Once upon a time, long, long ago, college students interested in riding and competing horses had to find their own opportunities at stables or clubs located near their colleges or universities. But, in 1967, all of that changed when Bob Cacchione, then an 18-year-old sophomore at Fairleigh Dickinson University (N.J.), established the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association.
What a difference 40 years makes. Today, the IHSA includes 300 member colleges in 45 states and Canada. There are 29 regions in nine zones, and there are more than 6,500 riders competing in hunter seat equitation, western horsemanship and reining. Bob’s IHSA has indeed grown, improved and prospered through the years, and draws some of the nation’s most talented riders to the IHSA program after they graduate from the U.S. Equestrian Federation junior ranks.
However, the IHSA isn’t all about top riders. One of their missions is to offer students of all abilities the opportunity to join the team and compete on equal standing. Because the purpose of college is to expand your mind and horizons, the IHSA has captured that essence through the structure of its programs where beginner walk-trot riders are just as important to the team as the advanced riders who’ve contested the USEF Medal or ASPCA Maclay classes. The IHSA’s emphasis is on learning, sportsmanship and team camaraderie.
This year’s Intercollegiate Special Issue celebrates the diversity that intercollegiate riding encompasses in the 21st century. One of the most successful IHSA teams is found at Skidmore College in New York (p. 8). For nearly 20 years, Cindy Ford has led the team to four national championships. In addition, her program has evolved to give students the opportunity to study many other facets of horsemanship, including exposure to USEF rated competitions, from showing to managing. When a student graduates from Cindy’s program, riding will be just one of many skills in her equestrian education.
While the IHSA is the pillar of intercollegiate riding in this country, other intercollegiate riding organizations and associations complement the IHSA’s program. Centenary College (N.J.), profiled on p. 20, will host two other major intercollegiate championships this spring, for the Intercollegiate Dressage Association and the American National Riding Commission. The ANRC was established more than 60 years ago and is based on the teachings of Capt. Vladimir Littauer, a Russian horseman who relocated to the United States in the 1930s and established a riding school and progressive educational program. The IDA was established in 1995 and offers an alternative to students who prefer to compete in dressage. This year there are 47 member teams from eight regions in their program.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is one of the newest intercollegiate riding associations (p. 14), established in 1998 as an emerging sport. While IHSA and NCAA are similar in many ways, there are some interesting differences that lead a school to choose one program over another, including recruitment and scholarship regulations, as well as amateur status and academic eligibility requirements.
So, the moral of the story is that for a young person, it’s a great time to be a student equestrian. There are countless opportunities to combine your passion of horses with your secondary education, from an all-encompassing equine-based major at a smaller school to obtaining your English or biochemistry degree at a major university and riding to enhance your educational experience.
In many ways, the IHSA has spurred the expansion of intercollegiate riding for everyone as it paved the way the past four decades. So Happy Birthday IHSA! You’ve hit your 40s and look better than ever.