From IHSA to Miss Rodeo America –  How the IHSA Shapes Futures

After providing the opportunity to ride and compete horses in college, the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) continued to impact lives on the national stage at the Miss Rodeo America pageant. As a college riding organization, the IHSA allows any student to ride, whether they’re a brand-new rider or have ridden for years. The experiences and life lessons learned from riding with the IHSA carry into the students’ lives after college.

Amanda Ellis, the head coach of the IHSA equestrian team at West Texas A&M University and an instructor in Agricultural Sciences, has a unique outlook on how IHSA shapes students’ futures.

“It’s a cool version of (combining) catch riding and the skill of life- communication. Figuring things out, being a problem solver. As you’re cantering 30 miles an hour at a three-foot fence, you better figure out life on a horse you’ve never been on. And the same thing on a reining horse, as you’re running down to go stop and slide,” shared Ellis. “It’s a lot of figuring out what you have and making the best of what you have. You don’t need to draw the best horse in the class, but you need to do the best job communicating with the horse you are given. In reality, that’s life- you work with the cards you’re dealt.”

Coach Ellis learned about Miss Rodeo America and rodeo queens from a current student, Danielle Williams, who will serve as Miss Rodeo Missouri in 2023. There were a couple of women competing in Miss Rodeo America who had ridden in IHSA during their college years.

“The story that we thought was really neat when they announced the horsewomen that were up for Miss Rodeo America, two of them stood out as really talented IHSA alumni who came from different programs and had a lot of success within those programs that are now representing their state as Miss Rodeo Oklahoma and Miss Rodeo South Dakota,” said Coach Ellis.

The Miss Rodeo America pageant crowns a yearly ambassador and spokesperson to represent the Western lifestyle for the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association. The December pageant included 28 women who represented their states in a weeklong competition. The contest included a horsemanship riding test, an equine science written test, impromptu speeches and a fashion show, including a chaps fashion show. Each set of chaps was designed by the contestant to represent her lifestyle, background and state.

“Many of them represent way beyond just rodeos,” Coach Ellis said. “They do a lot for charities. They do a lot for the Western lifestyle and understanding how we use livestock and how they benefit the world. They bring awareness of the Western way of life to the rest of the world. They’re really horse and Western heritage advocates, in addition to being spokeswomen.”

Anna Woolsey, a graduate of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO) of Miami, Oklahoma, served as Miss Rodeo Oklahoma 2022. Woolsey began her pageant career at the age of 13 and had already been showing in reining and ranch riding for years. At 15, Woolsey caught the eye of pageant judge Amanda Jones, while riding a horsemanship pattern on a horse she’d never ridden. Jones approached Woolsey about riding on her team in college. As she finished high school in 2018, Woolsey set her sights on attending NEO and joined IHSA to ride with Jones.

“The horsemanship portion is such a big part of the pageant and it’s very important because at Rodeo Queens we are on horses 90% of the time,” Woolsey said. “When you go to a rodeo, you don’t take your own horse. (IHSA) really benefited me because I could get on any horse and feel comfortable.”

Woolsey made NEO history in 2019 as part of NEO’s first-ever qualified team for IHSA Nationals. The team competed in open reining and placed second at Nationals. That IHSA team was coached by Amanda Jones, a grad student of Coach Ellis’ about ten years ago, and Josi Reed, an alum of West Texas A&M who rode under Coach Ellis in college.

“I’m not a rodeo queen. I do not speak this language, but somehow rodeo queens just keep arriving in my life and I learn more about it,” laughed Coach Ellis. “I have such respect for it. What you give up as far as a young lady who is very qualified in her prime to go get a wonderful job. (They) say, ‘no, I’m going to do this title instead where I make no money and I drive thousands of miles around my state and I work like a grunt laborer, and then get dressed up and represent my industry.’ That says, you take a lot of pride in what you do.”

Woolsey won the Scrapbook Cover Award and the Master of Beef Award at this year’s pageant.

Adrianne Schaunaman served as Miss Rodeo South Dakota 2022. Schaunaman attended Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas, for three years before transferring to the University of Minnesota Crookston, where she graduated with her bachelor’s. Schaunaman rode on both school’s IHSA hunter seat and Western teams.

“Through the process, I had the privilege of working under a couple of amazing coaches, and they really changed my mindset on how to adapt in the arena, how to take on challenges,” Schaunaman said. “And through that very pivotal time in your life in college, it was those things that were able to transcend outside of the arena. Giving yourself a family to come home to, to give yourself a home base while you’re in college but also to really create a positive mindset through that very transitional time in your life.”

She was first runner-up at Miss Rodeo America, won the photogenic and speech portions of the pageant and was awarded the BEX Beauty award.

“It’s a huge accomplishment because all those girls spent 365 days studying, riding different horses, putting the clothes together. So it’s very cool to stand at the top and be there with some of my best friends,” Schaunaman shared of her first runner-up finish.

As her time serving as Miss Rodeo South Dakota comes to an end, Schaunaman leaned on her roots and will return to Colby, Kansas, as the head IHSA coach at Colby Community College.

“I think there’s something really cool to share because everybody comes to the program with such unique backgrounds. There are girls that have a horse that didn’t show, but they’re wanting to be participants. There’s a gentleman on the team that has a ranch rodeo background,” Schaunaman said. “And I think that unique part of my story is being able to connect with a lot of different people. I’m excited to share that and bring this part of my story to the students and hopefully share similarities and help motivate them.”

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) welcomes all genders at a range of riding levels and offers individual and team competition in hunter seat equitation, Western horsemanship, ranch riding and reining at more than 400 member colleges and universities. Membership in IHSA means that college students can participate in horse shows regardless of their experience or financial status. Students compete from beginner through advanced with suitable, provided horses, eliminating the expense of horse ownership.

Founded in 1967 by Bob Cacchione, it is the oldest and largest intercollegiate equestrian organization with nearly 10,000 members in 47 states and Canada. IHSA college and university team participation is represented through a variety of programs, including varsity athletics, academic departments and club sports. IHSA offers valuable hands-on experience and professional development in multiple facets of the equine industry. Many IHSA teams participate in service projects, giving back to their communities. Through the IHSA, students enhance their college experience and develop the tools that help build successful careers.

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Media Contact:
Carrie Wirth
EQ Media