Fairfield, Conn. ­– April 10, 2018 – The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) held eight Zone Finals April 7-8. The eight Zone hunter seat competitions produced across the country were qualifying events for the 2018 IHSA National Championship to be showcased at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 3-6.
From each Zone Finals, the top two teams and the top two individual riders from each division all qualified to compete at the highlight of the IHSA season. Each Zone Final also held a qualifying class for the USEF/Cacchione Cup. The National Championship crowns the team, individual and alumni champions in both hunter seat and Western.  The event also features the coveted USEF/Cacchione Cup and the AQHA Western High Point Rider national final.

The Mount Holyoke team, led by legendary coach C.J. Law, have been regulars at Nationals and this year is no exception. They led their Region by over 90 points but the Zone championship was not a given. In an exciting and hotly-contested and close competition, the Mt. Holyoke Lyons won with 37 points, a slim margin of one point. In fact, the second and third place teams, Boston University earned 36 points and Dartmouth had 35. The Boston University team, led by Phyllis Cervelli, was named reserve champions and will also have the opportunity to compete for the top team prize in Harrisburg.

“It made for an intense day,” Law said.

Going into the last class Law knew what had to happen in order for them to earn the championship. Mt. Holyoke rider who won the USEF/Cacchione Cup Zone Final, Mollie Kowalchik, has a lot of support from her family and her father, in particular. He tracks the competition and puts everything into a spreadsheet during the show. He told Law that the last class would determine whether they would be champion or reserve. But either way, it looked like they were Harrisburg-bound.

“I was thrilled,” she said. “At the same time, I’m a little superstitious. I did tell my assistant. But I didn’t tell anyone until I knew for sure. I didn’t tell my students. You just have to take the jinx yourself. It was nice to have a little relief in the last class knowing that it was OK.”

The Mt. Holyoke team is a mix of experienced seniors and newer riders and Law has a plan to get them ready for Harrisburg.

“We’ll ride as many rides as we can get and extra practices,” she said. “We’ll do some lunge lessons. We have a sports psychologist that works with the team—there’s a lot to being as positive as possible. There’s the mental ride and the physical ride. Sure, they’ve got aspects of their riding that they can improve on, but I really want them to strive for the positive confidence in the ring.”

Coach Cynthia Ford and her Skidmore Thoroughbreds led the Zone 2 field to take the championship. Reserve champions St. Lawrence University will join them at Nationals.

“Skidmore's success at Zone Finals begins with an outstanding group of talented, educated and competitive Skidmore horses that our student-athletes enjoy and learn on each day,” Ford said. “Our staff of four professionals works together by sticking to simple basics and keeping riding as uncomplicated as possible. Skidmore is also blessed with bright, dedicated and hardworking students, which makes them awesome women to teach each day.”

Ford said that the team will take a breath for a few days to give the horses, riders and coaches a moment to recharge.

“Then we’ll get back to our program with nothing extraordinary,” she said. “Basics, basics, basics! We’ll do lots of riding without stirrups, toss some testing into the mix, have some jumping fun and try out some interesting courses.”

Centenary University aced their Zone Finals hosted at their equestrian center. The 2017 National reserve team champions led by coaches Michael Dowling and Heather Clark are consistently at the top of the IHSA results. They have many Cacchione Cup wins to their credit, including Katherine Steiner in 2017. Penn State University’s Equestrian team added to their impressive list of achievements and earned the reserve championship.
Dowling credits the success of the Centenary team to the strength of their program, the support of nine full-time faculty members and the depth and diversity of their horses. Training the team, Clark focuses on fine tuning position and Dowling focuses on effectiveness and the horse’s way of going. Their teaching styles complement each other and play a key role in the team’s success.

“If the rider is more comfortable riding warmbloods, we put them on a hotter type of horse so they can figure that out,” Dowling said. “When we have a rider that’s a little better on a Thoroughbred-type horse, then we try to get them more comfortable riding a big warmblood. We constantly try to change it up.”
Leading up to Nationals they will focus on where they were weak at Zones and do a lot of strengthening and work without stirrups.
“I’m really excited about the group of students that we have this year,” he said. “Every year we become more determined to put on a better show. Harrisburg is about as close to home as we get so we have a lot of volunteers coming. It’s going to be a fun event.”

The St. Andrews University hunter seat team, led by coach Robin Brooks, rose to the occasion earning 39 points to win the Zone championship and punched their ticket to Harrisburg. Also Harrisburg-bound, reserve champions Virginia Tech University earned 36 points.
“We have a group of seniors that have been great team leaders this year,” Brooks said. “They have been hungry for it all year.”
Brooks said that the strategy for competing at Nationals is lots of practice. She wants them to be as strong as possible, while keeping their confidence high and setting them up for success.
“They are losing their stirrups as of this morning,” she said.

Zone 5 Finals were at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) Equestrian Center in Hardeeville, South Carolina. SCAD managed to dominate the season despite fielding a roster with a majority of new riders. SCAD came away with the championship of Zone 5. Hometown host team, the 28-time Region 9 champions, the College of Charleston, earned the reserve championship. SCAD will attempt to earn their fourth team championship at Nationals.

“It is a huge team effort and I am so grateful to the staff, the facility and the horses,” said Ashley Henry, head coach of the SCAD Equestrian Team. We had our big team meeting at 5:30 a.m. and I told them, ‘Yes, SCAD Equestrian has a legacy, but every year, it’s a whole new dance. It’s like the first time all over again.’ We’ve always approached it that way.”
Henry said that the team will go back to the basics to prepare for Nationals. They will go on the lunge, train over single jumps and serpentine loops. They will practice on landing the lead.
“It’s the fundamentals of riding that are going to help in the ring when you’re given a challenge,” she said. “We still have a long road ahead, even though we’re Pennsylvania-bound. The game only gets harder now.”

Two Zone 6 universities well-known for their top-notch programs progressed to the Nationals team competition roster. Guided by coach Alexandra Kemp-Thompson, the University of Findlay hunter seat team prevailed at the Zone 6 Finals. Otterbein University earned the reserve championship, and the two will face the 14 teams all vying for the national championship.

“I was very pleased with my team’s performance at Zone Finals,” Kemp Thompson said. “It had been six years since we had been at Otterbein. All the students took on the challenge of riding completely new horses. I'm very proud of how my students handled themselves both inside and outside the ring all season given the circumstances they had to overcome.”
For Findlay, the 2018 season in their Region was unusual. Their last two home shows of the year were canceled and entries at Findlay's final away show were cut in half.
“My priorities are rider physical fitness and mental self-confidence,” she said. "We have 150 horses in our barn, so I know I can count on my students to ride whatever is thrown their way at Nationals. There will be no stirrup work and work on endurance. I'm very excited to see this team step up. It should be fun!”

In Zone 7, champions West Texas A&M University earned the points to give them the championship under the helm of head coach Amanda Love. The reserve champion Purdue University squad will also head to Harrisburg the first weekend in May.

“The success at Zone 7 Finals was really due to preparation pushed by the team seniors and assistant coach Rebecca Anderson,” Love said. “Our judge tested every class hard and we loved every minute of it. That is what we prepped for. I believe that success at this level is 90 percent talent and 10 percent luck. We really enjoyed the moment when preparation and luck came together.”

The West Texas A&M hunter seat team were their Region champions and kept the pressure on straight through the Zone Finals. Now, headed to Nationals, the team will work their plan.

“WTAMU will prepare by continuing what we have been doing all year, working on foundation skills and strength work.”

The Stanford University Equestrian team topped the Zone 8 Finals. Led by head coach Vanessa Bartsch, the Stanford team was the third-place finisher at Nationals in 2017. Colorado State University earned the Zone 8 reserve position and will also make the cross-country trip to Harrisburg.
“There has been an exponential increase in the quality of riding from all of the schools in our Zone,” Bartsch said. “It continues to push us to be better, train harder and find nicer horses to bring in. The overall quality of the teams and riders that we were competing against was exceptional. It made it competitive and fun. As a coach, it promotes our whole area to be the best that we can be.”

Stanford has a young roster this year and Bartsch explained that two seniors, Caroline Soane and Celia Lang-Ree, have stepped up to lead the less experienced members of the team. This year will mark the two seniors' fourth National Championship.
To prepare for Nationals, Bartsch has a diverse pool of coaching talent to call on at the Stanford Red Barn including Guy Thomas and Willow Tree Farm and Cindy Brooks at Northern Run. But Bartsch doesn’t plan on changing up the plan.

“We ride how we ride, we train how we train; we’ll step up and add some practices,” she said. “We’ll continue to do no stirrup and strengthening work, but we’ve been doing that since the start of the year. We’re excited. Harrisburg has been a good venue for us.”

All the powerhouse Zone champions and reserve champions make for an impressive lineup for the IHSA Nationals team competition, setting the stage for not-to be-missed intercollegiate sport.

IHSA thanks these sponsors for their support of Zone Finals:
USHJA | SmartPak | Weatherbeeta | Noble Outfitters | KASK | Dublin