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IHSA Nationals: May 5

West Texas A&M University wins the national western title at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association national finals.

By Larri Jo Starkey
The American Quarter Horse Journal
May 5, 2013

West Texas A&M University wins the 2013 western team title at IHSA national finals

West Texas A&M University celebrates as it wins the 2013 western team title at IHSA national finals. (Larri Jo Starkey photo) For more photos, scroll to the slide show below.

West Texas A&M University won the team western national championship May 5 at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championship in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Three teams pushed hard for the championship before WT's final victory.

“This has been a great group of girls all year,” said WT head coach Amanda Love. “It’s been an absolutely successful year of building relationships. That’s what we really focus on, is making sure we have a team atmosphere that encourages success for everyone. We have a team of 35 girls, both hunt seat and western, and every single week, we are an athletic team, so they push themselves to become the best team out there.”

In IHSA competition, riders compete on six different levels in western competition, depending on their experience, ranging from beginner walk-trot to open reining. Riders draw for horses, and they have no warm-up time.

At the beginning of the day, West Texas A&M University and St. Andrews University were tied for first, with the University of Findlay just four points behind. Teams are awarded points for their riders’ placings through sixth.

“These girls commit typically 10-15 hours a week between workouts and riding and team community service and meetings and study halls,” Amanda said. “They are fully committed to this. It has been a long time coming, and I couldn’t be more proud of them: How they act, how they work – riding is secondary to becoming really good horsemen and really good students and really good athletes. This is a really cool payoff for them.”

The first team class of the day, advanced western horsemanship, saw Kayla Wells of WT take the title.

“It’s always great to win, but to win the team classes just makes it sweeter, because you know it contributes to everyone’s success,” Kayla said. “We still have two team classes left, so we’re really stoked about it.”

Kayla, a junior ag media and communications major, said she had a game plan going in.

“I had a really good horse to start with, which always makes things good,” said Kayla, who also placed third in individual novice horsemanship later in the day. “I just planned to ride and use all my arena and spacing and really make sure I plussed my square corners and my extended gaits whenever I could and made sure I rode smart.”

In team intermediate western horsemanship, Alexandria Gokey of Findlay took the honors, giving WT a one-point lead.

“The horse was very honest and nice, and everything went smoothly,” the freshman equine sciences major said. “I was just thinking about my pattern and communicating with the horse.”

The championship came down to the final class of the day, open horsemanship. In that class, Julia Roberts’ second-place finish put WT over the top and into the national championship.

“Each one of them wants to put the name West Texas A&M University on a champion ribbon, and they work for that every single day,” Amanda said. “Each one of (the students) put points on the board. While it was Julia who clinched it for us, each member of our team earned that national championship.”

St. Andrews University, coached by AQHA Professional Horseman Carla Wennberg, finished second.

AQHA High-Point Western Rider

Austin Griffith of Ohio State University earned first place in the last class of the day, capping a national championship season full of triumphs.

In addition to winning team open horsemanship, Austin was first in individual open reining competition and second in team reining competition. He was also named western coach of the year.

“I take it one step at a time,” Austin said, “each class and moved from one to the other. Horsemanship is harder just because I grew up reining.

“I got started in horsemanship when I showed in IEA in high school.”

His biggest success was earning the AQHA high-point rider award for the second year in a row, only the second time a rider has accomplished that feat in IHSA history. The AQHA high-point rider award, which doesn’t count toward team totals, requires riders to compete in both horsemanship and reining, with cumulative scores determining the champion. The competition takes two days, with two splits each of horsemanship and reining.

“It was (tough),” Austin said, “especially after reining. I was at the end of the first split, so I had 12 riders to sit through, waiting. (Ashley Winters of Findlay) was in the second split, so it was nerve-wracking.”

Austin, a junior, could have the opportunity to compete in the high-point rider contest again in 2014, when the IHSA national finals will again be in Harrisburg.

Horse of the Year

Western horse of the year honors went to Joker By Story, a 1987 bay gelding by Storys Early Morn-Tambo’s Star by Indiana Look. He was bred by Sharon Puccio of Farmington, West Virginia.

A former student donated “Joker” to the West Virginia University equestrian program, where he has been happily training students in the art of horsemanship for 10 years, said coach Bobby Dean of West Virginia.

“He has won national championships four times – twice this year,” Bobby said. “He won team novice (with Emily Kopko of Middle Tennessee State University), and he won team advanced (with Kayla Wells of WT) this morning. He’s a good boy.”

IHSA National Finals Journal Coverage

  • May 5 – West Texas A&M University wins the national western title at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association national finals.
  • May 4 – Two western teams are tied for the top spot after two days of Intercollegiate Horse Show Association competition.
  • May 3 – Western competition begins with reining at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association national finals.