2015 IHSA National Championship Thursday Report

Centenary College’s Matt Drohan gives a behind-the-scenes look from the 2015 IHSA National Championship.

We’re on the road to West Springfield, Massachusetts, for the 2015 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championship. IHSA member Matt Drohan is on the ground to bring you in-depth coverage. For more about the 2015 IHSA Nationals, go to the organization’s website www.ihsainc.com.

The Centenary College Equestrian Team: Bottom row coaches Heather Clark and Michael Dowling flank IHSA founder Bob Cacchione. Matt Drohan is in the row above the sign, second from the right. | Courtesy, Matt Drohan

April 30, 2015—I had a dream. I had a dream I woke at 4:15 a.m. to darkness and the sound of an alarm. Only it wasn’t a subconscious message—it was the first day of IHSA Nationals.

My Centenary College teammates and I began our day at 5 a.m. at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts. The horse show was set to begin at 8:30 a.m., so we fed and schooled our horses prior to that. All 24 of us—riders and grooms—began the morning chores as a team with a dream, although it wasn’t a dream. No, more like a mission to make our horses the best they could be and riders to have successful rounds. We can often hear one of our teammates in the aisle saying, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” Being here with my team at the Big E since Monday evening, I know a statement could not be truer. I am extremely proud of our efficiency and sportsmanship, and it showed today.

After feeding, watering and cleaning stalls, I started to get one of my horses, Herbie, ready for the day’s events. He was to show in the first several classes from the Open to Intermediate divisions. When Herbie was finally spotless and tacked up, one of our designated schoolers Sam Pyle mounted and headed to the schooling area. Herbie was looking good.

Centenary College’s Cody Wooten on his way to winning the 2015 IHSA National Championship Individual Intermediate Equitation on the Flat class | Courtesy, Matt Drohan

In Individual Open Equitation Over Fences, Herbie received a score of a 72. Centenary horses Ava and James won the class and came in reserve, with The University of Findlay’s Jessica Barno and Cornell University’s Chelsea Huss, respectively. Then, one of Centenary College Equestrian Team’s lucky riders Cody Wooten drew Herbie for Individual Intermediate Equitation Over Fences. He came out of his round with a score of 80 and qualified for additional testing. Cody landed in third place. Although this was an individual class, it was a great debut for Centenary.

Throughout the day, we had other amazing rounds as Cody Wooten also took victory in his Individual Intermediate Equitation on the Flat class, Morgan Knightes placed second in Individual Novice Equitation Over Fences and Caroline Norton won her Novice Equitation on the Flat class for the team.

The most exciting class of the day was the last one, the Collegiate Cup Intermediate Equitation of the Flat class. This class counted toward team points and you could feel how thick the atmosphere was. All competitors showed at the walk, posting trot and canter as is usual. When judges Danny Robertshaw and Jimmy Toon asked the riders to sit the trot in both directions, we realized they were having a tough time pinning the class. The riders also cantered for an unusually long amount of time. Then, as our Collegiate Cup rider, freshman Shelby Keefe, turned the back right corner of the ring, the judges asked for a lengthening of stride at the canter—the first time all day. When we thought there wasn’t much more to ask—except a dropping of stirrups— the announcer called, “Riders please hand gallop.”

Shelby was brilliant throughout every test and place second out of 15 other riders.

Overall, it was a great day, not only for Centenary but all the teams. Other colleges having strong rounds included Skidmore College, Savannah College of Art and Design and The University of Findlay, just to name a few. Across the board, intercollegiate teams from California to Ohio and the East Coast cheered as loudly as they could for their teammates at the ring—believe me, Centenary did. At the end of the first day, it was my Centenary family that led the Collegiate Cup way with 13 points with SCAD only behind by two. Let’s see what Friday brings!

Centenary College horses Ava (gray on the right) and James (gray on the left) won the Individual Open Equitation Over Fences and came in reserve, respectively. | Courtesy, Matt Drohan

Aside from showing, schooling and grooming, there were additional events occurring throughout this first day. Being at Nationals, my fellow freshmen and I are missing our Practical Horse Management II class this week, so our coaches especially advised Skylar Laakso and myself to attend the Smartpak Academy Presentation with Smartpak’s Equine Health Senior Director Jessica Normand. The slideshow increased our knowledge about healthy, balanced feed programs for horses.

I also had a meeting today for the IHSA Student Leadership Committee. Just created this semester, we have many goals we would like to accomplish in the next year. We’d love to grow as an organization and have one representative from each region—so ask for further information from your coach to apply—as well as aid the IHSA during this time of growth with the help of a student’s perspective.

It was quite an eventful day but such a great start to 2015 IHSA Nationals. Good luck to every competitor tomorrow—we are especially excited for the coveted Cacchione Cup classes as our very own Anthony DeSimone will be competing.

In Friday’s report, I’ll also cover the interscholastic programs that helped me get to such a great place and how they relate to the IHSA.

About Matt Drohan: I started my journey in the equine industry at Seaside 4 Therapeutic Riding at Jamaica Bay Riding Academy in Brooklyn, New York, in seventh grade when it was time to do community service for Confirmation. A few years later, I started as a trail guide at the same facility. As my passion grew for the sport, I joined the resident Metropolitan Equestrian Team competing in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. With the help of Head Coach Jane DaCosta and financial aid from another teammate’s kind and generous mother, joining the team as a Novice rider with a single mother became possible. As I worked my way up from sophomore year to senior year, I ended my IEA career in the Open division with a co-captain title. With great successes throughout my IEA years, one of my most memorable moments was receiving the Regional Sportsmanship Award at the last horse show concluding my high-school riding career. 

In my final two years of high school, I took my college search extremely seriously and participated in well-known recruiting programs such as the College Preparatory Invitational in Wellington, Florida. My first time showing at the event, I was approached by coaches from numerous equine institutions, which made my decision considerably more difficult. My second year at CPI, I took a different route and served as Horse Show Manager Assistant under Mr. Peter Cashman.

Now a freshman at Centenary College, in Hackettstown, New Jersey, I continuously re-establish myself on Centenary’s IHSA team and the IHSA organization as a whole. On Centenary’s team, I competed in Advanced Walk–Trot–Canter this season, and my point total over my first two semesters landed me third in the zone overall. As decided by my coaches, I will be the second treasurer on the team for the upcoming year. In addition, I am extremely proud to have been elected to the newly founded IHSA Student Leadership Committee, whose goal is to bridge the gap between the student body and Board of Directors. 

Outside of the interscholastic and intercollegiate show worlds, I gained knowledge and experience as a working student under Eric Hasbrouck at Canada’s Spruce Meadows. I also spent my winter break from school grooming for Darragh Kenny at the Winter Equestrian Festival. I am looking forward to new growth opportunities this summer within the industry. Reflecting on my experiences thus far, I have learned that the most valuable take-away lesson is to never succumb to the difficulties and challenges faced. 

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