Intercollegiate Horse Show Association

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IHSA logo.jpg
Formation 1967
Founder Robert E. Cacchione
Type Association
Purpose equestrian competition

The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) was established in 1967 by Robert E. Cacchione, while a sophomore at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and with the encouragement of History professor and noted horseman, Jack Fritz. IHSA is based on the principal that any college student, regardless of skill level, financial status, or riding experience, should have the opportunity to compete on a college equestrian team. IHSA offers numerous scholarship opportunities while emphasizing education, sportsmanship, and team spirit. IHSA serves 400+ college and university teams across the United States and parts of Canada, with more than 8900 active riders. Collegiate equestrian, like Olympic equestrian competition, remains one of the only sports in the world where young women and men compete equally.


Within the IHSA, riders can compete in English riding (Hunter Seat Equitation, aka, 'Flat,' and Over Fences), Western riding (Western Horsemanship and Reining), or both. There are eight levels within the Hunter Seat division for a total of nine classes including: walk-trot; beginner and advanced walk-trot-canter; novice, intermediate, and open over flat; and novice, intermediate, and open over fences. In IHSA Hunter Seat shows, the riders may choose to ride in an over fences class, a flat class, or both. In Western Horsemanship there are six levels: Walk-jog, Intermediate A and B, Novice, Advanced, Open and Open Reining. An Open Western rider may compete in a horsemanship and a reining class but to compete in a reining class the rider must be in the Open or Alumni division and have six months professional training prior to competition.

These divisions allow riders of all levels to compete as part of an intercollegiate equestrian team. The most basic, walk-trot/jog, is reserved for riders who have not ridden in more than 24 weeks of lessons and who have never cantered, jumped or competed in a horse show. The next division is walk-trot-canter/Intermediate A, which is further divided into a beginner and more advanced. Riders who have been riding longer than 24 weeks of lesson but who have not competed in any horse show competition or has jumped more than 18", start in beginner walk-trot-canter. Once the rider has accumulated 18 points, the rider moves on to advanced walk-trot-canter/Intermediate B. Walk-trot and walk-trot-canter are the only divisions that do not include a jumping phase for English riding. To be placed in the open division, a rider must have won at least 6 blue ribbons at the 3'6" height in rated horse shows. After the rider has been originally placed into their appropriate division, they can then move up a division after they accumulate 36 points (which carries over year after year, except for in the open division).

For the Hunter Seat divisions, the novice, intermediate, and open divisions have both flat work and work over fences. Novice division jumps are set at 2’-2’3”, intermediate jumps at 2’6”-2’9”, and open jumps at 2’9”-3’. The novice courses tend to be very straight forward while the open courses require more challenging patterns such as bending lines or rollback turns.


In both Hunter Seat and Western divisions, riders are judged on their equitation, i.e., each rider is individually judged on their effectiveness in communicating with their horse, as well as their ability to appear aesthetically pleasing (i.e. posture and positioning on the horse), and to make riding appear smooth and effortless.

IHSA shows are unlike open horse shows. An IHSA team organizes and hosts each show and invites other member colleges in its IHSA Region to compete. The show is usually at the host team's facility or nearby. Competitors are not permitted to ride their own horses. IHSA show horses are already provided by host stables or "donated" for the day from other teams, coaches, or area equestrian facilities. Each horse is schooled (warmed-up) before classes begin by non-competing riders, while student competitors observe to ascertain particular attributes of each potential horse. Riders participating in the competition are not allowed to choose the horse they would like to ride. Each rider is assigned a horse, partially through random selection and partially through a matching of the horse's abilities with those needed for horses participating in certain classes (for example, the more highly trained horses are used in the open divisions, or a horse that doesn't jump would be put in a flat instead of an over fences class). The rider may or may not know anything about this horse, but the rider is expected to be able to ride any horse that is considered to be at the level that they are in. The rider mounts the horse he has been assigned just before his class is scheduled to begin. Competing riders are not permitted to warm-up their assigned horse except at the walk. One of the goals of the IHSA is to provide all riders with an equal chance of performing well in their class; by not allowing riders to compete on horses that they are comfortable with judges can accurately rate the ability of the rider to effectively control the horse and ride well.

Individual ribbons correspond to points, which combine for a team score. Each team can have only one 'point rider' per division and the lowest score on their card is dropped. Thus larger teams do not get an advantage. A cumulative team score of 49 points for Hunter Seat or 42 points for Western would be a 'perfect' card. To keep divisions fair, a rider may only score a given number of points before they must graduate to another level of riding experience. Points correspond as follows:

  • 1st place: 7 points
  • 2nd place: 5 points
  • 3rd place: 4 points
  • 4th place: 3 points
  • 5th place: 2 points
  • 6th place: 1 point

To qualify for IHSA Regionals (the first step toward qualifying for the oldest and largest annual collegiate riding championships in America, the IHSA National Championships), a rider must accumulate a certain number of points. 36 points (that may be accumulated over a number of, but less than five, years) are needed to point out of every division except for Open. Open riders need only earn 28 points to qualify to IHSA Regionals. Once a rider has qualified for IHSA Regionals in a division, they must compete the rest of the year in the next division. The one exception are walk-trot and walk-jog divisions. However, a rider is only allowed to remain in the Walk/Trot or Walk/Jog division for two years before being expected to move up to the next division. IHSA Regional qualifiers then progress to IHSA Zone Championships, whose qualifiers then compete to represent their college or university at the IHSA National Championships.


With 400+ teams and more than 8,900 riders, the IHSA divides the country into eight “Zones” organized geographically. Every Zone is divided into two to five regions, and each region ranges with approximately five to fifteen collegiate teams. The teams within the region compete against each other in eight to ten horse shows per year. Each place (first through sixth) has an assigned point value that accumulates throughout the seasons. When riders acquire thirty-six (or twenty-eight for Open) points in their division, they are then qualified to compete in the Regional Finals competition. The top two riders in each class move on to compete in the Zone Finals and the top rider from Zones move on to the national competition. The high-point team (and in some zones, the top two teams) from each region also compete in Zones for the chance to represent their zone at the National Competition. Nationals are when both hunt seat and western teams come together to compete with teams from across the country. Both the 2013 and 2014 National Competitions were held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 2013, they were at the Farm Show Complex on May 2-5 and in 2014, they were at the Pennsylvania Farm and Exposition Center on May 1-4. The 2015 Nationals were held at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts from April 30-May 3, and in 2016, they will be held May 5-8 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

Famous Alumni and Awards[edit]

IHSA has launched and nurtured the careers of some of America's greatest riders. Its USEF/Cacchione Cup stars include U.S. Olympic Show Jumping medalists Greg Best, Beezie Madden, and Peter Wylde, as well as U.S. Combined Training champion Mark Weissbecker, and 2012 star of the History Channel's 'Full Metal Jousting,' James H. Fairclough, II. IHSA and its executive director and co-founder, Robert E. Cacchione, are consistently recognized for their contributions to college riding, having been presented with the 2011 USEF Pegasus Humanitarian Award, Pfizer/American Horse Publications Equine Industry Vision Award, and USHJA President's Award, and in 2013, the IHSA official Facebook Page was recognized by the internationally acclaimed Equestrian Social Media Awards as a finalist for the FEI Solidarity Award for best use of social media by a grassroots organization.


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