Gladys, Va. – May 12, 2023 -
The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) National Championship Horse Show is an event punctuated by emotion and team spirit. The journey to Nationals is arduous. Points must be earned at hundreds of regular-season shows, 39 Regional Championships, eight Hunter Seat Zone Finals and for Western riders, at three Semi-Finals. Of the many thousands of riders and almost 400 teams in the organization, only 16 hunter seat and 12 Western teams can qualify. The coaching must be top-notch to make the cut for IHSA Nationals.
This year, the Adrian College Western team qualified for the first time in the school's history to compete at Nationals. Other significant firsts were the winning team coaches.
2023 was the Adrian College Western Equestrian Team's first appearance at an IHSA National Championship Horse Show. Photo by Danielle Dunn
Belinda Colgan, head coach of Skidmore College, led the team to the championship for the first time since the departure of her mentor, Cindy Ford, an inductee into the IHSA Hall of Fame and IHSA Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Ford coached the Skidmore Equestrian Team from 1988-2019 to seven national championships and retired in 2018.
Skidmore College Thoroughbreds are the 2023 Hunter Seat Team Champions. Photo by EQ Media
"It feels phenomenal," Colgan said. "It's my first time winning as head coach. This is my fourth (time) being here as a coach, but it's very different being the head coach and having those decisions to make. I felt very confident in all my girls. They're phenomenal riders, every one of them. With a little luck, which we had with some wonderful horse draws, they came through and I honestly don't know how they do it. They handle the pressure like pros."
Meanwhile, in the Western ranks, a similar story played out. Ariel Higgins, coach of the Middle Tennessee State University team, celebrated the first-ever win for her team. Her former coach and coach of the MTSU team for 44 years, Anne Brzezicki, is an IHSA Lifetime Achievement winner and was instrumental in launching the IHSA Western divisions. Though her team attended many IHSA Nationals, Brzezicki had never won the coveted team championship.
Bob Cacchione presented Ariel Higgins from Middle Tennessee State University the Western Sportsmanship - Coach Award. Photo by EQ Media
"We are just following in her footsteps," Higgins said. "We have her leadership, her blessing and she's our biggest fan."
The MTSU Blue Raiders are the 2023 Western Team Champions. Photo by Danielle Dunn
This year, both Brzezicki and Ford volunteered on-site at IHSA Nationals and witnessed their former teams and assistant coaches rack up the points in the team classes to win the top-team honors. They were witnessing the emergence of a new generation of coaches.
Immediately before the Western team awards were presented, there was a special acknowledgment for West Texas A&M Head Coach Amanda Ellis, who will step down from her coaching position. Then, an announcement that this would be Brzezicki's last year volunteering at Nationals.
Anne Brzezicki and Bob Cacchione at the 2013 IHSA National Championship Horse Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Bob Cacchione
Read all the stories from 2023 IHSA Nationals.
Read about the special awards presented: