IHSA Nationals Champion Q&A: What Makes a Champion?

The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association’s National Championships just wrapped up at the Kentucky Horse Park! Four champions shared their stories and their advice for all equestrians.

This past weekend was full of exciting victories during the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association’s National Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. In IHSA competition, collegiate riders compete on a draw horse in a catch ride scenario, getting no warm-up time to learn their mount. Horse Nation caught up with four champions to discuss their road to success and their thoughts on the IHSA.

Rider Profiles

Caroline Biggs: Sophomore at Vanderbilt University studying Human and Organizational Development. Champion of Individual Novice Flat in her second year as a IHSA competitor.

Photo by Matt Piccolo

Brandon Morin: Junior at The University of Findlay studying Equine Business Management and Western Equestrian Studies. Champion of the AQHA Team Novice division during his third year as an IHSA competitor.

Photo by Bonnie Bradley

Taylor Overmier: Junior at Ohio State University studying Accounting. Champion of the AQHA Team Open Reining during her third year as an IHSA competitor.

Photo by Ann Bosse

Hannah McColl: Sophomore at The University of Findlay in the Pre-Veterinary program double majoring in Animal Science and Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Champion of the Individual Walk/Trot division during her second year in the IHSA.

Photo by Scott McColl

HN: What was your riding experience prior to joining your school’s IHSA team?

  • Caroline: I grew up riding at Miwok Livery Stables, where I rode a variety of lesson horses and competed in local hunter jumper shows. I got my first horse, an off-track thoroughbred named “Maybe,” when I was 14. After moving to Tennessee, I started doing jumpers, began showing at some bigger “A” rated shows, and competed on the Penrose Farm IEA team for my last three years in high school.
  • Brandon: I showed my local AQHA circuit and open shows in New Hampshire. I showed the western and English all-around events.
  • Taylor: I started riding when I was eight years old and began showing quarter horses in 4-H and progressed to showing at the breed level. In 2015 I qualified for the Youth World Show in horsemanship and equitation and I was reserve champion at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress in horsemanship that same year. I was also a member of the KM Equestrian IEA team when I was in high school; during that time we won several national championships.
  • Hannah: I used to take lessons before high school but I quit riding to run cross country and indoor/outdoor track in high school.

HN: How did you start riding for your school’s IHSA team?

  • Caroline: I knew going into college that I wanted to ride on the IHSA team. At the club fair, I went straight to their table to meet the captains and put my name on the email list. I was super nervous for trial rides, even though they don’t cut anyone from the team, because I wanted to make a good first impression. Since then I have become more and more involved in the team and was chosen to be a captain at the end of my freshman year.
  • Brandon: Every year we have try-outs at the beginning of the first semester. At Findlay we usually have about 100 people try out and about 35 make it on the team. We are fortunate to have funding for our team by our athletic department.
  • Taylor: I joined our IHSA team at Ohio State when I was a freshman. I always knew that I wanted to ride on a collegiate equestrian team, so that was one of my criteria when I was deciding which college I wanted to attend.
  • Hannah: My roommate freshman year asked me to try out for the IHSA team with her and former coach, Russ Walther, encouraged me to try out even though I hadn’t ridden since before high school. I really wasn’t expecting to make the team since it had been almost four years since I sat on a horse, so it was quite a surprise to even make the team.

HN: What have you been doing to train for competing at Nationals?

  • Caroline: After I pointed out of Novice Flat and qualified for Regionals, I knew I needed to work harder than ever if I wanted to make it to Nationals. I picked up as many free rides around the barn as I could, riding everything from hunters, jumpers, eventing ponies and dressage horses in order to improve my feel and adaptability. I also used the downtime from “A” showing this winter to focus more on my flatwork in lessons and did lots of stirrupless and work on the lunge line.
  • Brandon: We have practices every week where we ride our school IHSA horses through patterns and rail work. We also have team workouts that we attend as well as exercises to improve our position and strength. Being an equestrian major, riding every day really helps with confidence and ability.
  • Taylor: Leading up to Nationals I had been riding at least four times a week, sometimes more. The only way to improve your riding is to actually ride so it was very important that I made time in my schedule to practice.
  • Hannah: We have practiced a few times during the week with our coaches and I would also ask for additional lunge line lessons or practice time with our team captains. I also enjoy working out in the weight room at school to help strengthen my core and leg.

HN: On the morning of your class, what helped you to mentally prepare and focus yourself?

  • Caroline: We arrived at the show early in the morning in order to get acquainted with the facility and watch the jumping classes. We watched the flat horses school and took notes on how each one went, which helped me get a feel of the kind of horses I might draw. I tend to psyche myself out if I watch too much though, and I tend to do better when I’m not concentrating on what an important class it is. It was nice that there were so many vendors set in up the arena where I could walk around and take my mind off of the competition.
  • Brandon: My teammates and coaches are super supportive. I ran through my pattern with them in the morning, had a nice breakfast, and mapped out my pattern in the show pen. With the amount of practices we have, I felt very well prepared.
  • Taylor: Talking to my teammates and coaches about the pattern and visualizing how I wanted the run to look helped me to get focused and ready to compete.
  • Hannah: I was actually texting one of our former captains from last year and she helped me stay calm and was giving me tips on what to do in the arena. She was always my go-to for a confidence booster last year and always knew exactly what I needed to hear before going in the ring.

HN: How do you feel about your ride and the horse that you drew?

  • Caroline: As soon as the class started I concentrated on figuring out how to ride him in a way that would he would respond well to. By the second lap around the ring I had a better understanding of what he wanted. He had been one of the horses we liked the most when we were watching schooling, so I was excited to get the chance to ride him.
  • Brandon: I felt really good about my ride. My rail work felt solid, and the pattern went really well. The horse I rode was a saint and I was very lucky to have the opportunity to ride her!
  • Taylor: For my first run in this class, I drew Danny Boy and I was the first of 12 to go. I knew that we had ran a pretty solid pattern, scoring a 142.5. Watching the rest of the class go was nerve-wracking; I was just waiting to hear someone with a higher score. There was one score that tied mine so we had to do a ride off where we switched horses. For the ride off, I was on Little Bill. He rode completely different than Danny Boy, but I felt confident about his ability. We ended up having a fantastic ride scoring a 146 and won the ride off. It was such a surreal feeling knowing I had just posted the highest score of the class.
  • Hannah: I felt pretty confident in my ride but honestly I wasn’t sure if it was going to be good enough for a first place finish. Last year, I was unhappy with how I rode because I knew I let my nerves get to me, so this year I was aiming to have a confident ride and prove to myself that I could do better than the previous year. Signature, from Centenary University, was a saint. He was perfect and I was super lucky to draw him. He certainly deserves the blue ribbon too!

HN: How do you prepare yourself for going in the ring knowing you will be riding a horse you have never ridden before?

  • Caroline: Being able to watch the horses school before my class helped a lot. We were able to see how the riders who knew the horses rode them, and could get a feel of how they were reacting to the environment in the arena. Also, riding so many different horses this year has helped reduce my anxiety around riding an unfamiliar horse and made me confident in my ability to handle any situation that might come up during the class.
  • Brandon: You just need to go in there, do what you know, and feel your way through it. I have ridden so many different horses that it becomes less intimidating every time. Findlay is really great about allowing you to ride so many different horses of different disciplines. One important thing is to keep your position and keep showing through anything.
  • Taylor: In order to compete on a horse I have never ridden before I feel that it is very important to be confident in my abilities. Riding different types of horses is definitely also key to preparing for riding in the IHSA, because you never know what kind of horse you are going to get.
  • Hannah: For practice, we ride a different horse each week and we also switch horses during practice so we can get a feel for all different kinds of horses. We are so lucky to have such a wide variety of horses at Findlay and the opportunity to ride them for practice so I’ve never worried much about drawing an unfamiliar horse.

HN: How do you feel IHSA has impacted you as a person?

  • Caroline: Overall, I think the biggest impact IHSA has had on me is that it has made me a more flexible person. I think this flexibility and confidence in my abilities translates into all aspects of my life even outside of riding. IHSA competition is unpredictable by nature, and being flexible also means understanding that even the best riders can have bad rounds, and that learning from mistakes rather than regretting them is an important part of the learning process.
  • Brandon: IHSA has brought a team aspect to a sport that is not usually considered a team sport. IHSA has allowed me to compete at a level I had not had the opportunity to compete at before, and that is really special. I have grown as a rider and as an exhibitor through IHSA.
  • Taylor: The IHSA is a wonderful organization that has allowed me to grow as an individual. It has made me a hardworking teammate and has fostered my competitiveness, while also giving me a dose of humility every once in a while by reminding me that some things are out of my control. I am very grateful to be a member of the IHSA.
  • Hannah: IHSA has led me to meet some of the best teammates I could ever ask for and I have made so many unforgettable memories! I’m so unbelievably grateful for everything that IHSA has done for me and my team. I have certainly learned that if you put in the hard work and time during the season, the results will show and the hard work pays off!

While each champion is 100% unique, it is safe to say that in order to become a IHSA champion you must be hard-working, dedicated, adaptable, and a team player. Horse Nation congratulates all of the IHSA national qualifiers and champions on a successful 2016-2017 show year. The training isn’t over, however — who will we be featuring this time next year?

Are you a college rider, college bound in the fall or searching for the perfect equestrian school? Network with other students at our new College Equestrian message forum!

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