Ollie and Debbie Griffith Presented IHSA’s Pioneer Award at IHSA National Championship Horse Show

by Anne Brzezicki with EQ Media
The Parade of Teams is a tradition played out at every IHSA National Championship Horse Show. This year’s parade included a special presentation to honor two people who have dedicated their lives to the IHSA. The Pioneer Award recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to IHSA by bringing new vision, action and results to the association. Ollie and Debbie Griffith of the Ohio State University fit those criteria, and on the occasion of their retirement from coaching, the IHSA leadership honored them with this very special award.


Carla Wennberg, Ollie Griffith, IHSA Executive Director Peter Cashman,
Debbie Griffith, Anne Brzezicki and IHSA Founder Bob Cacchione.
Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

In the barn, the arena and the boardroom they have worked since 1986 with energy and good humor to develop their horses, riders and advance the IHSA into an organization that is better now than it would have been without them.

Together, they have qualified a team for Nationals every one of their 34 years, coached 23 national champions and 10 national champion teams, a record unequalled by any other college or coach. Their riders have won the NRHA Individual Reining class seven times. They have coached five IHSA High Point Western Riders, including their son Austin, in 2012 and 2013.

The Griffiths have always helped whoever needed a hand along the way. They can always be counted on to and help and step in whenever and wherever the need arises.

While well known for his friendly, outgoing personality and ability to change gears, topics or trajectory within seconds, when it comes down to decision-making on important issues, no one is better than Ollie Griffith at articulating the importance of the consistent application of transparent rules, developed and guided by intent. The intent of the IHSA board of directors, the discipline and the horse industry and in the best interests of our horses and riders.  

Ollie Griffith’s leadership within the Western Committee over nearly four decades has overseen great growth and change. And as associate national steward, he has served the entire IHSA from the executive committee through every rider at every level.

Debbie Griffith is the quiet, calm figure, always there, never obvious. She is a master at stepping into any situation.

Together, the Griffiths have a been a spectacularly successful team and their mutual respect and affection shines as an example to all of us of how leaders can make a living and a life in the horse world while guiding the next generation onto the track of its own success.

“Horses have always meant a lot to me,” Griffith said after presented with the award. “I met my wife at 13 through the American Quarter Horse Association. When the NRHA began, we got heavily involved. My whole life has been about coming up through the associations. Then when I met Bob Cacchione, we fell in love with the IHSA. We've made so many friends in the IHSA. Our Ohio State team has meant so much. The best example is that we were invited to a wedding of a girl who had been off the team for six years. There were 150 people at the wedding and Debbie and I were the only ones that weren't related–that's lifelong friends, that's real memories. 

“Debbie and I have done this for over 40 years. Ninety-five percent of our friends came from the equine industry. We'll always have those friends. For us both to retire and step away from coaching the team doesn't mean we're stepping away. We hope to stay involved with IHSA and the NRHA for a long time yet. 

“People I need to mention – Joan "J.J." Johnson, who, was one of the initiating people of this industry, George Lukemire, Jerry Steinmetz, Tom Bishop and Naomi Blumenthal. My thanks go out to Bob. I mean, Bob is the one that brought us into this and allowed us all to meet.

“Two people I need to mention are Anne Brzezicki who wrote just a wonderful piece about us. She came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I mean, every bit of it.’ That's pretty special. Carla Wennberg has been a tremendous supporter. It looks like the IHSA (has young) people that want to come in really play the role and help this industry. I am forever indebted to my dear friend Ken Copenhaver who recommended Debbie and me to coach the Ohio State team.”