The Chronicle’s newest blogger is going to take you behind the scenes of an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team as they prepare for show season.
My name is Ryan Lefkowitz and I’m the girl who only considered colleges with equestrian teams. I was incredibly lucky to be accepted to the State University of New York College at Geneseo, and even luckier to make the SUNY Geneseo Equestrian Team.
As a rider who grew up mostly a lesson kid, when I joined the team as a freshman I figured participating in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association would be right in my wheelhouse. I entered the team as an open rider with my 3’6’’ jumper background garnering me enough ribbons to be in the highest level both on the flat and over fences.
Despite my background, it took a solid four years of hard work and great training to find success with the many different kinds of mounts that call Leg Up Stables their home. The SUNY Geneseo equestrian coach, Kim Sanford, owns Leg Up and has not only trained almost all its horses herself but has also bred many of them. Geneseo compete in Zone 2 Region 2 of the IHSA.
The IHSA is built on a unique premise. Riders with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds are placed into divisions and then compete against each other on randomly assigned horses. They are then expected to compete on the flat and over fences without a warm-up; they get on, adjust their stirrups, and walk in to the ring. IHSA takes all riders equally out of their comfort zone and then drops them on a randomly selected mount.
The basic premise of getting ready to host an IHSA horse show is this: you need to prepare about 34 riders to ride any kind of horse while simultaneously preparing around 40 horses to be ridden by any kind of rider. It’s a daunting task to say the least and riders need to be ready to ride anything. A lot of work goes into riders and horses to make the two minutes they spend together in the ring the best they can be.
Potential horse draws from our own horses include a Connemara pony named Pete who has been doing IHSA for so long every coach knows him and a 5-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred named Roheryn preparing for his first ever IHSA class. Or you could draw an aged Oldenburg coming off of a long dressage career, or it could be a homebred warmblood fresh off his hunter debut.
Many of these horses have been used for years and are considered staples in our region, especially since we lend them to other schools for their home shows. Others are newly donated or more recently broken mounts that have the brain and attitude to succeed.
With four years of IHSA experience under my belt I stayed in my college town after graduation to help ride and school horses for our home show. Riders who are showing are not allowed to ride at all the day of the show, so extra people who know the horses and the coach’s way of teaching are always valuable when there are 40 horses to be schooled and limited time in which to do it.
This year Geneseo’s shows are October 26-27 as well as November 9. With these dates quickly approaching, this is our crunch time. Everyone, from our barn manager to all our team members, is well aware of the looming date. Sometimes two and a half weeks feels like a long time and certainly presents too many opportunities for a horse to colic, pull a shoe, or hurt itself in turn out. But most of the time it feels like we are hurtling along with barely a moment to tune up a lead change.
This month I am focusing on readying two particular horses: Abilene and Ombragé de Coeur. Preparing a horse for success in the IHSA is less about perfecting every little detail and more about making sure a horse is tolerant of a wide variety of riding styles.
Abilene, a 4-year-old paint cross bred on the farm, has always been ridden with less hand and more leg and needs to become more comfortable with a stronger feel in the bridle. Ombragé is an 11-year-old Selle Français-Thoroughbred cross who was donated to Leg Up over the summer. When we got him he was very resistant to contact and had two modes of traveling: curled behind the bit or head in the air like a giraffe. Both horses have been coming along very quickly with consistent riding and we are hopeful that they will make excellent draws in their respective divisions. Ombragé, being more broke and very big, would be geared towards the higher-level riders. Abilene is very quiet and less intimidating size, so she could be ridden at lower levels.
Our work is cut out for us. We have 40 horses, 34 riders, and nine days. Yet the best thing about IHSA is it takes a very individual sport and gives you a team. With that team behind you, the frenzied show preparation yields a calm and smoothly run weekend of competition every time.