University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Sarah Eberspacher Earns Back on Track Western High-Point Rider Title at the IHSA 2023 National Championship Horse Show

Sarah Eberspacher - Uni of Nebraska-Lincoln - BOT Western High Point Rider - Champion - on Maize from University of Findlay - Credit Andrew Ryback Photography - 2
2023 Back on Track Western High-Point Rider Sarah Eberspacher (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) aboard Maize (University of Findlay) during the Team Open Horsemanship class. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

Lexington, KY – May 7, 2023 – The 2023 Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) National Championship Horse Show ended by naming Sarah Eberspacher from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as the Back on Track Western High-Point Rider. A first for Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), they rode to the top as the Western ChampionTeam, presented by the American Paint Horse Association (APHA).

Split into two sections, the Back on Track Western High-Point Rider horsemanship competition showcased top-quality rides from some of North America's best collegiate Western riders. Patterns were executed with skill and precision, impressing judges Holly Hover (Cave Creek, Arizona) and Debra Jones-Wright (Abbeville, South Carolina).

Earning the top score and national championship title was University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Lincoln, Nebraska) senior Sarah Eberspacher (Beaver Crossing, Nebraska) on Wally, a 16h gelding from Albion College (Albion, Michigan). Jordan Martin from MTSU and the SUNY Oswego mount, Peppy, rode to the reserve championship.

"Wally was amazing. I loved riding him on the rail," Eberspacher said." When we got to the pattern, he just felt so locked in and I just loved my pattern on him."

Eberspacher rode the MTSU gelding Slim in the reining phase to an impressive score of 141.5. "Slim was so much fun," Ebersphacher said. "I actually rode him at last year's Nationals as a re-ride, so I was super excited to try riding him again this year. I just loved our pattern together. He waited for me on everything I asked."


The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Team Ranch Riding, presented by NRHA and National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA), national championship honors were awarded to Grace Strief (Cascade, Iowa), a freshman from Black Hawk College (Galva, Illinois) and the SUNY Oswego mount, Peppy. Chase Summerville (Albany, Pennsylvania), from Midway University (Midway, Kentucky), took home reserve with Penny from MTSU. Mississippi State University's (Starkville, Mississippi) Mouse and MTSU junior Audrey Ferrie (Warren, Pennsylvania) earned third place.

Competition continued with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Individual Rookie Horsemanship class. Black Hawk College's Haley Bucher (Washington, Illinois) rode to the win aboard Black Hawk's own flashy sorrel gelding, Hooker. Reserve championship honors went to Marty Kasch (Evergreen, Colorado), a junior from West Texas A&M University (Canyon, Texas), and Kody, provided by Alfred University (Alfred, New York). Hannah Brasher from Mississippi State and Tommy, a bay gelding from Midway University, took home the third-place prize.

Western team competition concluded with the Team Level I Horsemanship and Team Open Horsemanship classes, both presented by the NSBA.

Level I riders took to the ring at the walk, jog and lope both directions of the Alltech Arena before performing their patterns for the judges. After the 12 riders showcased their skills, Lily Roman (Wake Forest, North Carolina) from St. Andrews University (Laurinburg, North Carolina) on Hooker, provided by Black Hawk College, earned the national championship title. Taking home the reserve tricolor is Black Hawk College's Haley Bucher and the Miami University of Ohio (Oxford, Ohio) mount, Jellybean. Third-place honors were awarded to St. Andrews University's Chip and MTSU Mackenzie Latimer (Millbrook, New York).

Open Horsemanship riders showcased all the gaits for the judges and crowd. Pattern work included a simple change of lead, extended lope circle and finished with a halt and backup before returning to the lineup. Sarah Beth Felker (Moncks Corner, South Carolina) from St. Andrews University earned the national champion title, taking home the championship trophy presented by NSBA. Felker rode Monty provided by Albion College. MTSU's Jordan Martin aboard the St. Andrews University-provided mount, Georgie, were awarded the reserve champion honors. The third-place prize went to Autumn Cary (Syracuse, Nebraska), a sophomore from Black Hawk College, and Fish, the bay gelding from MTSU.

Cheers for twelve riders vying for the NRHA/AQHA Individual Reining national championship filled the Alltech Arena. Scoring a 143 and awarded the champion buckle presented by AQHA and the Clark Bradley Memorial Champion Trophy, presented by NRHA, was Hannah Wright-Riley from Delaware Valley University (Doylestown, Pennsylvania) and the sorrel mare, Wishbone, from Mississippi State. University of Minnesota-Crookston's (Crookston, Minnesota) Belle Sand and JR, provided by Mal McGuire, are the reserve champion with a score of 140.5. Aboard University of Findlay's (Findlay, Ohio) Keith Urban, Eberspacher rounded out the top three.

After the NRHA/AQHA Individual Reining national champion was crowned, the AQHA Individual Beginner Horsemanship riders mounted their draws and headed into the show pen.

The national championship title and buckle presented by AQHA was awarded to Black Hawk College's McKenna Koneicka (Kewanee, Illinois) who piloted the gelding from Miami University of Ohio, Jellybean. The reserve championship and saddle pad were presented to Collin McLaughlin (Stamford, Connecticut) from the University of Connecticut (Storrs, Connecticut) aboard the Midway University mount, Tommy. The judges' third-place pick was Hannah Price from MTSU, with Fred from Black Hawk College.

Sunday Champions - updated

Middle Tennessee State University Rides to the Western Team Championship, Presented by APHA

As team points were calculated, you could feel the adrenaline in the Alltech Arena. MTSU outscored St. Andrews by one point to claim the Western Team Championship, presented by APHA. The team members were presented champion buckles, courtesy of presenting sponsor, APHA.

IHSA - 2023 Nationals - Western High Point Team Candids - Credit Danielle Dunn-1
The MTSU Blue Raiders are the 2023 Western Team Champions. Photo by Danielle Dunn

"It's unreal," said Ariel Higgins, MTSU head coach. "We have waited a long time for this. It's our school's very first one, so it's a pretty big deal for us."

Higgins stepped up as head coach after Anne Brzezicki was at the helm for 44 years. Emotions were high when the program's first national championship was announced after another announcement that the beloved Brzezicki had served her last year as an IHSA Nationals volunteer.

"We are just following in her footsteps," Higgins said. "We have her leadership, her blessing and she's our biggest fan."

"(It's great) For Anne to see that all of our kids are working hard, too, behind the scenes," said Andrea Rego, who assists the MTSU team. "I know that's so special to her, too, and I'm glad we could just be even a small part of it."

IHSA - 2023 Nationals - Western High Point Team Candids - Credit Danielle Dunn-3
The MTSU team raising the Western Team Champion trophy. Photo by Danielle Dunn

Western High-Point Horse – Wally, Albion College
IHSA - Nationals 2023 - Wally - Albion College - High Point Horse - Credit EQ Media-1 copy
Wally with the Albion College Western Equestrian team and coaches. Photo by EQ Media

Western Most Popular Horse – Peppy, SUNY Oswego
IHSA - Nationals 2023 - Peppy - SUNY Oswego - Most Popular Horse - Credit EQ Media-1 copy
Peppy with the SUNY Oswego Western Equestrian team and coaches. Photo by EQ Media