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MTSU IHSA Hunt Seat Show


Article & Photos by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

On February 8 and 9, 2014 equestrian teams from nine universities in the mid-south gathered at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, TN for the MTSU Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Hunt Seat Show. Hosted by the MTSU Equestrian Team, the event served as an opportunity for IHSA riders to compete with one another over fences and on the flat. With the regular IHSA competition season winding down and dates for regional, zone, semi-final, and national competitions looming, riders and coaches alike saw the event as one more opportunity to earn points and qualify for the next level of competition.

IHSA enables collegiate equestrians to compete with one another in Western and Hunt Seat divisions, regardless of their financial status or skill levels. Thanks to the participation of more than 370 colleges in the U.S. and Canada, 8,000 students are currently involved in IHSA, and the numbers keep growing.

“IHSA is designed to take riders from the ground up,” explains Emily Kopko, a senior at MTSU and current president of the MTSU Equestrian Team. “In some university sports, you have to be the best of the best to even be considered, but IHSA takes the new introductory riders, who have never done this before, all the way up to open riders.”

IHSA competitions are unique because no student has to own horses to compete. At every show, a pool of suitable mounts is provided by the participating universities’ horse programs or local horse farms. Before each class, competitors draw for their mounts, which means the students compete on horses that may be entirely unknown to them. Classes are judged on the ability of the rider, rather than the quality of the horse. Horses for the MTSU show were provided by various universities, local farms, and some of MTSU’s own alumni.

“This kind of cooperation between schools provides a better horse pool for all the riders,” says Anne Brzezicki, veteran coach of the MTSU equestrian team. “[It] teaches the students that we all have to live and work together in the horse industry, and while we are strongly competitive inside the arena, it is more productive to work cooperatively outside of it.”

The MTSU Hunt Seat Show featured nearly a hundred student and alumni competitors, representing nine universities in IHSA Zone 5, Region 1, including Belmont, Maryville College, Murray State, MTSU, Rutgers, Tennessee Tech, University of Tennessee, University of the South, and Vanderbilt. Classes ranged in difficulty from walk-trot and walk-trot-canter to open over-fences classes. Judges for the show included Eddie Federwisch and Anne Kenan.
According to Brzezicki, the two-day show went off without a hitch.

“We’re very proud that everyone’s efforts resulted in such a smooth show,” Brzezicki says. “One of the great things about having an IHSA program is that our students have to be involved on many levels. They work hard to advance their riding, but they also have to learn to organize, promote and manage our shows, and deal with horse care and developing their people skills.”

Kopko and Brzezicki were especially proud of all the hard work their volunteers put in over the weekend. In addition to running the paddock, clipping and bathing horses, holding and exercising horses, replacing poles on jumps, running the draw table, and organizing a consignment sale, MTSU volunteers fed every student and coach on site.

“Our IHSA region is wonderful to work with,” Brzezicki said. “We all help each other with shows by bringing horses to share in the horse draw pool, schooling and preparing horses for the show, and keeping things on track.”

All the competitors came to the Coliseum hoping for ribbons, but many of the riders had other goals in mind, too.

“I wanted to work on the skills I’ve learned and practiced, and have a good solid ride,” says Kathryn Miller, a freshman at The University of the South. Miller, who’s from Gainesville, Florida, placed first in the Novice Fences, Section B class on Saturday. “Because IHSA is so different, it has broadened my view of the horse world. I’ve learned a lot from it, and it’s challenging, which I like. It’s also rewarding to watch yourself improve.”

Mary Ritchea, a student from Belmont University, placed second to Miller in Novice Fences. Although she would have loved a blue ribbon, Ritchea was pleased with her second place finish.

“We watched the first place rider go,” Ritchea says. “She rode her horse really well, so I was really happy I got second place to her. I wanted to improve and to place, but I really just care if I rode the horse well. Showing right now for me is all about improving and getting back into jumping, because I haven’t jumped much since elementary school.”

For Illinois native Cassidy Gatlin, who rides for Murray State University, the weekend was all about doing her best.
“Because you never know what horse you’re going to get, I just wanted to do my best,” Gatlin says. “I can go into the ring and look pretty, but if it wasn’t my best ride, I’ll never be happy with it.”

IHSA competitions help college students improve their riding abilities, learn more about horses, and develop their skills in event management, competition, and teamwork. But more than that, it seeks to provide young equestrians with the keys to success in the horse industry.

 “In IHSA, it doesn’t matter what you know,” Emily Kopko says. “It matters how well you can adapt and ride every different horse in the world. It’s about a learning process.”

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