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The 2022 IHSA Nationals Through a Competitor’s Eyes

When I looked at colleges, I always knew I wanted to ride, but I never thought I would end up riding for a school like Miami University. I went from being a scared freshman to a team member in no time. I was given the opportunity to excel on amazing horses alongside lovely teammates and trainers. But riding at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) Nationals was the last thing I expected as a freshman. I was honored my trainer had chosen me to represent the Miami University Equestrian Team (MUET) in the Intermediate Flat division. 

In the weeks leading up to IHSA Nationals, I rode every day, went to team lessons, and pushed myself as hard as I could. My coach was more than willing to give me every opportunity to practice so I could feel my best. Once at Nationals, we schooled horses in the ring before it closed to competitors to get a feel for the venue and feel prepared. We also had an extra lesson on Wednesday at a barn nearby. The one thing I made sure of before Nationals was that I wouldn’t regret not preparing more, even if that meant constantly having jello legs from no stirrups. 

Monday afternoon when our horses walked off the trailer, Nationals had officially started. We brought eight horses, five of which were hunt seat horses, which meant we had our hands full. If MUET taught me anything, it was that IHSA is more than just being judged on a randomly selected horse. In reality, it starts long before that. Starting from the hours I spent at the wash rack to keep our white horse clean, to watching flat testing in the hotel room. The time spent with our horses and my teammates is what truly made my IHSA Nationals experience. 

The show began on Thursday and our team arrived bright and early to take care of the horses and make sure they were ready for their classes. I was unfortunately dubbed the official bather of CZ; the one white horse we brought. On the bright side, bathing him kept me occupied, so I didn’t stress about my class at the end of the day. I watched the flat schooling and took notes on each horse, which helped me channel my nervous energy into something productive. My teammate, Roberta Cullinan, rode before me in the Team Limit Flat on Miami’s horse Bing, securing reserve champion which put us high in the ranks.

I was up next for the team, so the nervousness had officially set in. The horse draw was set up like a train, each person put a candy bar (with a back number on it) by a train car that corresponded with a horse. From there they called out which horse each rider had drawn. I drew Galon, a flashy black horse from Long Island University. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself before I show and focus on things I can’t control, so each time before going in the ring I tell myself “control the controllable” and “right here, right now, breathe and relax.” Before I walked into the ring, my coach, Heather, told me to “go have fun,” as she does every time. The pressure subsided and I felt relaxed and ready to ride my best. I reminded myself throughout the flat class to put my shoulders back and tighten my core, consistently making sure to hold myself accountable. There were 15 other horses in the class, so I navigated my way into the judge’s line of view as much as I could. Galon was a dream to ride and ended up helping me achieve reserve champion in the class. This secured 8 more points for the team, leaving Miami in 3rd place.

One of the things I love about Miami Equestrian Team is that we are more than just a team, we are like family. The entire trip we spent laughing, making inside jokes, and enjoying every moment. A few people even questioned how we were still having fun after the long hard days of showing, but that’s just who we are. Every one of us was just happy to be there and not focused on an outcome.

Friday we had four riders competing for the team and Lilly French competing in the Cacchione Cup. I spent the day cheering on our riders and taking care of the horses, including bathing CZ … again. My teammate Emily Whitaker took home a 4th in the Novice Flat and Roberta Cullinan received 6th in the Intermediate Fences, both gaining good points for the team, which left us in good standing for Saturday. Lilly was the first to go in the fences phase of the Cacchione Cup, where she put down a gorgeous round earning the highest score of an 88. Elli Wilson and Lydia Ryan also put in solid rides in the Limit Fences and Intro Flat. We spent the rest of that day having fun and preparing for one last day of the show. 

Saturday was the final day of hunt seat classes and our team started the day tied for 3rd. We were thrilled to be so high up in the standings. We had two riders left to wrap up the day, and one by one they went. As points added up we got more restless, luckily we had 8 horses back at the barn to keep us busy and focused. Our Open over fences rider, Lilly French, got 4th with an 84 and our Open on the flat rider, Fiona Brock got 3rd with a beautiful ride.

The results were in: Miami University Equestrian Team was Reserve National Champions for the first time since 1992! Everyone on the team including me was ecstatic. We came to Nationals with no expectations, but only with the goal—to have fun and ride our best and we did exactly that. Looking back, I am so impressed with how the show was run and so grateful to all of the teams who brought their amazing horses. I am so fortunate to have been a part of such a monumental moment in Miami’s history. And to have done it as a freshman with amazing teammates by my side and my wonderful coaches, Heather Pinnick and Tess Von Hemel, made it even more special.

Original article: The 2022 IHSA Nationals Through a Competitor’s Eyes | Practical Horseman (practicalhorsemanmag.com)

Featured image: Courtesy, Sofie Olson