Sweet Briar College’s Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) varsity team won the Regional Championship for the third consecutive season after an impressive showing in the finals at Mary Washington on Feb. 15.
Some of the top performances include Sarah Miller ’20 who won the intermediate fences class. Abbey Narodowy ’20 took the limit flat class win, and Sita Moses ’23 won the novice class. Madeleine McAllister ’21 was first place in the pre-novice class and Madeline Rucker ’23 won her intro class.
The team returned to Mary Washington for the Region 4 Show on Feb. 22 where a trio of Vixens qualified for the IHSA 2020 Zone 4 Show. Kaitlin Duecker ’21 took the Zone 4, Region 4 Intermediate Flat Championship while Sarah Miller ’20 claimed the Limit Flat Championship. Chloe Kerschl ’22 finished as the Region 4 Reserve Champion in open flat.
Here’s what some of the team members had to say about being part of the IHSA team:
Sarah Miller ’20, IHSA team captain, never thought she’d occupy that role but has enjoyed it immensely. “It’s like being a big sister to a big family. My teammates come to me with everything and anything that’s on their mind, and I love being able to help them.”
Sarah didn’t know about the IHSA until she came to Sweet Briar but she always liked catch-riding and knew she wanted to be on a team. Catch-riding is often considered the ultimate test of good horsemanship. To ride one’s own horse or usual mount well is one thing, but to be able to hop on any horse and ride it well requires a true understanding of equine communication and demonstration of skills.
“Our team strategy is to watch the home team warm up their horses,” says Sarah. “We look for issues and try to determine if it’s due to the horse’s or the rider’s behavior. We study everything and make mental notes so that when it’s time to draw for the horse we’ll ride, we can recall what we observed and adjust our plan. It’s similar to studying and preparing for an exam.”
Jenna Steinle ’22 joined the team her first year. She already had been competing for several years and had heard wonderful things about the IHSA. “I love how IHSA tests your skills with different horses,” says Jenna. “When you only ride your own horse, you tend to form certain habits, and riding other horses helps you develop as a rider. It’s a challenge not knowing the horse you’re going to ride, but you keep riding as you normally would and instinctively draw on the skills you’ve learned.”
Caroline Waters ’22 grew up riding other people’s horses and then her own. “IHSA is challenging,” says Caroline. “You need a clear and calm head to accomplish the job in front of you. You have a checklist of what you need to do for a successful ride on a particular horse. You need to ride what’s underneath you. It’s the luck of the draw which horse you’ll get. This is part of the reason why the team environment is so important. They are so supportive. On the morning of the show, everyone has the attitude of ‘Wake up! Let’s go do this!’ There’s always people around you to help.”
Chloe Kerschl ’22 showed hunter/jumpers for many years on the same Southwest Virginia Hunter Jumper Association (SWVHJA) circuit as Sweet Briar, so she was familiar with the team before arriving at Sweet Briar. “I was drawn to the IHSA team because you get to go to a lot of competitions and are able to ride a lot,” says Chloe. “IHSA both tests skills and teaches skills, and you need to adapt those skills to each situation. But what I love most is the team support. We have a fun and friendly motivational saying of ‘Get over it!’ that keeps us focused and moving forward. There really is a strong sense of team happiness.”
Abbey Narodowy ’20 competed in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) before arriving at Sweet Briar. “I love the IHSA because it provides an equal opportunity for all levels of riders, from walk-trot-canter to the over fences. I also love being able to ride so many different horses. You learn a lot that way. I’ve become a much more confident horsewoman and rider since joining the IHSA team. Everyone at the barn is so supportive, and the Sweet Briar horses are very special. I also work at the barn where standards are high in order to care for the horses in the best way possible, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Sita Moses ’23 started riding at a very young age and showed on the hunter circuit for many years, including IEA shows which introduced her to the format of drawing for the horse you’ll ride in the competition. This made for an easy transition to the IHSA format at college. “The IHSA makes it easier to be competitive while keeping the cost down, compared to owning your own horse,” says Sita. “I love the experience of riding so many different horses. I used to get stressed out and anxious at shows, but now I enjoy the whole process. Sweet Briar’s program is intense with equal focus on the development of the rider and the horse, but it’s been fun as it’s helped take some of the pressure off results by focusing on improving yourself and the horse.”
Kaitlin Duecker ’21 competed in hunter/jumpers with ponies then horses in the IEA before joining the IHSA team at Sweet Briar. “I enjoy the IHSA because you’re judged on how you ride. It’s challenging when you’re competing on a horse you’ve never ridden before, but that’s part of the fun: to figure out how to communicate with each horse to get the correct response. I’ve grown a lot in the last three years. I am much more confident and love the opportunities to ride at bigger shows. I also love working at the barn. You learn so much about horsemanship and how to be a leader. There are always people to back you up. Everyone is open and helpful. I couldn’t imagine a better setting to be in to grow as a rider and horsewoman.”
For a complete list of competition results, visit Vixen Athletics.