Founded by Robert “Bob” Cacchione in 1967, the premise of the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) is that any college student should be able to ride in horse shows regardless of their riding level, gender, race, sexual orientation or financial status. Since its inception, the IHSA has provided countless opportunities for college students in the United States and Canada. Present day, IHSA includes over 400 member colleges across 45 states and Canada and has a whopping 10,000 members.
The IHSA acts as a home for equestrians of every level. From long-time riders who are on track to become professionals to curious college students just finding horses, the IHSA provides an affordable way to get involved in the sport. Horses and tack are provided by the colleges, eliminating the expenses of horse ownership and the costs that come with it. Those who may have never had the means or motive to explore the horse world are welcomed with open arms. When I was part of the IHSA, we had students join the team who had never sat on a horse’s back before, and we loved it! Watching your teammates grow and learn, no matter their skill level, is one of the most rewarding aspects of the IHSA.
“I have a lot of kids who are not experienced riders,” says Peter Cashman, Executive Director of the IHSA and coach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. “To see them win their first blue ribbon is so exciting. When you’re teaching them and the light bulb goes off in their head and they finally understand what you’re trying to teach them, it’s so gratifying.”
At competitions, mounts are drawn at random to allow an even playing field across each level from the Beginner Division to the Open Division in both the hunter seat and western disciplines. Every rider is tasked with the challenge of performing their best on a horse they have never ridden before. Trainers, teammates, family and friends watch from outside the ring as the riders put in their best rounds. And while one person may be riding, it is truly a team effort.
“Whether it’s Nationals, whether it’s a tournament, whether it’s a local regional show, you’re riding all different horses. But the thing that is consistent, is that this group of people, your IHSA team, is there on the sidelines,” says Dr. Ella Pitman, former Mount Holyoke College IHSA rider. “They’re cheering you on, they’re walking courses with you, they’re helping polish boots, they’re making sure your stirrups are right. They are there. They are always there.”
While competition does play a role, it’s the students’ enthusiasm and team spirit that make the IHSA what it is. Members have the ability to ride while also building a close community with fellow equestrians. As an IHSA veteran myself, some of my closest friends and strongest relationships came from being a part of the team at Auburn University. We laughed together, cheered together, worked long hours together, and supported each other. In the end, it forged lifelong friendships that I’m thankful for every day.
“There are so many stories you hear about friendships that are found between an open rider and a walk-trot kid on the same team that would have never been in the same area at a horse show,” says Cashman. “They wouldn’t have made this connection. But, through the love of the horse and being on a team, that relationship has built and grown and stayed with them for life.”
Riding aside, the IHSA is helping shape the future of the horse industry. In general, the equestrian community is seeing less and less newcomers to the sport. The IHSA is working to break this trend by recognizing the importance of creating professionals. And, “professionals” doesn’t always mean riding professionals—the organization helps mold members into trainers, veterinarians, barn owners, insurance providers, journalists and more who will move the industry into the next generation of growth. The IHSA connects those who are exploring a career path in the equine industry to a network of horsemen and women who can work together.
“So many of their classmates and kids who rode on other teams who they became friendly with are now in the industry,” says Cashman. “They intermingle with each other. If they’re looking for horses or if somebody is looking for a job, they network, and they’re helping the whole horse industry.” The IHSA community reaches farther than just college students—as riders graduate and move onto their next phase in life, they will help the next generation of athletes, and that generation the next, and so on and so forth.
Though the IHSA was founded so that any college student would be able to ride in horse shows, it is so much more than that. It is a home, it is a community, it is a learning opportunity, it is the future of the horse industry, and it is the experience of a lifetime.
This article and Horse Week feature video are brought to you by the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association.
Horse Week: October 3 - 9
Learn how the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association kicks off the careers of many equine industry professionals in the IHSA's Horse Week feature video, Life Lessons 101 on Tuesday, October 5 at 8 p.m. EDT. Check out more must-see equine content October 3-9, 2021 during Horse Week brought to you by Boehringer Ingelheim Equine Health at www.horseweek.tv.
WATCH the trailer for Life Lessons 101 below.