9 FAQs for Riders Interested in College IHSA Teams

BY ELIZABETH SOUSA

During college, there are a lot of questions that arise—ones you ask, and ones you’re asked. Being the captain of an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team, I’ve had my fair share of queries from teammates, prospective students, parents… you name it. 

But being a prospective student or outside of collegiate riding creates a lot of questions too. Here are some common questions with the best answers that I can provide.

How do you balance school and the team?

Two Words: time management. The sooner a student-athlete learns that, the better. I find it is best to make a daily schedule where you have your classes listed, time for homework, the times of your lesson (or lessons), shows, and if you have a job put down the times you have work. However you choose, it is best to organize your time.

Why did you decide to join the team?

Like many, I joined the IHSA because it’s a great opportunity to make friends and allows students an affordable way to continue their riding careers through college. It helps many get out of their comfort zones, encouraging them to take charge of certain situations and offers leadership opportunities.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Sousa

How do all the teammates get along?

In my experience, there are always going to be conflicts among teammates. They are typically minuscule, usually solved by talking things through. Often it’s a simple miscommunication. But even so, IHSA is where friends are made. Ones you are not only with on the team, but who you end up spending time with all of the time. Your teammates are those that you confide in, encourage and most of all, trust and can count on to be there when you need them. This does not only count for human teammates, but for the ones who have twitchy noses and swishy tails. Without the horses, IHSA would not be anything. Literally. The horses work just as hard as each rider, and they do it because they are asked to, not because they volunteered to.

What if you’re having problems with your classes?

There are places on every campus where students can get the tutoring that they need to be successful in their classes. On every team there is a variation of majors, so it is always a good idea to ask teammates for help. If a freshman is having trouble writing a paper, they can go to an upperclassman who is a writing major for help. More likely than not, they are willing to help. As upperclassmen, we remember what it was like to be a freshman trying to figure things out, so we are always willing to lend a hand.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Sousa

If you attend a school for more than the average four years, can you be on the team every year you attend?

A student is eligible to be a member of the IHSA for four years. They do not have to be consecutive, but you are only allowed four. If you ride for four years, but still wish to compete, you can enter into the alumni classes that are offered to represent your school. The best part about alumni is that you do not still have to be in school to compete in it! You can always speak to your coach about joining the alumni classes when the time comes if it is something you are interested in!

Are the horses new at every show?

Specifically for Zone 1, Region 1, we have consistency amongst our horses where at most shows the horses are the same and are usually consistent through the years. There is always someone at the show who knows a bit about each horse, so it’s always a good thing to ask someone if they have any tips on how to best get along with the horse you drew.

Wait… what do you mean by drawing a horse?

At every show, there is a randomized selection process as to what horse a rider gets. The horses, like the riders, are separated by division. Each division has a set of horses that are good for those levels of riders. For example, the horses for the Introductory division (walk/trot) are different from the horses used for the Open division (3’ over-fences and flat).

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Sousa

How are riders placed into the different divisions?

It is all based on riding and show experience. Each team has a variety of riders. Some have been riding since before they could walk, some since middle school, and some have never even been on a horse before try-outs. The IHSA is all about fun and safety, ensuring that no one will be set up with something that is too advanced for them that could potentially cause them to fail.

Why is being on an IHSA team so important to so many people?

It allows students to continue their riding careers through college in an affordable way, and offers a new way to horse show. It is also a way to get those with no experience to get on a horse and fulfill a dream they have had for years. Everyone has their own reasons for why their team means so much to them. Personally, I have grown close to the other women on my team, as we are an all women’s sport at my university (though many schools do offer co-ed teams!). I love each of the horses we ride as if they were my own. Not to mention that even though our region is highly competitive, all of the teams cheer for each other, celebrating the other victories and sharing in each other’s losses.

It is the love of horses and this sport that makes the IHSA what it is. It is more than just a sports team at school—it is a family that you become a part of and one that you grow to love more and more each season in ways you never imagined possible. It teaches students ways to be responsible, showing them that hard work is important and it does not go unrecognized. It shows them that even though you do not ride on the same team, you can be supportive, showing sportsmanship and lending a hand or hoof where needed.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Sousa
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