Intercollegiate Horse Show Association riders know the value of balance and time management. Whether they’re juggling multiple sports teams and school commitments or representing their school at the NCAA leadership conference, some IHSA riders go above and beyond to become an example to their fellow teammates.
The coaches at Smith College (Mass.), West Virginia University, Savannah College of Art and Design (Ga.), and Centenary College (N.J.) each believe that they have a rider who exemplifies the spirit of the IHSA.
Smith College senior Jessica Willis is a leader not only for her team, but also for her school. Willis represented Smith last year at the NCAA National Leadership Conference. She was one of only 325 athletes to attend the conference, and she was the only equestrian athlete there.
“She leads by example,” said coach Suzanne Payne simply.
Willis started taking riding lessons once a week when she was 12 and got her first pony in the eighth grade. She showed regularly until the summer of 2000, when a fire at the barn where she boarded her two horses killed them both. She said the experience made her question whether to pursue the sport further, but she continued because she loved it. Unfor-tunately, Willis had another setback when a young horse she’d bought died last year.
“I haven’t had the greatest luck with horses,” she said.
But Willis’ luck with the IHSA has been much better. She was Zone 1 intermediate over fences champion and placed third nationally as a sophomore. Willis, who’s been captain of the Smith team for the past two years, said the IHSA has been a real opportunity for her to expand her skills.
“I don’t know what I would have done in college if I didn’t ride,” she said.
Willis rides six days per week, and she said that the experience has helped her develop the finer points of her equitation. She credits Payne for helping her to become a better rider. Payne said Willis is one of the more dedicated students she has had.
“I’m going to miss her terribly,” Payne said.
Willis also is supportive of her teammates. She said that the Smith team members have always been there for each other.
“I definitely want to make sure my teammates make the most of their student-athlete experience,” Willis said.
That student-athlete experience has been such an important part of Willis’ life that the economics and Spanish major is applying to graduate school for sports management. She’s also an accomplished cellist, playing with the Smith College Orchestra, which is performing at New York’s famous Carnegie Hall in May. Willis, who in four years only missed one horse show (because of a graduate school interview), said she hopes to always keep horses in
“If I have to ride Western to stay involved with horses, I will,” she said.
First Year On The Team
Kayla Fisher, a West Virginia University sophomore, hasn’t yet completed her first year of intercollegiate competition, but her dedication inspires other team members to do their best, said WVU coach Michele Koury.
Fisher, from Oley, Pa., transferred to WVU last fall after attending Delaware Valley College (Pa.). She started riding when she was 7.
Fisher said that when she got to WVU, she wanted to get involved on campus, so she joined the equestrian team and the crew team.
“She has an extreme amount of dedication,” Koury said.
Weekdays for Fisher begin at 5 a.m., when she gets up for crew practice. Practice ends at 8 a.m., and she has about a 40-minute break before her first morning class. Most days she’s in class until about 1 p.m., but on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she has weightlifting practice for crew from 2:30 until 4 p.m. She rides several days a week in the evening. Although Fisher is on the novice crew team this year, she plans to try out for the varsity team next year.
“I try to be in bed by like 9 p.m. because I’m so exhausted,” she said.
Fisher rides in the intermediate division with the IHSA, but she didn’t show regularly as a child. When she was younger, her show horse, a Quarter Horse named Major, died suddenly of heart failure. He had hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, an inherited genetic disorder that plagues Quarter Horses. After Major died, Fisher stopped riding for several months.
Two years ago, Fisher got a new horse, Jewel, a Hanoverian mare. But, not long after Fisher got Jewel, the mare got cast in her stall and panicked. Jewel broke herjaw and couldn’t be trained or ridden for a year.
“That took a while to get back on track, but now I’ve pretty much got her going again,” she said.
Fisher has not missed an IHSA show this year, despite her demanding schedule. The crew regattas start the weekend following the last horse show, so balancing the competitions for the two sports hasn’t been a problem, she said.
Somehow, Fisher, a psychology major who wants to own her own business someday, also finds time for schoolwork.
“Her parents were afraid she’d get to school and not be able to handle everything,” Koury said. “I’m amazed she hasn’t had a nervous breakdown.”
Grew Up Riding
Jordan Siegel, a Savannah College of Art and Design student, grew up riding a variety of horses in Flower Mound, Texas, where her mother is a trainer. She rode at local shows as a child and moved up to the A-rated circuit during her last three years of high school.
It was at a horse show that Siegel first met Andrew Lustig, director of the equestrian department at Savannah College. Lustig was judging the show and liked the way Siegel rode.
“Being a professional’s child, she never really had her own really good horse,” Lustig said.
But she did have lots of experience with catch riding at shows–perfect for the IHSA. As a freshman, Siegel was the IHSA champion open flat rider and the reserve champion open over fences rider. She was third overall for the Cacchione Cup.
In 2003, Siegel was also the ANRC national individual champion, leading Savannah College to the team championship. The junior has also ridden in the International Student Riders competitions and was part of the World Championship team that placed fifth overall, among 18 countries, last year.
“It’s a great experience to get to see the world,” Siegel said.
Lustig said Siegel’s dedication inspires her teammates, perhaps because the team feels “more like a family” than a team to her. Siegel, the team captain, rides a minimum of five times per week, works out with the team once a week, and works out by herself two to three times per week. She also drives her teammates to the barn if they don’t have a car, and she teaches lessons.
“She has the best attitude toward the team, since she grew up having to work around the barn,” Lustig said.
Siegel is also a dedicated student, and the performing arts major has even sung the National Anthem at horse shows. Siegel said she sometimes has to sacrifice her social life a little to balance riding and school, but she finds ways to manage her time.
“As soon as she’s done riding at a horse show, you’ll see her doing her schoolwork,” Lustig said.
Working Her Way Up
When Carrie Nass joined the Centenary College equestrian team as a freshman, she rode in the novice division. But through persistence and hard work, she’s moved up to the open division for both flat and over fences. Centenary coach Andrea Wells has watched Nass blossom both as a rider and a person.
“She was so shy,” Wells said of Nass’ first year on the team. “It would kind of show up when she’d ride too. She was a pastel before. She did the right things, but she kind of got lost in the crowd.”
As Nass gained experience, though, she also became more outgoing and a leader for her team. For the past two years, she’s served as Centenary’s team captain.
“She was kind of a sleeper,” Wells said. “We didn’t even know how funny she was.”
As captain, Wells said Nass, now a senior, inspires her teammates through her positive personality and dedication. Wells said she’s always the first to arrive and the last to leave the barn.
Nass said she likes being part of a team, a unique experience for many riders. She also balances working at the barn, working at the college, working at a local liquor store, and preparing a young horse for sale as her senior thesis project.
Nass also organized Centenary’s Tournament of Champions IHSA show last fall. She started working on the event two months before the show and said it was a lot of hard work.
“It turned out really well,” Nass said. “We got a lot of compliments on our horses and our facility,” she said.
Nass is an equine studies and business management major. She said that the demands of riding haven’t affected her schoolwork–and she has a grade-point average of 3.9 to prove it.
“It wasn’t really difficult for me,” she said. “It all kind of goes together.”