This is the final installment from our Western riders reporting from the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association finals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They've shared 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 Alie Leonhart
The last day at Nationals was yesterday, and it was very bittersweet for me, being a senior. We had many good rides and wish we would've placed better but we ended up sixth place as a team. For our first time being here as team, I think we did very well! The experience has been so amazing, and they make everyone feel so welcome. The prizes that they gave out from the sponsors were so amazing and I can't thank them enough!
Yesterday I showed in the reining phase of the High-Point Rider. I rode a horse named Little Bill, donated by the University of Findlay. He was the horse I wanted the whole weekend because he looked like such a nice horse. When I walked into the ring, I knew that it was my last IHSA class and I had to have the best time I could. He was such a fun horse to ride and we marked a 144.5!
With that score, I placed sixth in the AQHA High-Point and was so thrilled to be in the top 10!
After all of the dust settled and we were packing up and starting to say farewell, they started to play the song Happy Trails, and Kayla Gosz (the other senior on our team) and I had to go away from the group and shed many tears because that was our last IHSA show. I can't thank Bon Cacchione and IHSA enough for the great experience and the wonderful opportunity to ride for such a great association!
From Elizabeth Kieffer
In reflection of this incredible weekend, I am overwhelmingly proud of my teammates. Each one of them showed amazing poise and confidence through this whole experience. This was the first time that the University of Wisconsin - River Falls has ever sent a Western equestrian team to Nationals, and I'm proud to be part of this beginning.
Collectively, our team placed sixth in the AQHA team competition. We all have learned a great deal about this competition and are ready to take this knowledge and build on it. We plan on returning to Nationals for many years to come.
Two of our seniors made the trip to Nationals as well, Alie Leonhart and Kayla Gosz. The hardest part about the end of our first journey to Nationals is that these two outstanding ladies will not be continuing with our team next year.
Alie, our high-point rider, placed sixth out of 25 riders in the AQHA High-Point portion of the competition. Although I am extremely proud of my seniors as they begin their "real world life", I am also truly saddened to lose of these beautiful, talented girls from our team. Alie is also our captain. Words cannot describe how much she will be missed. I am blessed to have been able to share this experience (and tears) with these amazing individuals.
I would like to congratulate all participants, both in the team competitions as well as individual competitions. We are very grateful for the stiff competition, as it has motivated us to train harder and ride better. We hope to see you all in the ring next year!
The question has been presented by many officials, and also my coach, over this weekend: "What will I take away from competing in IHSA?"
The answer: Courage to climb on an unfamiliar horse and ride like I've know it my whole life. Strength to step outside my comfort zone and follow my dreams. Poise to lose and keep smiling, even with tears rolling down my cheeks. Confidence to step into the ring and show like I've been doing it my whole life. But most importantly, friendship. Lifelong friendships, that I wouldn't trade for any blue ribbon, shiny belt buckle, or national championship.
See you next year, Nationals!