A First-Timer’s Thoughts From IHSA Nationals

AQHA’s Cailin Caldwell reflects on her first trip to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals and the dream-come-true opportunities the program presents.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

IHSA offers the chance to share our passion for the America Quarter Horse with a new generation of horseman. (Credit: Katie Navarra)

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a proud sponsor of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, AQHA staff members attend the IHSA National Finals every May. This year’s show was Cailin Caldwell’s first trip to the IHSA championship and she’s still riding the high of excitement that eminates from the multi-level competition. 

The success of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association in developing athletes and industry professionals is indisputable. Olympic medalists Beezie Madden, Peter Wylde and Greg Best all competed on the IHSA level for their respective colleges. Numerous AQHA world champions, like Ariel Herrin and Miller Hernard, have come out of the ranks. And while these riders are the champions of our sport and will always be the faces of IHSA, it is a different experience that encapsulates the event and brings the teams together.

IHSA is equally successful in growing the industry and providing opportunity. The low-cost competition format and levels of competition offer interested riders an opportunity to compete – an opportunity that they might not have otherwise had. For the horse-crazy child who never made it into the barn, IHSA competition is a long-awaited opportunity that has the potential to take these riders from an unobtainable dream to the national stage.

When West Texas A&M University’s Cana Fitzgerald received her reserve championship in the walk-trot division, the cheers were deafening. Her excitement was infectious as her team ran into the arena and encircled her with hugs and congratulations. While each win for the team was important, the less-seasoned competitors seemed to draw the loudest cheers from the crowd and the most visible displays of support from their teams.

Equally inspiring were the hunt seat riders who had left their helmets and breeches at home in favor of a shapelier hat and chaps. These select riders challenged themselves to experience the sport in its entirety. IHSA offers riders a chance to experience new disciplines and create interdisciplinary bonds and lifelong friendships. The program builds a bridge between often segregated areas of the industry and brings riders together with a common goal.

It is easy to get caught up in the glory of riding at the top of the sport, but it is important to take time to remember the roots of the industry and what unites us all. IHSA is about developing professional riders, creating a level playing field and the chance to share our passion for the America Quarter Horse with a new generation of horseman.