As I’ve previously mentioned on this blog, my first horse show ever was an Interscholastic Equestrian Association show. It was December 5, 2009, at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville, GA. As I was walking to the mounting area with my wonderful coach, she was forced to reassure me as I more or less fell to pieces. There were some ugly tears, readers, and I’m very sorry to report that there was snot. I know, I’m disgusting. I have no idea why I was crying. The horse I drew was the lesson horse I rode on a regular basis (Summer), and I had excelled in my recent lessons. Yet I was emotionally distraught because “I don’t know what the judge is going to ask me!”
In November 2012, I did my first local horse show while attending VI. I was cool like Fonzie. Why? Because I had done the horse show thing a dozen times before, thanks to IEA. But this time was only slightly different. Like my first IEA show, I was riding a horse I knew well (my sweet little Oreo cookie). I had entered the schooling hunters to give myself some show miles at 2′ and the 2′ equitation flat and over fences. We pinned sixth in one of our hunter trips and the rest of the division was a wash, but I was happy for the experience. Then we won our equitation over fences and pinned third on the flat! It was a pretty great first local horse show experience.
So how does this relate to IEA? The only reason I did a local horse show is because I paid for it myself. My parents are my biggest cheerleaders, but showing is expensive. I got to do IEA because it got me a college scholarship. So IEA is a financially feasible way to introduce riders to horse showing. Let’s talk numbers, one of my least favorite things in the universe. A two day local C or unrated show with one division per day can be upwards of $400, plus coaching fees (usually $80 per day in my experience), plus transporting horses to and from the show (anywhere from $50 to $250 depending on distance). That’s almost four months of lessons for one weekend. To a rider, this is a worthy trade because of the education she can get in a horse show. To a parent left footing the bill, a few $5 ribbons and a whole weekend spent at the show grounds are far from a wise investment. IEA gives riders the experience of showing with a much lower price, and parents love the idea of their kids maybe even earning a scholarship for collegiate riding. (I know my parents did.)
If you are a regular follower, you know how I love the USEF Equitation Tests. One of these tests is that a rider should be able to competently perform on an unfamiliar horse. IEA, NCEA, IHSA, IDA, RIFNA, and other similar organizations were based off this idea. This levels the playing field. Girls who have gotten a new horse every couple years or ride one horse are thrown into an arena with a stranger between their legs. Meanwhile, the lesson kids who have worked hard for any extra riding time they can get and are used to hopping on anything with four legs and hooves stand a fair chance against riders who have shown from short stirrup to the big eq. If nothing else comes from IEA, riders are forced to broaden their horizons and conquer a new mountain by getting on a new horse. This is an invaluable skill for competing in the big eq, becoming a trainer or instructor, preparing for a career as a catch rider, or preparing for collegiate riding.
Most importantly, IEA presents the opportunity for a mostly singular sport to get some team exposure. Before my parents finally let me chase my dream of getting on a 1200 pound animal and kicking it into a 30mph run at solid objects, I was an athlete of many courts. I played soccer, basketball, and volleyball; I was a gymnast; I swam summer and year round; and very briefly and unsuccessfully I attempted to dance to hone my skills as a musical theater actor. Point being, I’ve been on my fair share of teams. You could always tell the difference between the riders who had only horse shown and the riders who competed in other sports. Their whole mindset was different, especially at the post season shows (regionals, zones, and nationals). It is my love of teamwork and camaraderie that made me work my tail off to help my team in any way I could, from holding horses endlessly (sometimes three horses at once) to scouting the competition via YouTube and the points pages on IEA’s website to prepping the horses all afternoon on Friday and meeting the trailer at 4:45 am before the show to load and following the trailer home to unload. I schlepped tack, I brought food, I drove the younger girls without cars to the shows, I always had an extra crop or spurs, and I did my best to encourage and support my teammates. The spirit was infectious. We had teams of hairnet doers and extra coaches alongside the ring and boot polishers. Parents took care of the whole team. We became more than a team. We were a family. My team was proud to be the Cowbirds ❤
So the next time you groan about the IEA kids at your barn or get frustrated that there’s an IEA show at your local horse park instead of a rated show, think about all those eager young riders who spend weeks practicing and days preparing to ride in a maximum of two classes and hold horses all day long. IEA is the highlight of their whole month. It means the tried and true lesson horses of your home barn gain a fan club of multiple other riders (Buttercup and Dallas were two of these!). It means your little barn rats get to clean up out of their old t-shirts and tank tops and look fly as hell in their show shirts and coats. It means college intercollegiate coaches have another opportunity to scout future talent. And of course, it means a whole season of friendly competition in the name of a sport to which we are all incredibly addicted. I loved riding my whole life. IEA made it that much better.