Training a team to three major titles in the same year–at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association’s National Championship, the Affiliated National Riding Commission’s National Championship and the Tournament of Champions Series–is rare. To do so while retaining the universal respect, admiration and affection of your students and peers is even rarer. But then, Eddie Federwisch is an extremely rare individual.
He is the kind of person who can brighten your day, make you laugh, and thoroughly enchant you while he politely snatches the trophy from your hands and leaves you cheering for his success.
Federwisch, of Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va., is also the kind of person who took a college riding and degree program that was on its last leg and turned it around so quickly and dramatically that it took everyone by surprise. And like everything else, he did it with a smile.
“I was at Virginia Intermont for a semester before Eddie took over in January of 1994,” said deSaix Tankersley Hill, who graduated with an equine studies degree. “Eddie came in the door like a rush of fresh air. He made the courses tougher, required more hands-on work in stable management, training and schooling and show management. He worked our butts off. But he worked harder than we did. He put in ungodly hours cleaning the barn, making repairs, doing all the things you do when you run a 100-plus horse barn and college riding program.”
Federwisch, 45, also took Virginia Intermont’s IHSA team from the bottom of the region to the No. 2 slot, behind Zone 4 Region 2 powerhouse, Hollins University (Va.), his first year. “But more than that, Eddie made it all fun,” said Hill. “He’d drive us to competitions on the team bus, and from the moment we got on board, until he dropped us back off at the VIC riding center, we’d laugh. It was great.”
Ultimately, it took more than a good sense of humor to turn around a riding program in danger of shutting down. “I had a lot of help,” said Federwisch in a drawl that is a mixture of Texas, Atlanta and a bit of East Tennessee. “I have good faculty.”
His team includes Patty Graham-Thiers, who has her Ph.D. in equine nutrition and exercise physiology and oversees academics, teaches and conducts research, Lisa Moosmueller-Terry, assistant director, instructor and coach of the Intercollegiate Dressage Association team, Amy Sherrick, who coaches the international intercollegiate team and teaches riding and stable management classes, as well as Sue Glover and Teresa Slaupas, who instruct and coached last year’s winning ANRC team. Jacob Haught, DVM, teaches several courses, and Margaret Jones runs the office.
“I’m also blessed with an administration that gives me support when I need it. And, I have support from people in the horse community like Kathy Paxton, Anne Kenan, Anne Cheatham and the late George Moore, who have loaned or donated outstanding horses to the program,” said Federwisch. “Then there are students and parents who have contributed time, effort and money.”
Chief among those supportive parents are his own, Raymond and Lydia Federwisch, who have supported their son’s horse habit from the beginning and continue to support his efforts at VIC.
A Driving Force
While Federwisch is quick to give others credit, he is the driving force behind the burgeoning enrollment in Virginia Intermont’s equine studies program, which has increased from 32 students in 1994, to 70 students in 1995, to 150 students in 2004. It is also Federwisch who coached his teams to an amazing record of seven IHSA regional championships and two reserve championships, one zone championship and seven reserve championships, one national championship, and six Tournament of Cham-pions titles.
Federwisch claims that he just concentrates on the basics. But there is far more to it than just that. According to Hill, “Eddie understands the sport and the horses. He is a U.S. Equestrian Federation r-rated judge; he knows what judges look for in the ring. But most of all, Eddie makes you want to win for him so that you make him proud.”
And he doesn’t make that easy. “The horse industry is tough,” said Federwisch. “It requires a lot of physical work and time. It’s not for everybody, and I consider it part of my job to give students an understanding of what will be required of them in the real world. A lot of these kids come into the program thinking they’re going to graduate and just ride for a living. That is not the reality, and the sooner they find that out the sooner they can decide if they want to do it or change to another major.”
To help students make that determination, Federwisch created the Virginia Intermont Classic Horse Show in 1999, one of the few rated shows hosted by a college. This is a hands-on, real-life laboratory for students in stable and show management. Every trainer who attends the VIC Classic is assigned student workers to help set up stalls, unload horses, get riders and horses to schooling and show rings, muck stalls or anything else the trainer needs. Students in show management classes help the show secretary handle forms, points, registrations, etc.
Federwisch, a native of Texas hill country, knows first hand just how demanding the horse industry is. He started riding at the age of 12, when his family moved to Atlanta, where he became a working student, mucking stalls and grooming in exchange for lessons and board.
He successfully showed at the A-rated level. In his senior year of high school his family moved to the Tri-city area, which includes Bristol, Va., Kingsport, Tenn., and Johnson City, Tenn. While in college at East Tennessee State University, with double majors in business and communication, Federwisch continued showing.
He purchased Silver Lake Farms in 1982 shortly after graduating from college.
He also began working full time for Piccadilly Cafeterias as a department head while building his lesson program. His day job ran from 5 a.m. until 4 p.m., when he’d return to his barn to teach lessons.
Then, in 1993, the director of the VIC equine studies program called and asked him to fill a part-time riding instructor position. Three semesters later, Federwisch was asked to head the program.
Among the many things Federwisch tries to impart to his students is the importance of a good work ethic. “His work ethic is part of what makes him a successful trainer,” said Kathy Paxton, who was Eddie’s trainer in Atlanta. “The other part is that he under-stands the horse and teaches his students to create partnerships with the horse. He teaches non-interference, to have the horse move from hind to front to create the perfect ride. And he uses the horses to teach students life lessons.”
Susan Knickerbocker, a certified mounted police instructor and VIC alumna, has watched the college’s program throughout its 30-year history. “Eddie’s credibility, professionalism, and diverse skills in business and horse training have made a huge difference,” she said. “Eddie has taken the degree program from a glorified riding lesson program to one of true professional preparation. In the early 1980s I asked Olympic rider and judge, Bill Stein-kraus, if he thought college equine degree programs were going to be just for riders. Steinkraus said, ‘Some day, with the right person, it could be a professional program.’ Eddie is that person, and that is what he has done.”
Lori Kramer, head English coach for Ohio State and former director of riding at The University of Findlay (Ohio) agreed: “I think Eddie’s program has given credibility to the equine studies degree and has raised its quality to the point that it encourages other colleges to improve–to seek his level.”
Teresa McDonald, trainer at Virginia Tech, agreed, emphasizing Federwisch’s use of his background in business. “[He] takes the working student concept and combines it with strong business education,” she said.
With the working student model, students are limited if the trainers don’t have business skills or don’t keep up with he latest findings in nutrition research or hoof care. Fed-erwisch’s program fills in these gaps.
“When you leave VI, you know how to create a budget, how to feed properly, how to set up a lesson program and the myriad of little things that make the work easier and more successful,” said Hill, who took a failing riding program at a private girls’ school in Louisiana and turned it around, following Federwisch’s example.
According to John Conyers, trainer at Sweet Briar (Va.) and member of IHSA’s board of directors, “Eddie has a sense of reality beyond collegiate riding. He keeps the big picture in mind in his program to prepare people to go out into the horse industry.”
Federwisch’s sense of the big picture was readily demonstrated in 2003 when the University of Findlay was struck with a virus that decimated their herd.
“At a time when our program was very vulnerable, Eddie was incredibly supportive,” said Kramer. “He showed up to judge our regional finals and donated his fee to help cover some of our losses.”
Scope And Vision
Federwisch’s sense of professionalism and its importance in the college arena are clearly manifested in his work on behalf of the IHSA, first as regional president, then director at large on the National Board, and chairmain of the Hunter Seat Committee.
“Eddie has scope and vision,” said IHSA president and founder Bob Cacchione. “He has made significant contributions to the IHSA from day 1, such as improving the quality of horses we use at nationals. Every year he does something to help with the growth of the organization. His ideas work.
“Everyone he works with on our board loves and respects him,” added Cacchione. “He understands what is appropriate and applies it to the situation at hand. He senses the maximum potential in horses, riders and people and allows them to bring it out in themselves. Quite often they exceed their own expectations. We are honored to have him on the IHSA Board of Directors.”
Anything that has to do with intercollegiate riding interests Federwisch. After watching for three years as several teams struggled to form an intercollegiate dressage organization similar to the IHSA, Federwisch called upon his contacts to help put together the by-laws and create the structure. In 2001 he hosted the first finals and organizational meeting that took the Intercollegiate Dressage Association from a regional club to a national organization.
“Anything that improves life for one part of the industry improves life for all of us,” said Federwisch.
But Federwisch’s impact on the horse industry goes far beyond the collegiate setting. As director of one of the nation’s premiere equine studies degree programs, Federwisch’s influence extends to every aspect of the horse industry. Graduates from VIC cut their career paths as everything from grooms to administrators in national horse organizations, breeding operations, show facilities, and high school and college riding programs. This level of influence is something he takes very seriously; it keeps him looking for ways to improve his program and, as a result, the horse industry.
“My goal has always been to have the best equine studies program in the country that produces safe, competent professionals,” Federwisch said. “Each year we do our best to surpass ourselves.”