50 Years of IHSA

This year, the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association celebrates its 50th birthday. Bob Cacchione, one of the founders, takes a trip down memory lane to share the story of the IHSA's inception.

In 1967, college freshman Bob Cacchione (left) and mentor Jack Fritz organized a clinic with Bert de Némethy (mounted). IHSA/Bob Cacchione

You would never guess by the tireless enthusiasm on founder Robert E. “Bob” Cacchione’s face that 2017 marks 50 years since he helped launch the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association. Bob, now serving as executive director, and a handful of college coaches, including Fairleigh Dickinson University professor John H. “Jack” Fritz (future cornerstone of such equestrian institutions as the U.S. Equestrian Team and U.S. Pony Clubs, Inc.), created the IHSA to make riding available for any student who wanted to compete without feeling limited by his or her skill level or economic wherewithal.

College-level equestrian sport has always been one of Bob’s passions. In 1967, as an 18-year-old freshman at Fairleigh Dickinson, he became its youngest faculty member as well as coach of a newly formed equestrian team that would launch the IHSA and its egalitarian mission.

Today it’s not unlikely to hear the words “Bob” and “Energizer® Bunny” used in the same sentence on any given weekend at one of the hunt seat or Western shows the 400-plus IHSA- member colleges and universities host annually while serving an estimated 10,000 undergraduate riders. Thousands more remain involved after graduation through IHSA alumni programs. In the words of a famous 1968 advertising campaign, IHSA has come a long way, baby.

Throughout the 2016–2017 season, Bob has been on a nonstop national IHSA 50th Anniversary tour of its collegiate horse shows. Fondly dubbed “Bob’s Magical Mystery Tour” by the all-volunteer committee in charge of coordinating his more than 20 such stops, it will culminate May 4–7 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington during the IHSA National Championships and include Bob heading a special Friday celebration after the day’s competition.

“I still don’t believe it,” he said. “Fifty years? Where has the time gone? I can’t express how proud I am when I think about the doors this has opened for young riders. Or the multiple years, if not decades, that so many coaches have given to the association and most of all, to its riders. That’s the real backbone of IHSA. Fifty years later I’m still mesmerized by that.”

In the early days, Bob worked as ringmaster for as many shows as he could, promoting his own college series while networking at the gate. “That’s how I met horsemen like George Morris, Ronnie Mutch and Victor Hugo-Vidal—first as coaches or riders at my in-
gate and later I’d ask them to judge my shows. George judged the first
IHSA show hosted by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point [New York]. Two other coaches included Mike Page and Jim Fallon, who coached Bennett College and went on to be AHSA president. 

“After George judged his first IHSA show for me, it meant everything to have him say he was very impressed at how well organized the show was. Since the beginning he has said he loves how the IHSA format builds on a riding foundation from Walk–Trot through Novice to Open. I later asked him to judge IHSA Nationals in Texas and he said he would be ‘honored.’ Believe me, I was the one who was honored.”

As for the next 50 years, Bob still dreams as big as any freshman: “Maybe an international IHSA? I believe it could happen.”

IHSA going global, says the lifelong horseman (who once foxhunted with Jacqueline Kennedy and escorted Andy Warhol to the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden), hinges on what he calls “the equitation factor”: “Here in the United States, we’re the only nation that has equitation. European formats focus on dressage and stadium jumping. So it’s a matter—in part—of looking at expanding programs to include dressage and stadium jumping and defining intercollegiate.”

Robert E. “Bob” Cacchione has been recognized for his commitment to college riding with the USHJA Presidents Distinguished Service Award, USEF/EQUUS Foundation Humanitarian Award, Doctor of Humane Letters from Centenary College and American Horse Publications Equine Industry Vision Award. In 1973, a special annual award called the USEF/IHSA Cacchione Cup, as a tribute to Bob’s parents, Marty and Anne, was created to honor the national individual hunter seat high-point rider. Past winners include Beezie (nee Patton) Madden and Peter Wylde.

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