The Many Options for College Equestrians

Photo by Adam Hill.

BY Helen Chimbos

Have you considered riding in college but don’t know where to start? Many young equestrians aspire to continue their riding journey into college but are unsure how to. There are plenty of resources accessible to anyone who may be interested in continuing their riding at the collegiate level.

With numerous organizations and disciplines to choose from, it can be overwhelming to pick a place to start. Figuring out which discipline interests you most will be the first step to help narrow down your list. Let’s take a look at each to help you decide what would be the best fit for you.

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, or the IHSA, was founded in 1967 by Robert Cacchione. Currently, there are approximately 7,500+ members and around 400 teams spread throughout the country. IHSA offers both Hunter Seat and Western disciplines depending on the college and its resources. The Hunt Seat levels vary immensely depending on the rider’s experience and skill level. The classes span from Introductory Hunter Seat Equitation to Open Equitation, offering flat classes through the levels and fences classes as riders progress. Riders fill out placement forms to determine which section is most suitable for them. The sections all typically run the same but vary due to their flat tests and fence heights. Western classes are also available at all skill levels, ranging from Beginner Western Horsemanship to Open Western Horsemanship and Reining.

The National Collegiate Equestrian Association, known as the NCEA, was founded in 1998 and has continued growing with approximately 900 members. The NCEA is found to be the most competitive level of collegiate riding possible. They have around 27 affiliated schools from Division 1 to Division 3. The format for NCEA is similar to IHSA, for example, riders drawing a random horse, but differs because the riders going head-to-head will both compete on the same draw. The NCEA divisions also differ due to the riders all having similar skill levels and abilities within their flat work and fence height. NCEA contains four sections; Jumping Seat Flat and Fences, Western Horsemanship, and Reining. For Jumping seats, the jumps are typically set like a typical course at a horse show and the flat class consists of a pattern. Western Horsemanship and Reining consist of patterns on a random draw and are given a score after completion.

Interested in collegiate riding but for other disciplines? Not to worry, there are plenty of other organizations available to fit your riding needs. Throughout the years, collegiate riding has been expanding and offering a variety of disciplines to fit any rider’s goals.

Interested in riding dressage at the collegiate level? It is totally possible thanks to the Intercollegiate Dressage Association. IDA was founded in 1955 and has approximately 700 members. IDA teams are offered at a variety of colleges and offer levels for anyone interested. IDA shows consist of four divisions including Introductory Level, Lower Training Level, Upper Training Level, and First Level. The variety of classes makes it inclusive to anyone who is interested in taking up dressage in college. If dressage is something you want to try or wish to continue throughout college, check out IDA.

Still, haven’t found what you’re looking for? Maybe you are interested in continuing eventing through college. That, too, that has been made available for riders through the United States Eventing Association Intercollegiate Eventing Program. This is a newer organization, founded in 2014, but is expected to have continuous growth throughout the years. It is available to any undergrad student who is attending a college affiliated with USEA. Most levels range from Beginner Novice to Preliminary, so no matter your experience and skills, there will be a level appropriate for you.

Another organization available is for those interested in Saddle Seat. The Intercollegiate Saddle Seat Riding Association was founded in 2008 and has been growing ever since. ISSRA shows run similarly to the world cup and have a variety of divisions offered depending upon the ability of the rider. “Senior riders” are eligible to compete in Open, Open Limit, Advanced, and Novice whereas “Junior riders” are able to compete in Beginner Walk-Trot classes, Beginner Walk-Trot-Canter classes, and Intermediate Walk-Trot-Canter classes. Due to their variety of classes, anyone who is interested is available to participate and compete with ISSRA.

Once you’ve decided what you are interested in, the next step would be to reach out to the coaches to find out more information about their program and their recruiting process. The best information to have readily available upon sending your email would be a resume of your riding accomplishments, your riding videos on various horses (if applicable), current trainer information, and a list of upcoming shows you will be competing at. The coach’s response will determine your next steps, but make sure to reach out early because some teams fill up fast. By exploring all the different organizations available, it is certain that any rider can find the perfect fit for them that adds value, growth, and relationships throughout the equestrian world.

For more information on collegiate riding, check out these articles!
Thinking of going to college for horses?

What do you wish you knew before becoming a college athlete?

NCEA Format

A day with the IHSA