IHSA Nationals: Day 1

For the next few days, we’ll have two Western riders reporting from the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association finals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They’ll share their experiences to give you a firsthand look at what it’s like to compete at the prestigious event. Both riders compete for the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. 

From Elizabeth Keiffer

As a team, we’ve been chomping at the bit, ready for nationals. Ready for our moment, our time in the spotlight. Our time is now, we’re here. 

After a 1,040-mile journey, we’re on the arena floor at IHSA Nationals. What a surreal feeling. The excitement is building, and we’re ready to take the reins and enter the ring to our future. This moment is so amazing, for our team collectively. As individuals, we are completely invested in this team, in our chance at a National Championship. Although I am new to IHSA, through regional shows and semi-finals and even here on our first day at Nationals, I haven’t seen a team as closely bonded as ours. When we go somewhere, we go together. When we get ready to show, we have the help of our teammates. When we climb into the saddle, we have a member of our team on each side of the horse, adjusting our stirrups, rolling down our chaps, and sharing the encouragement and confidence that is then exhibited in the ring. 

This team, is just that, a TEAM. When we practice, our arena is filled with whistles and cheers. We support each other, we don’t ride as individuals. That’s the number one success of the UWRF Western Team.

As I said before, I am new to IHSA. I know there are many individuals just like me who don’t know much about the organization. In case you’re not familiar with the competition, here’s a few insights.

We don’t bring our school horses with us. When we come to an event, we ride the horses provided by that school. Riders are provided with a “horse list”, with tidbits of information on each horse. Then riders draw a horse. The draw is done in a variety of different ways, but it’s all the same in the end. A rider randomly draws a horse, and then a volunteer warms up the horse so the competing rider can observe it. Then the competitor must ride the horse to the best of her ability. 

Riders are then judged solely on equitation and the ability to communicate their aids with the horse through rail work and in some cases a pattern. We don’t know the horses, nor do we don’t get a chance to ride them before we enter the ring to be judged. This is the ultimate test of a rider’s ability. How well can you ride, whether it be a fancy horse or an unseasoned horse? Our ability to be competent horsemen is truly the goal of IHSA. 

Now, don’t let this scare you off. This is one of the best experiences that I am thankful to account for in my life. When I take hold of the reins this Saturday and walk into the ring, I know it’ll be one of the best rides of my life. I can only say that the rush of entering the ring, competing for a team that supports and respects you, is the best prize anyone could ask for.

From Alie Leonhart

We arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at around noon Thursday, got something to eat, grabbed something to decorate our table with, and headed our way to the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. 

Last year, coach Janie Huot and I were the only ones from UWRF to come to Harrisburg to be at Nationals. We sat mostly in the stands like the majority of participants do, but for the last day we were able to sit at the Ohio State University table on the arena floor. I met Austin Griffith at a show that the NCRHA (North Central Reining Horse Association) put on called ‘South of the Border’ about 8 years ago and we competed against each other at that show a few years after that as well. Austin and I were able to talk at Nationals last year and the Ohio State crew was gracious enough to invite us to sit at their table. At the end of the show last year, Janie and I had made a goal, saying that we were going to be on the ground at a table at next year’s (now this years) Nationals. And that’s what we did. 

At our table we have some traditional decorations that every team seems to have: UWRF colors, our banner hanging in the background, some common table decorations. But what we also have at our table that might not be at every table are good luck notes, words of encouragement, etc. from the girls that are at home cheering for us, because without them and their support, their talent, their attitude, we would not be here as a team today. We also have mini versions of our school horses with us at our table drawn by one of our riders, Claire Wojnowiak. We used the same six to eight horses from semi-finals to Nationals due to the fact that a lot of the school herd has been sick and have been unable to be used for practice. These horses that are on our table are some of our favorites, not only because they are fun to ride but because they have taught us so much and have helped us get as far as we are. We are blessed with having a lot of really nice horses, most of them reiners or retired reiners that do it all (some do both reining and jumping!).

Let me introduce the other four girls that are competing with us at Nationals (excluding myself and Elizabeth). 

Here’s the entire University of Wisconsin-River Falls team competing at IHSA Nationals.

I will start with Kayla Gosz, she is also a senior Animal Science- Meat Emphasis major and will be graduating in May. She has been on the team as long as I have, for four years, and this will also be her last year in IHSA. Kayla and I have lived together in a house in River Falls for two years now. She is also an open rider, and we have competed against each other since Day 1. Never has it come between our friendship. 

Markie Maletzke is a freshman Biology major and this is her first year being on the team, showing in Team Advanced. Though I have only known her for a short period of time, I feel as though she has been my friend for much, much longer! She is the ‘diva’ of the group and brings her confidence to the show pen. 

Kayla Mack is a sophomore Biology major as well, showing in Individual Intermediate and Team Novice, and this is her first time being on the team. Kayla is proof that hard work pays off! She tried out for the team a year ago and didn’t make the team, but with her ambition and drive that we all strive for, she made the team this year and has been a rock star the whole year. 

The last rider is Hannah Symbal who is a sophomore Animal Science- Pre-Vet major, this is her second year on the team, and she will be showing in Team Intermediate. Hannah has come so far in the past two years, it’s almost night and day. She has become such a confident and correct rider and is able to get along with any horse she gets on. We are all so excited to be here and can’t wait to get the showing started!

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