BY IAN MCFARLIN
Recently, I had the opportunity to show some really nice horses alongside talented riders in south Florida. No, I wasn’t battling it out for the top spot with Beezie, McLain or Kent down at WEF… but as a typical junior rider figuring out my next steps for college, the show I attended might have been even more important. I was at one of two annual College Preparatory Invitational Horse Shows: CPI Florida.
CPI first popped onto my radar when I flipped through an issue of The Plaid Horse last year, noticing the full-page bios of CPI riders. After a little more research, CPI nabbed a spot on this year’s very busy winter schedule. I can’t recommend the CPI Florida program highly enough—especially for any riders interested in riding for an IHSA team in college.
If you’re familiar with the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s show format, CPI will feel very familiar to you. Much like IEA and IHSA, at the CPI shows riders are assigned horses through a random draw. After a brief introduction and two warm-up jumps, each rider competes their assigned horses over fences and on the flat. But CPI goes beyond the typical IEA show experience, offering riding clinics and networking opportunities for riders as well as a series of educational talks from leaders in the equine industry and a top-notch recruiting fair attended by powerhouse schools from the IHSA world.
This year, the CPI Florida clinician was Cindy Cruciotti of Serenity Farm in Wellington. Even though I didn’t manage to nab one of the coveted clinic spots, I audited the clinics ringside on Friday and picked up several techniques from her instruction that I’m looking forward to trying out with our horses at home. Insider tip: If you want to get one of those limited clinic spots, sign up EARLY for next year!
Even though CPI is similar in format to the IEA show experience, most riders at CPI don’t come with a team. That changes the dynamic of the program, and I found that it really encourages most of the riders to venture out and get to know other people in the sport. Without fellow IEA teammates to hang out with throughout the day, I found myself taking more time to get to know the competitor next to me in line for the draw and hanging out with the local riders while helping hold horses between classes. Riders at CPI bond over shared interest in a particular college, program of study, or riding discipline. They also have the chance to learn about other disciplines while getting to know the crossover riders who often join CPI events. At CPI, it truly seemed like I met a new rider from a new place every time I turned around. It was a blast getting to know each of them.
Gathering with fellow riders for the CPI reception was a unique experience, too. How often do you have a chance to get together with other riders from all around the country and just get to know one another? I met riders from Arizona, Virginia, New Jersey, Hawaii and beyond. I met riders who focus on equitation and riders who split their time between hunter/jumper shows and APHA breed shows. I met riders who started their own horses and riders who are just starting out on their equestrian journeys. It was a true melting pot bound together by a love for horses. I’m betting several lifelong friendships were formed over the weekend.
As an admitted information junkie, I also really enjoyed the non-competitive aspects of the CPI show. The educational talks by industry insiders like Bob Cacchione, founder of IHSA; Peter Cashman, Executive Director of IHSA; Jane DaCosta of the Metropolitan Equestrian Team and Dr. Piper Klemm of The Plaid Horse were insightful and encouraging. The willingness of all the presenters to speak with us individually, share insights and suggestions, and even cheer us on ringside left me floored. CPI was a wonderful reminder of how small our sport really is and how deeply devoted its advocates are to helping the next generation find a place in the sport. In fact, helping young riders find a place in this sport as they move into college is the primary goal of the CPI program.
The CPI college fair was phenomenal. Even with COVID issues keeping some schools from attending this year, riders had loads of options to choose from when researching potential college choices. Representatives from schools like Centenary College, SCAD, St. Andrews and more were available to patiently guide potential students through their schools’ unique equestrian programs and share the little details that make their programs stand out. College representatives really spent the time getting to know me individually while answering questions so that I could get to know their school as well. Even the all-girls schools like Sweet Briar and Hollins had kind words and advice when guys like me inadvertently wandered up to their colorful displays!
In addition to giving riders the chance to ride in front of recruiters and trainers from a wide variety of schools, CPI also provides scholarship opportunities for its participants. The program typically awards scholarships in the areas of both horsemanship and community service. CPI conducts annual essay and photo contests open only to CPI participants, as well.
This year’s winner of the CPI Florida Essay Scholarship was Carly Stasio of Davie, Florida and I was honored to be named the winner of the CPI Florida Horsemanship Scholarship. New for this year was CPI’s partnership with an environmental organization, Green is the New Blue, to provide an additional scholarship opportunity to their riders while also highlighting the environmental impact of equestrian activities on the greater community. Interested riders submitted essays on environmentally significant topics and a $1500 scholarship winner will be chosen in the coming weeks from among the submissions received at the CPI Florida event.
Despite the national pool of riders in each class and the pennants from across the country represented in their impressive college fair, the College Preparatory Invitational actually feels a lot like a friendly local event. Lindsay Martin of CPI goes out of her way to create an event environment that is both warm and welcoming and she and the staff did an excellent job of keeping things moving smoothly at CPI Florida this year. As a first-time attendee, I felt right at home in the hustle and bustle of the CPI program and the general atmosphere was truly one of camaraderie and cooperation.
If you’re a junior rider beginning to think about college or even if you just like the idea of meeting and competing with a really cool group of kids in a really cool show environment, I would absolutely suggest that you take the time to check out CPI’s events in New Jersey and Florida. The program organizers, educational speakers and college recruiters at CPI all clearly have a real passion for promoting young riders in our sport. The attitude there is infectious and I came away from my weekend at CPI with a renewed enthusiasm for continuing my riding career in college.
Ian McFarlin, 16, from Tallahassee, Florida, is a recipient of the USHJA Youth Sportsmanship Award, the USHJA Youth Leadership Award and the IEA National Sportsmanship Award. He has been riding for almost four years and he is a member of the USHJA National Youth Committee as well as a long-time volunteer for an the equine-assisted therapy program, Hands and Hearts for Horses. He is currently showing his horse, Graf Marron, in the hunters, jumpers and equitation.