IHSA Nationals: A Veteran Shares Her Behind-the-Scenes’ Perspective

Miami University Equestrian Team's Mary Roskens discusses insights she's learned after two consecutive years of competing at IHSA Nationals.

By Mary Roskens

Excitement, nerves, pressure, satisfaction, camaraderie, and even disappointment are a few words that come to mind when I think of my experience at this year’s IHSA Nationals. The athletes have worked hard all year with the hope of their efforts culminating in success on this stage.

It is no small task to make it to this point, and it is an even greater accomplishment to find success at this level. We all enter the arena hoping to become a national champion and few can claim that as their reality. 

The 2024 IHSA Nationals marked the second time Mary Roskens has competed at the event with the Miami University Equestrian Team. © Andrew Ryback

From the moment I joined Miami University’s Equestrian Team in the fall of my freshmen year, I had the goal of not only qualifying, but being competitive at the national level. I was fortunate enough to make it to this point last year as a sophomore where I competed in the individual Open Flat division.

While I was lucky to have had the opportunity, I left yearning for greater results. This year, I had the chance to compete in the Dover Saddlery Open Equitation Over Fences for both my team and as an individual. I also tried my hand at the USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, presenting the Cacchione Cup.

IHSA Nationals: Great Expectations

I was very fortunate to have had so many opportunities to get into the show ring this year. For this reason, I take pride in finding improvement with each round. I had a bit of a rocky start in the Open Individual Fences and was able to build upon the mistakes I made each day to end up in 11th place by half a point in the USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, presenting the Cacchione Cup, and fifth in the Dover Saddlery Team Open Equitation Over Fences.

Something I’ve always struggled with at competitions on this stage is perspective. I set high expectations for myself and am often disappointed when I don’t reach these sometimes unrealistically high bars. While I believe that grand goals are the gateway to great achievement, maintaining a clear mind and viewing errors as opportunities has helped me seek continual improvement.

We compete in a sport where perfection is rewarded. When I came into this competition, I expected myself to achieve nothing short of this nearly impossible standard. As I entered the ring on Friday morning, my goal was to be flawless. I quickly learned that this mentality would lead me to nothing but disappointment.

As the week went on, my mindset shifted. I came to realize that I was riding an unfamiliar horse over a technical track on the biggest stage in IHSA. Perfection was unattainable. My goals became smaller: practicing patience, executing my plan and making new mistakes if I had to, but never repeating those of the previous day.

Building Versatility & Camaraderie

Over the past three seasons of IHSA competition, Roskens learned how to adapt her skills while riding different horses to become a more versatile and confident rider. © Andrew Ryback

As a rider who comes from a background with a primary focus on the jumper ring, I had a lot to learn coming into IHSA where many of the horses fit the equitation and hunter types. My coach, Heather Pinnick, and I have worked hard over the last two years to help me become a more versatile rider.

Nonetheless, I am always excited when I can draw a horse with a bit more blood. For me, the draw is one of the moments in every IHSA competition that holds a great deal of anticipation. During my time at Nationals, I had the opportunity to ride some amazing horses with backgrounds in the hunter ring. This might not have catered to my strengths, but it helped me to develop new ones.

IHSA Nationals presents the opportunity to ride talented horses in a beautiful venue surrounded and supported by teammates and coaches I consider to be some of my closest friends. Working alongside them in the barn as we cared for the nine horses that traveled with us all the way from Oxford, Ohio, was a bonding experience in and of itself. It’s easy to get caught up in results, but the reality of all equestrian competitions is that you leave with the same team and horses you came with, regardless of the placings.

Winning Is Learning

At the 2024 IHSA Nationals, Roskens finished the USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, presenting the Cacchione Cup, in 11th place. She took fifth in the Dover Saddlery Team Open Equitation Over Fences. © Andrew Ryback

Reflecting back to perspective, I’ve been fortunate enough to compete on the national stage at other points in my life and have found that hindsight holds optimism.

I always try to carry with me the idea that if you’re not winning, then you’re learning. As I look back on my junior season, I came to realize that the lessons learned vastly outweigh winning. This sport continues to teach me more about myself as a person and a rider, and this year was no exception.

The IHSA format provides a unique challenge that emphasizes the importance of maintaining composure even in high-pressure situations. This is a perfect example of how lessons learned in the ring transcend the equestrian sport. While I’m not sure where I will find myself after college, I know the lessons I’ve learned and the friends I’ve made through IHSA will last a lifetime.

For more information on IHSA and Nationals 2024, click here.

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