More Questions...Ihsa riding, tell me all about it

A friends daughter is interested in riding IHSA at college next year.
I know nothing about it or how it works?
Can anyone shed some light?


There are a lot of old threads on this with good information, and COTH has articles and blogs too.

Basic show format will be the same wherever you go: riders randomly draw a horse to compete on the flat and/or over fences. They get on, adjust their stirrups, and go into the ring. No warm up or practice jumps. Levels go from walk/trot (less than 8 weeks of instruction I believe) to open flat and fences (3ft o/f, for riders successfully competing at the 3’6’’). You accumulate points based on your placings that qualify you for regional finals and move you up into the next level of competition. Top placings at regionals allows you to compete at zones, top placings at zones allows you to compete at nationals.

In terms of the team experience, it is extremely specific to the school. At some schools the riding team is fully funded, with practices every day (or almost) on very nice former show horses donated by generous alumni. At other schools, the team may be a club sport where team members pay for their own lessons and show fees and ride once or twice a week on more school-horse type mounts. There is a lot of middle ground between those two as well.


I searched, but only came up with threads from 2010 that didn’t give much info

Thanks. This young lady only rode sporadically and probably five years ago, so a low level, W/T or W/T/C division would be nice.

Riders at all levels contribute points to the team I assume? So being a W/T rider isn’t basically a bench warmer?

Points are accumulated from 1 rider at each level. So if there are multiple w/t riders, the coach picks one before the show starts whose points will count. But the walk/trot rider’s points are just as important as the open rider’s points. Many times it the walk/trot rider who is the more important, because its generally the last class of the day and can determine which team wins.


Depending on the school, some teams are quite competitive, others less so. A more competitive team may have try-outs and some team riders may only get to compete occasionally; a less competitive or smaller team may take everyone and their riders may compete at every show. It may be worth trying to get in contact with someone from the team to find out what their process is and what kind of riders they need.

I would recommend checking the qualifications for each division, and figuring out which one(s) she would fit into. As a general rule, but not always, teams like to place riders in their lowest qualified division in order to have the best chance at points. At our school we had a hard time finding W/T riders because the time commitment needed for the team was unappealing to most beginner riders. The exception may be if they have a saturated lower division and no riders in a higher division; once you have your initial placement, the only way to move up is to “point out”, or accumulate enough points that you move to the next division. Regardless, keep the qualifications in mind if she will be riding and competing this summer.


The biggest thing to me is that it is one of the very few situations for kids to ride as part of a team, rather than as individuals. It’s always nice to see the kids helping each other out and cheering each other on.

At the shows, the caliber of the horses can vary somewhat wildly from one school to another.

And at all IHSA or IEA shows, the most important piece of equipment to bring is your lucky rabbit’s foot to help you draw the best horse. But over the course of the season, it all evens out in the end. A rider who can do a good job on a wide variety of horses will come out ahead in the long run.


Not at all. In fact, those are some of the harder spots for teams to fill, so a dedicated, competent W/T rider’s ribbons count just as much as an open fences rider’s.


I think the rules say 3 feet, but at shows the horses are used repeatedly for each division, so the highest I ever saw was about 2’6" just to save their legs. It’s probably 3 feet at regionals/zones/finals. :slightly_smiling_face:


The rules do say 3ft. Some schools in my region would would set it at the height when they hosted, others it was closer 2’6”. It seems very school dependent.

Thanks all, these responses and the other threads I eventually found were very helpful.

I say read the rules very carefully.

I don’t know if it is truly how it works, but a friend says they were able to do walk/trot because all their (long term) riding was in a different discipline.


Pretty sure this is true. If you don’t have a record in hunters or IEA then you can do walk trot and every team wants that walk trot division filled to get those points.

My kid isn’t a hunter but does IEA and may do IHSA in college. She isn’t the best since she doesn’t practice hunters, but she has a great time being on a team and loves the opportunity to ride a variety of horses.

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Unfortunately, this is not true. Our coach had to be very strict about it as we went to Nationals almost every year and you can lose a title for incorrectly placing riders. For W/T, it’s under 24 weeks of instruction regardless of discipline, and you can’t have cantered or loped in a competition. Up from there, having lots of experience and either not showing recognized or showing a non-jumping discipline is very helpful.

I enjoyed IHSA when I did it. I always enjoyed the psychological part of trying to get my feel for the horse and give it the best ride possible.


While I can’t attest to the accuracy of every point, Kim Ablon Whitney wrote a fun novel called Autumn Blues about a rider competing on the IHSA circuit (just to give her a sense of the atmosphere):

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Yes, I have been an IHSA coach for a few years now, and last year had two riders who filled in the placement form saying they had taken 2 years of western/trail riding lessons when they were 10 years old, and hadn’t ridden since then. This placed them in the Beginner WTC section, but these riders were essentially starting over, and didn’t even know how to post the trot at first. I had to have assessment rides done, to allow them to ride in the lower level (WT) that actually suited their abilities.


Awesome, thanks!

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I competed on my college’s IHSA team for all 4 years. It was one of my favorite experiences in college and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved competing as a team and getting to know women from all over campus - Greek life was huge at my school, so it was nice to have a social outlet other than my sorority!

It also probably helped that my college competed against Hollins, UVA, Sweet Briar, Bridgewater… which meant I got to ride some really nice school horses! And it was a D3 varsity sport in our region, so the school paid for everything.


Yes, I went to Bridgewater, and the horses in that region made IHSA an incredible opportunity to ride some fantastic horses. Sweet Briar ended up moving to the region that I coached in the last few years, and every time I went up there for a show, it made me want to be back in school so that I could have a turn to ride them again.

Field boots, with zipper up the back… Does one expect them to drop at the ankle like boots with no zipper?