you to Samantha Page, Kathy Zimmer, Sarah Agan, Albion College and Alexa Harris for allowing me to ride your horses. My coaches Amy Sherrick-Von Schiller and Liz Pinto were there to help me with schooling the horses in-between their other duties on the horse selection committee and working in the show office, respectively. Denise Van Patten, the Syracuse University coach and my long-time trainer, assisted me with one of her horses that she allowed me to school. I felt confident about all my rides that day and felt ready for my class on Thursday.

Wednesday was the official schooling day. Competing riders were not allowed to sit on a horse at the horse show at this point. The official schooling is run similar to a horse show. There is a 2-foot-6 group, a 2-foot-9 group and then different sections of flat groups. Based upon what the horse providers tell the selection committee about their horses and what the committee observes on the first day, they will decide what horses they want to see in what groups. The horses come in one at a time and are to be ridden over a set course they are given that day, and are essentially judged by the selection committee. Some horses may complete the course more than once, which gives the committee a chance to focus and determine what classes they may be best suitable for. They try to have a level field of horses for each class. I watched all morning, recorded the horse’s name and number and took notes. You never know what one you may end up drawing!

Thursday morning, I got to the show to watch schooling at 6 a.m. and see how the horses were looking that morning. As I watched schooling, I began one of my pre- show routines. I am one that can be a little intense and put too much pressure on myself, so over the years, I’ve worked on staying positive and channeling my energy in a productive and positive way. I have found that listening to a playlist and visualizing my ride the morning of a show helps me get in the right mindset. During schooling, I had on headphones and listened to my playlist and focused on watching how the horses were schooling and how the course was riding so I could start to make a plan. After schooling, it was time to walk the course. My coaches and I came up with a few different plans depending on the horse I drew and some back up plans if I needed to change a part of the original plan while on course. After the course walk, it was time for my class to draw.

Gabrielle (center) celebrates her success at the 2019 IHSA Nationals with the Cazenovia College team. Courtesy, Gabrielle Baker

The horse draw was a “Monopoly” board game theme. There was a table set up and when we got over to the draw area, we were told to arrange ourselves in order of our birthday and then pick an envelope on the table. In that envelope was paper monopoly money, the amount of money in the envelope corresponded with a piece on the game board. When we got to the enlarged Monopoly game board that was taped to the wall, we had to find the piece that had our dollar amount and take it off. On the back of the game piece was the horse that we drew and what order we would go in the class. I drew Zoey from Centenary University and we were set to go 15. I watched a lot of trips to see how the course was riding before getting on. Zoey was wonderful to ride—we scored a 76 and ended up 4! There were a few places I could have ridden a little better, but I was still happy to be ending my IHSA career with that round! I was lucky that with Nationals so close to my college and my hometown; many professors, friends and family came and support me. After my class, I volunteered for the rest of the day helping out at the show and assisting with any tasks.

I am very lucky to have such wonderful memories from my experience with the IHSA over the last four years. There were many ups and downs, but I learned something from every success and every failure, and for that I am very grateful.  

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