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IEA/IHSA show tips

hi!! i live in a small town that recently formed an IEA team! i am in the process of joining. i am really exciting for this and think it will help better me as a rider! i show my very lovely mare in the 3 foot eq and jumpers at AA showing in california, so i will most likely show in the 2 foot. i have not been told very much, and i have many questions and would love to hear all of you tips and tricks. i have a very nice saddle, should i bring that? how about all my mares tack?? i would love to hear stories about iea too!! ( i do have a lot of experience riding all different types and levels of horses!)

What fun! I showed at the collegiate level so I can help you a bit.

Assuming you are asking about the shows themselves, you likely will not need your tack, unless you are donating your mare to a show. All the sponsored horses should come with their own tack and you will not be able to put your own saddle on a donated horse.

Three recommendations -

  1. Watch your horse warm up. Pay attention not only to how the horse goes, but how the rider rides the horse.
  2. Know your weaknesses. Certain types of horses will exploit those weaknesses, so make sure you get ahead of your potential pitfalls and build a plan.
  3. Read the rulebook. Lots of “normal” things can get you disqualified. Make sure you know what you can and cannot do while riding a donated horse.

You will have a great time!


Do. Not. Ever. Ever. EVER. Post on the wrong diagonal. Not ever. Not once. Not even for a single step.

You have no control over which horse you draw, the tack you use, the footing, the weather. The one thing you have absolute one hundred percent control over is whether you pay attention to your diagonal. Don’t ever make a careless mistake that creates a terrible first impression on the judge.


I showed IHSA back (waaaay back) in college and also helped hold horses when our school hosted our shows. When showing, I would always ask the people holding my draw if that horse had any quirks/ things I should know/ if I should carry a stick, etc. When I was a holder, I would always tell people who asked. And then, and this is the hard part, try to BELIEVE what you are told! If I tell you that the horse picks up the canter using the inside aids, keep that in mind for those transitions.

Also be sure to HAVE FUN! I had a blast- it’s a much different experience from showing your own horse at the AA level, but is a lot of fun in its own way and you can definitely learn a lot. And I really enjoyed the team aspect to it as well.

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Let me see if I can say this with the proper amount of emphasis: DO. NOT. TRY. TO. “FIX”. THE. HORSE. Ever. You job is to ride the horse you draw that day to the best of your abilities, not radically change the way it goes. So many riders try to make their draws go the way the RIDER prefers instead of the way the horse prefers, and that’s when things tend to go south in a hurry. Now, obviously I don’t mean let the horse get away with murder in the ring, but just keep in mind that you are, for the most part, likely mounted on a school horse. It may have a hard mouth. it may be sluggish off your leg. It may be stiff as a board laterally. You’re not going to change that long-ingrained behavior in a 10 minute flat class, so don’t pick a fight in the ring. The riders who consistently do well in this format are able to get on a wide variety of horses and make all those horses HAPPY, even when the last rider(s) didn’t. In other words, be adaptable. :slight_smile:

Good luck! IHSA was the best thing that ever happened to my skill level as a rider.


As one who judges 8-10 IEA a year, I am not going to overly penalize a rider if he or she happens to post a step or 2 on the wrong diagonal. Recognizing that they are on the wrong one and changing, especially in IEA/IHSA, is passable to me. That rider may have the best leg, best rein length etc. I am not going to throw her out of the top spot for that…

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Sometimes I “donate” my horses to meets. I am very pleased with the students who are kind to my guys. My horses are eventers/jumpers the students who ask me how my boys go generally get top placing

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In IHSA you don’t get a warm-up period with your horse. So during flat classes, you can get some more time with your horse to get it responsive to your aids by trying not to be the last rider in the ring before judging starts. I loved being the first one in the ring because it gave me a longer chance to figure out the horse.

When I say responsive to your aids, I’m talking very simple leg yields or pushing them into a working walk - nothing crazy. But it’s a good time to figure out what kind of horse you have. If your draw is a pony that just knows how to go and whoa, then you know to sit there and look pretty. But if you draw something a little fancier (happens more in the higher divisions), it’s a fun chance to show off your skills.

Watch your horse go before you ride it, if possible, and see what the rider does with the horse. Are they getting bounced out of the tack in the trot? Are they able to half-halt if they need it? It’s a good time to chat with your trainer if they’re able to talk about a game plan.

Also, if you can, try to ride in a different saddle from time to time when you’re not showing - I was always amazed at how differently I ride in one saddle compared to the next.

Hope that helps!!


Watch warm-up, and talk to the horse’s handler before you get on. The horse draw list should say whether or not you can use spurs or a stick. Make sure you check. Understand the rules so you don’t accidentally get yourself eliminated. Never bad-mouth a horse you are assigned, and always thank the owner/handler/barn for allowing you to ride the horse.

  1. Master the art of the simple change
  2. You will not get to ride in your own tack, as you need to ride in the tack that came with the horse. This can be tricky if you are used to nice custom tack as the horses in these competitions tend to have school tack. This is key as you may be assigned a roomier saddle, or one with a wider twist or more forward knee rolls than is normal for you.
  3. Be a good team player - the teams generally arrive and leave at the same time and mates are expected to help each other out.
  4. Be gracious when you draw the BTDT horse, and be keen when you draw the questionable one. Drawing the more challenging horse doesn’t mean you won’t do well. The judges are aware of the challenges and generally factor that into placing - they are more concerned with how you handle what you are given vs. how perfect you are.
  5. Dress for equitation - white shirt, navy jacket, field boot, black helmet, belt, black gloves - no piping, no bling.
  6. Be prepared for all kinds of weather - these things never seem to cancel and they go on all day.
  7. Enjoy the experience - IEA/IHSA will give you the opportunity to ride all different kinds of horses. It will make you a better rider and you will receive an expanded skill set. It sets a more equal playing field and truly separates the pilots from the passengers. Good luck!

As someone who did IEA for a year and currently rides on a competitive IHSA team, I can say that you’ve definitely already gotten a lot of good advice so I won’t repeat what’s already been said. Other than that, TURNOUT! Looking your best is important in any discipline or show, but especially in the IEA/IHSA format of showing. You have no control over what horse you draw, but you DO have control over how you look when you walk in the ring. Invest in well fitting, conservative attire if you don’t already have it…looking the part is really important. And make sure your boots are SHINY–like, see your reflection in them shiny. My IHSA coach is our region president, so she gets all the judges cards at the end of every show day. She once gave a shoutout to one of my teammates because the judge noted “shiny boots” on the score card. It really matters!


Previous posters gave some great advice! I rode IEA all through high school and IHSA through college. You will get to ride a variety of horses and learn to read a horse pretty quickly! I also found it to be a great team sport - I was lucky to be a part of some teams that really banded together to help each other out!

Make sure you ride as many different horses as you can in your lessons to prepare you for shows. My favorite lessons were when would rotate horses a few times during the lesson!

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Also, it’s a nice idea at shows to pitch in and help with course changes and taking the jumps out before the flat classes. Many hands make light work. :slight_smile:

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this! it may sound silly and simple, but this past weekend I lent 2 of my horses to the IEA show running at a local barn. walking back into the barn at the end of the day to pick up my guys and hearing from multiple riders on the host team how fun they were to ride, how many compliments they got from visiting teams, what great draws they were, etc, makes me want to lend them more horses (and possibly nicer horses) in the future! which only benefits the riders!


Timex, I have a feeling I saw them. It’s a small world! :slight_smile:

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Remember that owners are in the crowd!

I have stood with the owner of an exceptionally good horse (the caliber that is not usually donated) when the inept rider trash talked him after a round that did not go well. Please remain courteous and polite at all times.


Also remember that there is a sportsmanship award given at each show. When you’re not riding or otherwise helping your team , rather than sitting under your team tent eating donuts, hang out ringside. Be the one to dash into the ring to set a rail that fell down. Ask the Steward if you can get them some water or a cup of coffee. Open and close the gate between rounds. Hold the horse of someone else’s team that doesn’t have a handler nearby. Stand at the in gate with some polish and a rag and ask every rider if you can knock their boots off a little before they go in. As a show manager for my team, I love to see as many kids as possible campaigning to win that one !!

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