Where Have All the Big Eq Ribbon Winners Gone?

As all equestrians in the U.S. near the end of their junior riding careers and are facing the stresses of “aging out” and which side of the December 1st USEF birthday they fall, they are also facing yet another daunting set of questions about which path their equestrian career will take next.  For many, many years, our nation’s top junior riders across all of the hunter/jumper disciplines… hunters, jumpers and equitation… have more often than not taken the leap straight from the top echelons of the “junior” world and embarked upon a career in the “professional” equestrian world. This was natural of course for many across several sports but as time has marched on, many sports have, at a high level, embraced the collegiate path to further one’s training all the while achieving a degree in something that may help them in their professional careers, whether that be as a professional in their sport or otherwise.  

Is this the case with Equestrian sport too?  Let’s think it through. All one has to do is walk around a hunter/jumper horse show today. By the looks of all the college hats and sweatshirts highlighting so many collegiate riding programs, it makes our industry look like any other. But let’s take a step back from the anecdotal and put qualitative supposition aside and take a look at hard data to see if there truly is a shift in the evolution of equestrian career paths today.  Are our top riders going Pro and foregoing college, or not? And is it changing over time?

From the perspective of the hunter/jumper/equitation community, there are a few choices in today’s world for those “aging out” and those break into two groups:

  1. Don’t go to college and
    1. Stay Amateur
    2. Turn Professional
    3. Become inactive… or
  2. Go to college and
    1. Ride for a college team
      1. IHSA Team (primarily part of student activities)
      2. NCAA Team (100% part of athletics department)
    2. Stay Amateur
    3. Turn Professional
    4. Become inactive

Given the primary collegiate options, the NCEA and the IHSA, are based on Hunter Seat and Jumping Seat Equitation we thought we’d examine the “Big 4 Eq” Championships in the U.S. as a proxy for top junior riders in an effort to determine any trends. 

To begin with we will examine the last 10 years (2010-2019) of Top 10 Ribbon Winners at all 4 Big Eq Finals and track what they are doing now that they have “aged out”


  • USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final 
  • USEF Talent Search Finals (East)
  • WIHS Junior Equitation Championship
  • Maclay Finals

****We know there has been a USEF Talent Search – West for many years now, and many of those ribbon winners are college riders as well, but the original data for our long term study was created before the West Finals was added, so apologies to USEF Talent Search West as it was not used as part of our subject group.

Some interesting facts from an examination of the Top 10 finishers at the 4 Finals 

Over a 10 Year Period (2010-2019, some obvious, some not)

  • 40 ribbon winners a year (top 10 at 4 events… an easy obvious one)
  • 400 total ribbons available over 10 years

For the following: we don’t account for people winning of sequential or multiple years

  • 248 different people won those 400 ribbons over 10 years
  • On average over the past 10 years, 25 different people win the 40 ribbons each year
    • Many riders win multiple ribbons (another obvious)
  • 211 of the 248 top 10 ribbon winners over the past 10 years are women
    • 21 women win a Top 10 ribbon every year
    • 85% Big Eq Top 10 ribbon winners on average, annually, are women
  • 37 of the 248 top 10 ribbon winners over the past 10 years are male
    • On average over 10 years, of the 40 ribbons, 3.7 ribbons are won by men
    • 19 different men have won a Top 10 ribbon over the 10 years
  • If we take out sequential or multiple year Big Eq Top 10 ribbon winners
    • Our 248 different winners drops to 127 UNIQUE riders…
    • Yes, there really are that many who ribbon in sequential or multiple years
      • During the past 10 years.. the high was 5 years in a row for one rider attaining a Top 10 ribbon in one of the 4 Big Eq Finals
  • HOW about Medal or Big EQ Winners only, the Blue Ribbon… 
    • Start with 40 Blue Ribbon possibilities
      • We’ve had 28 different Blue Ribbon winners because… 
      • In 6 of the 10 years, 7 riders won 2 of the 4 Finals in a single year (ie: the same year)
      • 2 riders won 3 different Finals over 2 different years, and
      • 3 riders won 2 different Finals over 2 different years

Although that was neat information from our analysis… let’s get to the heart of our study and see what our Big Eq Ribbon winners from the last 10 years did after they “aged out.”

“Where have all the Big Eq Ribbon Winner’s gone?”

BROADLY SPEAKING, across the last 10 years, did our Big Eq Ribbon Winners……..

  1. Go to College and ride for a College Team? (NCEA or IHSA)
  2. Go to College and ride on their own as an amateur?
  3. Go to College and stop riding altogether? ie: became inactive during college?
  4. Went Pro?

HERE ARE THE RESULTS: OVER A 10 Year Period ( 2010-2019)

Looking back at the results from the USEF Talent Search Finals-East, USEF Medal Finals, WIHS Junior Equitation Finals and Maclay Finals 

  1. 50% – went to college and rode for a college team (NCEA or IHSA) 
  2. 18% – went to college and rode as an amateur
  3.  5%  – went to college and became inactive
  4. 27% – went professional

***All ribbon winners (male and female) between 2010-2019, excluding any winners who are currently juniors and thereby not currently eligible to attend college or sign an NLI.  Ribbon winners are only counted once even if they won multiple ribbons over multiple years.

2 KEY highlights: or “It’s not all super straightforward but still of interest”

  • Of the 27% who went Professionals immediately…. 6 of these 35 did manage college as well
  • Of the 50% who went to ride for a college team… 12 of the 63 are now also Professionals

FINALLY: Let’s bucket these last 10 years into two 5-year periods to identify any trends:

We have now split out the riding on a College Team into either NCAA or IHSA riding as well.

Here is the First 5 Years of our Study: from 2010 thru 2014

Here is the Second 5 Years of our Study: from 2015 thru 2019

SOME CONCLUSIONS to be drawn over the Two 5 year time frames regarding

“Where are all our Big Eq Top 10 Ribbon winners GOING”

  • NCAA Equestrian
    • This is the most dramatic change with a significant increase 
    • Went from 39% of the population to 58% of our Top Big Eq Ribbon Winners participating most recent five year period
    • So the sight of so many college hats worn by Junior riders at hunter/jumper/equitation shows in the U.S. is a real trend
  • Professional
    • A decrease from 33% of the “aging out” population in the first 5 year period in our study to 12% in the more recent 5 year period
  • Amateur
    • This sector, going to college and riding as an amateur has grown from 13% in period 1 to 26% in the most recent period
    • More top young riders aren’t going pro, but maintaining and managing their amateur careers while they go to college
    • It appears that the percentage of our successful junior riders who are now going to college as either an active amateur or an active member of an NCAA team has increased over the last ten years versus those going pro directly.
    • It also appears that many NCAA Equestrians also now go Pro afterwards. This seems to be the difference in numbers that dropped in the “going professional immediately” category.
    • Perhaps, taking the time to ride on an NCAA team and getting an athletics scholarship to ride for an NCAA program, has taken a firm hold in equestrian sport.


It seems the path immediately following one’s successful Junior riding career, using the Top 10 ribbon winners of each of the 4 Big Eq Finals over the past 10 years as a proxy, has significantly changed from long term anecdotal evidence and even within the most recent 10 year period analyzed here. There is active interest now by parents of junior riders who have come to understand that our sport has a new “next step” post junior riding.  The trend towards going to college for our top riders continues, whether riding on one’s own or on a college team, and the fastest growth and interest as a natural next step is NCAA Equestrian. This is mainly because they are providing an opportunity to attain an education via athletic scholarship, while maintaining a high level of competitive riding.

In the coming years, the expectation is that the sport’s top eligible junior riders will continue to look to NCAA equestrian as their next step.  In the most recent year end Finals, Fall of 2019, there were 73% of the eligible top 10 finishers choosing to pursue an NCAA collegiate career including the winners of USEF Talent Search Finals East, USEF Medal Finals and the Maclay Finals. It is also apparent that this is a trend the sport has embraced as more trainers are now working with parents and college coaches to navigate the path towards riding on an NCAA squad.  The USEF, AQHA, APHA and NRHA have embraced NCAA Equestrian and for good reason. It has become the natural stepping stone in the evolution of today’s top young riders. 

2019 Equitation Finals Addendum – Names and Current Status


  1. Ellie Ferrigno – Auburn 
  2. Ava Stearns – Auburn 
  3. Sophee Steckbeck -Still a Junior
  4. Dominic Gibbs – Still a Junior
  5. Kierstin Antoniadis – Auburn 
  6. Sophie Gochman – Still a Junior
  7. Mimi Gochman – Still a Junior
  8. Taylor Griffiths – SMU 
  9. Nina Columbia – USC
  10. Lili Kaissar – Vanderbilt 


  1. Emma Fletcher – Baylor
  2. Jordan Allen – USC
  3. Sam Walker – Male / Not NCAA Eligible
  4. Tessa Brown – Still a Junior
  5. Erin Floyd – GWU
  6. Zayna Rizvi – Still a Junior
  7. Ava Stearns – Auburn
  8. Farah Rizvi – Still a Junior
  9. Avery Glynn – Still a Junior
  10. Ellie Ferrigno – Auburn


  1. Sam Walker – Male / Not NCAA Eligible
  2. Ava Stearns – Auburn
  3. Dominic Gibbs – Male / Not NCAA Eligible
  4. Grace Debney – Still a Junior
  5. Mimi Gochman – Still a Junior
  6. Emma Fletcher – Baylor
  7. Tanner Korotkin – Male / Not NCAA Eligible
  8. Alex Pielet – Auburn
  9. Zayna Rizvi – Still a Junior
  10. Augusta Iwasaki – Still a Junior


  1. Ava Stearns – Auburn
  2. Charlise Casa – Northwestern
  3. Elli Yeager – Still a Junior
  4. Emma Fletcher – Baylor
  5. Sophie Gochman – Still a Junior
  6. Hannah Hoch – Still a Junior
  7. Erin Floyd – GWU
  8. Savannah Hemby – Baylor
  9. Tanner Korotkin – Male / Not NCAA Eligible
  10. Alex Pielet – Auburn


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