Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Guest blog: IHSA extravaganza

Katie Taylor from COTH was very gracious in responding to my questions about IHSA--so without further ado, here's her guest blog about the ins and outs of the program at UCF:

I am a senior at the University of Central Florida studying accounting. During high school I was very interested in joining an NCAA equestrian team, but as I did more research, I discovered IHSA. I thought IHSA would be a better fit for my riding abilities and interests as well as allowing my equine experience to grow. IHSA allows more team members to show at each show and often requires less of a time commitment than NCAA teams.

UCF does not offer an equine science degree, however I did not find it difficult to manage the team while still being a full time student. I joined UCF's IHSA hunt seat team as a freshman and have taken 12-15 credits for the past 8 semesters while riding 6 days a week. While the team does not require that much riding time per week, I also have my own horse at school with me. Our team specifically only requires team members to take one lesson per week, but also encourages more riding if their schedule permits. Our team also asks that every member commits to attending each show, even if they are not showing, to support and interact with the team. I have been the captain of UCF's team for three years of have definitely seen my experiences grow as a horseman. Because of the way IHSA is structured, I feel there are always opportunities for improvement and the program never holds a rider back from their full potential. For example, I began in the Novice division my first semester, moved to Intermediate within a year, and pointed up to the Open division as a junior. For my first year in the open division, I qualified to be the Cacchione Cup rider for Zone 5 Region 3 and competed at Nationals for the cup and in the open flat. IHSA is unique in that it requires each team to have a Walk-Trot rider in which the rider needs to have less than 24 weeks of experience. This is a great opportunity for students who have always had an interest in horses to join a organization where they are welcomed even with little experience.

UCF is part of IHSA's Zone 5 Region 3 and competes against all schools in Florida, some in Georgia, and College of Charleston in South Carolina. In my four years of IHSA experience, I have never seen a serious accident. Showing horses that you have never ridden before with no warm-up time is a challenging aspect of IHSA, but, to me, it is the most rewarding. I believe a good rider is defined by being able to sit on any horse and ask it to perform; IHSA gives every competitor this experience and allows them to build their confidence.

IHSA has developed an individual sport into a team competition to unite college students and allow them to compete together while sharing a common passion. This leads into my most memorable IHSA experience: the relationships that I have developed with my team mates. While the team changes every year with seniors graduating and a new members joining, the amount of time you spend traveling and supporting each other allows you to really get to know your team. Many of our team members are best friends that socialize outside of the barn and some even become room mates.

I encourage junior riders who are looking to be part of IHSA teams to contact the prospective team's coach and/or captain. I answer about a hundred emails and meet about 20 perspective team members each year to show them around the barn and answer any questions they might have. The most common question I get from prospective students is how to prepare for IHSA. My answer is always the same, "Ride, ride, ride." Riding as many different horses as you can will prepare you the most for tryouts and to be on an IHSA team. I also encourage junior riders to really research their team. Some teams are considered sport clubs with their university and have some or all expenses paid for, some teams offer scholarships, some teams absolutely love their coach and have a strong team. As I have said many times, IHSA is an awesome program and I highly encourage all students interested to contact their prospective team and receive more information.

-- Katie Taylor
University of Central Florida

Thank you so much Katie--I learned a lot and I hope that your post will be very useful to junior riders and college students.
image via the UCF IHSA site

On a side note, if you click some of the links, you'll see that UCF's mascot is a mounted knight and that students can try out to be the knight and ride "Pegasus," a gorgeous Lipizzaner, during their sports games. So cool!!!

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