IHSA Nationals 2023 from a Student’s Perspective

Purdue Equestrian Team's Abby Talcott shares her first experience at IHSA Nationals.

My name is Abby Talcott, and I am a sophomore at Purdue University studying Pharmacy. My team qualified for IHSA Nationals, where I competed in the Team Limit over fences class. This was my first year participating in IHSA and I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to compete at Nationals for the team.

ihsa nationals
Talcott riding Eloquence, provided by Hollins University, in Team Limit Over Fences.
© Andrew Ryback

Home and On-Site Prep for IHSA Nationals

In preparation for this event, we were riding as much as possible while still finding time to study and take our final exams. With our finals landing on the same week as Nationals, we had to arrange an alternate time to take them before we left for Kentucky. We tried to not let the stress of exams get in the way of our riding as we still rode three to four days per week leading up to Nationals. 

We arrived at the horse park to watch schooling on Wednesday. I still could not process that I was at Nationals, and I was competing. While watching schooling my excitement grew; every horse looked like a dream to ride. My team and I took careful notes on each horse, based on how we thought each would ride, and what differentiated them from others. I noticed some familiar horses I have ridden or seen during the Tournament of Champions series shows and some new ones I was excited to see perform throughout the week.

Nationals Gets Underway

Thursday was the first day of showing and I was in the first team class. My coach, Kathryn Kraft, and I watched schooling to freshen up on the horses I might see in the draw. Shortly after, Kathryn and I walked the course. It was my first time stepping into the ring at this show and it all started to become real. We planned out every turn, focal points in the ring to ride out to, and where to step up into the lines. 

Team Limit Over Fences draw with Purdue University’s good luck charm, Petunia.
Courtesy, Aveena Rawal, Purdue University

The draw table was the most nerve-wracking part for me. This is where I would be told my horse and order of go, and it was all up to a little wooden horse on a carousel. I brought Purdue’s good luck charm Petunia, a stuffed animal horse, with me to the draw table. With her luck, I drew a horse named Eloquence, provided by Hollins University, and my order of go was 11th. Kathryn and I looked back at notes taken from schooling and from the horse list to gain more information about my mount. He was a smaller, hunter-type horse that would need to flow up the lines. I was so excited because he reminded me of my pony background. I instantly felt more confident!

Since I went 11th in the order of go, I had plenty of rounds to watch before my turn. What I enjoyed most about watching my competitors and their rounds is not only the talent of the riders in my class, but also their approach to the course. I observed how the lines rode, what aspects were harder during the course, and the track others took around the arena; my goal was to try and learn as much as possible before entering the ring. When it was time for me to walk into the ring, the feeling of nervousness was overtaken by excitement—I had been practicing all season for this moment.

I had the confidence to lay down a good round with my mount, Eloquence. Coming out of the ring smiling and happy with my round, my score was announced. I scored a 76, I ended up 5th overall in the class. I was thrilled to be in the top five at my first IHSA Nationals.

Talcott riding Eloquence, provided by Hollins University, in Team Limit Over Fences.
Courtesy, Aveena Rawal, Purdue University

A Team Effort

After my class, I cheered on my teammates as they competed in their team and individual classes throughout the rest of the week. What I enjoyed most about Nationals was getting to spend time with my team and see all our hard work pay off. I enjoyed all of the memories made with some of my favorite people that I will remember beyond my college career.

Purdue Equestrian Team after the completion of 2023 IHSA Nationals.
Courtesy, Aveena Rawal, Purdue University

Besides enjoying every moment with my teammates, I enjoyed watching other riders and teams. I was fascinated by the talent of these riders and their ability to mesh seamlessly with their horse. I learned from other riders through their successes and mistakes not only in my class but classes throughout the week. My favorite class to watch was the Hunter Seat High Point Rider class, every rider presented something that I can take away and learn from. Overall, I am beyond proud of what my team and I have accomplished this season and I cannot wait for what next season brings. 

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