IHSA Nationals Triumphs

The 2024 IHSA National Championship Show was quite the experience. And I’m honestly not sure how to put it all into words. This was my second year competing at Nationals, and it was just as special as the first. Pulling into Tryon International Equestrian Center I didn’t know what to expect. Little did I know, the week that was to follow would be one of the most successful Nationals for my team in history.  

The Lineup 

This year, my team brought five horses to Nationals, which included Bobster, Chexy, Dodge, Don Julio, and Flint. In addition to our five, we were very thankful to have had the opportunity for Bingo to join us for the show, thanks to owner Leigh Pound. Bobster and Don Julio unfortunately were not used, while Chexy and Flint were used for the ranch riding and lower-level horsemanship classes. Dodge was used in the level II horsemanship, and Bingo was used for the ranch riding and reining classes.  

Including myself, my team brought 10 team members. Seven of us competed, while the other three helped us greatly with staying organized and efficient. Of the seven of us who competed, six of us filled spots for the team competition. And three of us showed in our respective individual classes. In addition to our 10 team members, we were accompanied by our head coach, Conner Smith, and graduate assistant, Lakyn Wilson.  

The Mental Game

I have found that when competing at large-scale shows like the IHSA National Championship Show, one of the most critical things to do is to keep your mental game in check. Arriving at the show grounds early in the week gave me the chance to not only prepare the school’s horses for competition, but also prepare mentally.   

Though I did not compete on the first day of the show, it was easily one of the best days of the week. My team had great success that day. This included one national champion title, one reserve national champion title, and two top-five finishes. The energy was high that day, and I could not have been prouder of my teammates. My team had excellent rides throughout the entire weekend. And it made me so very happy to see the hard work that each of us put in pay off. 

Mastering the Mental Game  

The first of my three classes that I competed in was the team ranch riding on Saturday morning. I went into the show with high expectations for this class, coming off a reserve national champion title in it at the 2023 IHSA Nationals. However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from horse showing, it’s that the second you start to feel high and mighty, you’re bound to be humbled.

For the class, I was fortunate enough to draw team Need A Hand’s horse Reed. He is a very talented ranch riding and reining gelding. I ended up having a rather good ride on him overall, though I did face a one-point penalty for a single lope stride when I asked for the first trot in the pattern. Having a clean ride in a class as competitive as this one is crucial to being rewarded, though I am thankful to end up ninth place.  

Though I was disappointed in my personal performance, I knew that it was imperative for me to keep a positive outlook on the rest of the show. And to also support my teammates the whole way. Saturday was a trying day for my entire team, but there were certainly great parts to it. That day, we accumulated one reserve national champion title, one top-five, and two top-10 finishes.  

The Ultimate Win 

Sunday, the last day of the show, was rather busy for my team. That day, I competed in individual level II horsemanship, along with team open horsemanship. The nerves were there, but I felt confident in my capabilities. Not to mention, horsemanship is one of my favorite classes to compete in. For my individual class, I drew Middle Tennessee State University’s horse Slick. I felt pretty good going into the awards ceremony but recognized that it was a very competitive class.

As the announcer called out the placings and fewer competitors stood next to me, I could feel my heart rate increasing. I had made it to the top two, and finally, I was the last one standing. I cannot accurately describe the feeling that came over me when I had realized I had won the class. But, it was most certainly a great one. Being named national champion was truly an honor. And it was even more special to have my friends and family there to share that moment with.  

The Dream Team 

I had originally thought I would have more time between my two classes, so after we were done celebrating and taking pictures, I went back to our stalls to take a break and eat lunch. However, it wasn’t long before they called the team open horsemanship competitors to the draw table, so I quickly got myself put back together.

For the team open horsemanship, I drew the University of Findlay’s horse Roxie, an exceptional pleasure-type, bay mare. As I was being walked around on Roxie in the holding area, my coach, Conner Smith, wished me good luck and told me to “keep my promise” to the judges. It ended up taking me about half of the rail work to figure Roxie out. However, once I did, I felt confident with showing off the pattern.

I was draw 11, which ironically enough, was the same draw I had for the individual level II horsemanship. As I watched my fellow competitors in the class, I realized that I was going to have to push a little more in the pattern than I typically do. Finally, my time to shine had come, and it was my turn to perform the pattern. Roxie gave me a great ride, and I felt great about my pattern. 

A Big Win 

Going into the awards ceremony for the team open horsemanship, I recognized how competitive of a class it was. I truly felt blessed to be a part of it. I really had no idea how the placings would end up, but as the announcer went through each one, I increasingly felt more and more thankful. When it finally came down to me being one of the top two, alongside MTSU’s Jordan Martin, I did not care which way it went.
I was ecstatic to earn the title of reserve national champion in the class. It felt amazing to earn that title in the company of such great competition.  

It was such an honor to be in the presence of the best of the best in our association. My team earned third place for the second year in a row after a rather successful run. It’s truly special to be a part of something bigger than myself. I am so grateful to have the teammates that I do. A huge thank you to everyone that has supported us along the way! I could not have asked for a better way to close out my sophomore season.  

[Read More on the IHSA Here]

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