Riding Tips

Horse Riding in High School and College (IEA, IHSA)

college horse rider
Written by Milan Berry

Study Up & Saddle Up

Ah, High School… a new kind of adventure for the average 14-year-old. Equestrians tend to not exactly be “average” kids, though, so parents might be wondering what scholastic riding opportunities are available for young adults. Luckily, there are plenty of ways that kids can saddle up while getting their education thanks to interscholastic riding organizations like IEA and the IHSA.

Pre-College Horse Riding

The IEA (Interscholastic Equestrian Association) and IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) are non-profit scholastic riding organizations that give students within a primary school or university setting the opportunity to compete in organized horse shows without the steep cost of actually owning a horse.

While riders at regular horse shows must provide their own horses, tack, and transportation, IEA and IHSA teams often operate individual chapters out of established (and often successful) show barns and stables. Both major disciplines (Hunt Seat and Western) are represented in the show ring, as well as more recently English Dressage.

IEA began in 2002 in Wyoming thanks to Roxane Durant, Myron Leff, Wayne Ackerer, and Tim Boon. In 2021, there are over 14,000 individual riders across 11 zones that span the continental United States.

With a show format known as “catch-riding,” riders as young as 9 and as old as 19 have horses chosen on their behalf and are expected to show their level of skill to a judge. While this style of riding can be seen by some as controversial, it truly shows the ability of the rider to adapt to a variety of horses, riding styles, and situations often on the fly.

Show classes vary from beginning walk-trot to Open (2’6), with jumping classes having corresponding flat classes, as well.

This allows a wider variety of riders to participate, whether it’s the seasoned veteran rider that has been riding for several years that needs extra showing practice or if a completely new rider is stepping into the ring for the first time.

According to the IEA Website, the central mission and purpose of IEA is to:

“Set minimum standards for competition, provide information concerning the creation and development of school associated equestrian sport programs, promote the common interests of safe riding instruction and competition and education on matters related to equestrian sport at the middle and secondary school levels (primarily ages 9 through 19).”

milan berry

Courtesy of Milan Berry

There are also extra opportunities for riders to learn scholarships from within the organization that can give them further showing opportunities they might not otherwise have. On top of testing riders in physical riding ability, there is also a horsemanship IEA program that can test riders on particular levels of horse-related knowledge.

A written assessment is given to riders on a variety of topics from first-aid to injury care, even equine physiology.

This sort of testing material assures that not only does the rider have the physical riding ability to compete, but also a more general and well-rounded understanding of the responsibilities that horse ownership entails.

IEA has the capacity to technically operate as a team not attached to a school or university, while IHSA requires affiliation with a university or community college. Although there are boarding high-schools that also show within IEA, or have their own private lesson programs, there is technically no “Best” high-school specifically to participate in.

For example, the IEA team operating out of my barn (Evermore Farm) made it to Nationals this year, and there were several riders who placed and won blue ribbons! Other barns and IEA teams across the country won multiple other divisions as well, strengthening the fact that participation in this organization is far and wide.

Participation grows every year, and thousands of riders graduate into high-school and further onto college with certain skills that only manifest via involvement with horses.

As a college rider, the determination, drive, and often sheer-will power that many of the IEA riders at my barn hold is awe inspiring. Watching them work as hard as they do and therefore are successfully rewarded for that hard work in the way of blue ribbons drives me to be a better rider.

milan berry

Courtesy of Milan Berry

College Horse Riding

IHSA is the collegiate level IEA equivalent, that allows riders of different levels and abilities to compete in interscholastic competition without the need for individual horse ownership.

While IEA has a notable reputation for producing riders that go on to ride within University, participation in IHSA is often the first step many students take in their riding careers.

According to the IHSA website, the mission of the IHSA is to, “Provide equestrian competition for all college and university students regardless of riding level, gender, race, sexual orientation or financial status. The IHSA is dedicated to promoting sportsmanship, horsemanship and academic excellence.”

Men and women compete against each other in classes, leveling the playing field for the sake of fair competition.

It also follows the “catch-riding” showing format, and this is my personal favorite part of the showing experiences. IEA and IHSA as two organizations are incredibly similar in their rules and regulations. IHSA also provides an extra riding opportunity to alumni of the organization that have already received their undergraduate degree in the form of Alumni classes. With over 40 regions across 8 zones and over 400 member universities, National Championships are often held at spectacular venues like the Kentucky Horse Park and the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.

Show season lasts from Early Fall to Late Winter, with post-season showing in the form of regionals, zones, and finally at the highest level which is Nationals. Advancement through classes and levels of competitions rely on a point system, with each ribbon place equalling a different amount of points. Every show has a post-class award ceremony where certain riders, participating teams and even individual horses receive specialty ribbons, like High-Point rider, High-Point Team, Best Horse in Show, and many others.

horse rider college

Courtesy of Milan Berry

Parting Thoughts

I recently finished my last IHSA horse show of my undergraduate career. I was reminded, yet again, of the memories and experiences gained from riding on an interscholastic team and it has been a privilege to ride over the past four years. As I ride in my last few team lessons, I take incredible pride in the skills I have developed, the horses I have been able to ride, and the relationships that I have built around horses since I joined the Georgia Southern Equestrian Team in 2017.

Although this ending is bittersweet, I take my experiences with IHSA into my future career with fond memories. Evermore Farm is my forever first barn home, and even though this is goodbye for now, it is not goodbye for good.

Thank you for a wonderful four years IHSA!

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About the author


Milan Berry

The first winner of the OYES award, Milan is a senior at Georgia Southern University double majoring in International Studies and Chinese Language. She's also Secretary of the Georgia Southern Equestrian Team.