High-Point Rider and Team National Champion Titles Awarded on Final Day of the 2024 IHSA National Championship

USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, Presenting the Cacchione Cup and Back on Track Western High-Point Rider National Champions Crowned at Tryon International Equestrian Center

The final day of competition at the 2024 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championship held at Tryon International in Mill Spring, North Carolina, Delani Franklin, from Lake Erie College, was crowned as the USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, Presenting the Cacchione Cup and Middle Tennessee State University’s Jordan Martin as the Back on Track Western High-Point Rider. Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) earned the Hunter Seat Champion Team title and Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) as the Horse & Rider Western Team Champions, presented by APHA.

Judges Andrea Wells (Ocala, Florida) and Archibald “Archie” Cox (Palm Springs, California) top-six competitors, Kylie Hwalek’s (Vernon, Connecticut) win in the Dover Saddlery Team Open Equitation Over Fences provided a boost to the leaderboard for Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, Connecticut) in the hunt for the Hunter Seat Champion Team title. Hwalek piloted the 17.2 bay gelding, provided by Centenary University, to the national championship title. The reserve tricolor went to Emma Pell (Winchester, Virginia), from Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry College (Emory, Virginia) aboard King, a mount provided by SCAD. Rounding out the top three were SCAD’s (Savannah, Georgia) Celia Cram (Aiken, South Carolina) and Laguna from Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, New York).

Second on the schedule in the hunter seat arena was the much-anticipated USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, presenting the Cacchione Cup, work-off round testing the top-six riders after the over fences and flat phases Saturday. The following riders tested: Celia Cram, SCAD; Delani Franklin (Cupertino, California), Lake Erie College (Painesville, Ohio); Emma Pell, Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry College; Kenya Sanders (Sherborn, Massachusetts), Skidmore College; Emma Eaton-Ayres (Groveland, Massachusetts), University of Rhode Island; (South Kingstown, Rhode Island) and Benjamin Joban (Webster, New York), Centenary University (Hackettstown, New Jersey).

The test began with two changes of lead on the long side opposite the judges, hand galloping a fence, a serpentine of three fences, finished by a halt and no stirrup work at the trot. Each of the six top riders gave it their all, showcasing their skills on their draws.

Franklin emerged as the national champion of the 2024 USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, presenting the Cacchione Cup. She rode Milton, a 17-h bay gelding provided by Centenary University. Sitting in second place after the flat phase, Franklin secured the win with her tidy work-off round. Taking home the reserve tricolor is Cram who rode Centenary University’s gray gelding, Vesper. Third-place honors were awarded to Eaton-Ayres aboard the Centenary University Mount George.

“I pulled George (for the over fences phase Saturday) and I was 23rd (out of 24) to go. I’d been watching him from Friday and early morning Saturday schooling and he was just the cutest little horse that was packing around, so I was stoked to get him,” Franklin said. “I loved that I was 23rd because I could kind of use that to my advantage. See how the other riders were riding their track, their tempo, how they were getting scored based off that.”

Franklin was in the first class of Head Coach Sarah Dwyer’s tenure at Lake Erie College. “One of our barn staff members calls her ‘Fearless Franklin,’ so when she was walking in we were telling her to go be fearless,” Dwyer said. “Delani has always kept a really cool head. “She’s been a joy to teach and to coach.

“Delani has a tendency to like to be on the handier side. She likes to do the inside turn anytime it’s available,” Dywer added. “I noticed (SIC) the judges were appreciating a little bit more of a conservative, smooth ride. I was trying to encourage her to, while still being handy and still showing her skill (to) be a little more conservative than maybe she would like to be in her heart. We found a compromise and I think it worked out really nicely.”

This is Lake Erie College’s second national championship in program history. Their first was in 1995 with Kim Barone (Peters).

“I think I was a little in shock. I think I still might be,” Dwyer said when asked how she felt after Franklin was announced national champion. “It’s my fourth year coaching and my second year at the national show. I knew that she could do it. I knew I had a rider who was capable and I have a great assistant coach who helped us get here (Anna). I knew she could do it, but it was still kind of crazy to see it happen.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Franklin said. “I’d been watching the rider who was previously in first and she did an incredible job. Every single trip that she laid down, both her fences and her flat – it’s neck and neck, but like I said, I just had to make sure I stood out when I did my test today.” And that she did.

Jumps were cleared from the ring, flat horses schooled and arena dragged before two flat classes ended the day in the hunter seat arena.

The 2024 Horseware Ireland Team Intermediate Equitation on the Flat National Champion is Kendall Madison (Westtown, New York) from Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry College aboard Crosby, provided by Skidmore College. Taking home the reserve tricolor is Sacred Heart University’s Erin Phillips (Bethel, Connecticut) and the SCAD mount, Dee. Rounding out the top three was Sophia Wirtz (Seattle, Washington), a freshman from St. Lawrence University (Canton, New York), and Sarah, provided by Long Island University.

The last 2024 IHSA hunter seat National Champion was awarded to Alexander Alston (Wellington, Florida) in the Dover Saddlery Team Open Equitation on the Flat. Alston added team points for SCAD aboard the 17.1-h liver chestnut gelding, Bon Bon, provided by SCAD. Reserve honors went to St. Lawrence University senior Hudson Warren (Denver, Colorado) and St. Lawrence University’s Siegfried, with Miami University of Ohio’s (Oxford, Ohio) Francoe and Harper Sanford (Chester, Connecticut) from Skidmore College securing third-place prize.

Cox took time to talk about his experience judging the event.

“The IHSA Intercollegiate Association has come so far,” Cox said.  “I was national champion 35 years ago at Mount Holyoke, and I have to say, the horses, the organization, the riders are top notch. A shout-out to the schools that donated horses and brought horses here. It’s incredible what they have done and what Bob Cacchione envisioned in 1967 has come this far.”

Throughout the competition, Wells and Cox asked for work-offs in every class, both on the flat and over fences, testing the riders’ abilities.

“Well, this is at a national final,” Cox said. “We’re testing them. People have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this. The cream rises to the top.

“Judging here has been super with Andrea Wells at my side,” he continued. “We have seen eye to eye on every class, every test and we’re watching the same picture. My experience here at the Tryon International Horse Park has been great. It’s really nice that the horses are all under one roof and weather is irrelevant once you come inside. It’s equal for everyone and that’s really important for a national final. The horses here are outstanding. I’ve really been impressed. The overall quality here is comparable to any USEF-rated horse show.”

Beginning the final day in the Western arena was the section A of the Back on Track Western High-Point Rider Reining phase. 11 riders slid, spun and galloped around the pattern before a short break in the action to crown the AQHA Level II Horsemanship before the section B riders had their turn in the pen. The remaining riders in section B entered the pen and rode their hearts out for their chance at a national championship.

Jordan Martin (Murfreesboro, Tennessee), a junior from Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, Tennessee), impressed the judges and was named the 2024 Back on Track Western High-Point Rider National Champion. Martin was the leader after the horsemanship phase and secured the national championship title after a stellar performance with Gunador, a bay gelding provided by Team NAH (a reride) was awarded. The reserve champion was Jordan Schauer (Centerburg, Ohio) from Midway University aboard Bingo, provided by Leigh Pound. Rounding out the top three was Erin Murray (Dublin, Ohio) from The Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio)  with Reed, provided by Team NAH.

Gunador is a special mount for Martin as she leased him during her high school years. “I showed him when I was younger in AQHA in high school and took him to the World Show,” Martin said. “We’ve won a lot of other titles and a lot of other things, but never anything like this, so it’s definitely a unique thing to win, especially with him.”

MTSU coaches Andrea Rego and Ariel Higgins have enjoyed watching Martin through her years in the IHSA. “She also is just a fantastic rider in terms of her mentality,” Rego said. “She never lets a ride get to her that happened prior. She’s going to restart and keep going and make things better. Even if it wasn’t her best ride or it was her best ride, she has something that she wants to improve every time. So I think that speaks to her as a true horseman.”

Ariel Higgins is proud of the horseman Martin has become. “It’s just truly been an honor to be associated with her. I’m just really proud of her,” she said. Martin is graduating and will head off to Kentucky to be an assistant trainer at Sam Schaffhauser Performance Horses.

Next on the schedule was AQHA Individual Level II Horsemanship. The National Champion is Chase Summerville (Albany, Pennsylvania), a sophomore from Midway University (Midway, Kentucky), aboard the sorrel gelding, Slick, from MTSU. Jaimieson Knode from Cal Poly State, San Luis Obispo, and Pickles from the University of Findlay (Findlay, Ohio) took reserve honors. With the school’s Millie, Kurstin Walker (Boswell, Oklahoma) from Black Hawk College (Moline, Illinois), secured third-place honors.

The 2024 Team Rookie Horsemanship, presented by NSBA, National Champion was Natalie Bailey (Goldsboro, North Carolina) a senior year St. Andrews University (Laurinburg, North Carolina), aboard the bay gelding Chip from St. Andrews University. Emma Rutledge (Dublin, Ohio) from The Ohio State University and the University of Findlay’s Cinch took home the reserve championship title. Mount Holyoke College’s Clio Halpern from the San Francisco Bay area piloted the Mississippi State University (Starkville, Mississippi) mount Nicky to third place.

Horse & Rider Team Open Horsemanship, presented by APHA, concluded competition in the western arena. The 2024 national champion is Jordan Martin from MTSU on Robin, provided by St. Andrews University. The reserve call went to Chase Summerville from Midway University aboard Roxie, from the University of Findlay. Kaitlyn Howe (Findlay, Ohio) from the University of Findlay, aboard Boston, provided by the University of Findlay, rode to third place honors.

“It has been amazing to watch young people perform at this level of excellence riding horses that they’ve never ridden before,” McBeath said. “We’ve seen some very nice horses, but, you know, if everyone had a horse that was very easy to ride, it would be hard for us to judge. But since some of the horses test the riders. We have the opportunity to evaluate how that rider can handle different situations. And that’s what this competition’s all about.”

“Some of these kids would never have the opportunity, Johnson said. “This offers so much opportunity. They can start at a beginner level and work right up to the advanced. It has been just an outstanding pleasure to be here.”

Champion team awards were presented to the high-point hunter seat and Western teams after the three-days of tough competition. The Hunter Seat Team Champion is SCAD, earning 59 points. The Hunter Seat Team Reserve Champion is Sacred Heart University with 41.5 points.

“We always do our homework, but this time, having such great judges that are so educated and informative in what they do, we tried to make sure that we were going back and seeing what sort of tutorials they’ve maybe put online, said SCAD Head Coach Ashley Henry of the 2024 National Champion Hunter Seat Team. “(Also), working on a lot of mental strength as well as just physical strength and techniques­ – we set up situations so that we were ready. I think that truly helped us because there were no surprises for our students. They really felt like, we’ve done this, we’ve done this test, we know how to answer the questions. And that was really beneficial for our overall success as a team.

“As a coach, I think the testing is really appreciated,” she continued “You want to be able to show what your students are capable of doing and giving them the opportunity to come in and test whether we bump down or bumped up. We knew that we tried our hardest and we really were able to work with what we had and you know, obviously there’s always challenges and there’s always room for improvement.”

The 2024 Horse & Rider Western Team Champion, presented by APHA, is Middle Tennessee State University, taking home the title with 47 points. The St. Andrew’s University team rode to the reserve honors with 38.5 points.

“We were behind in our region until the last day of our home show, which is our last show,” said Head Coach Higgins. “Then we ended up pulling it out and winning. It was a little humbling after such a great year last year. But the team really got hungry and wanted the win. Then, we hosted our semifinals and had the joy and honor of both hosting and competing and it just couldn’t have gone any better for us in that regard. And then to come here and be able to do it again – it’s just crazy.

“I’m proud of them, honestly,” said MTSU Assistant Coach Rego. “I’m proud of them for focusing on their rides and being good horsemen and trying to connect with the rides that they were given. We focused on that all year long.”

“Our program has such a history in the IHSA, Higgins said. Our MTSU program is what helped start the Western in the IHSA. Anne Brzezicki, the coach that was before us, had such a legacy and to be able to do that the first time to bring it home to the program that has just wanted it so bad for so long, just so special. We’ve joked that we just wanted the trophy to come back. The fact that it gets to come back is absolutely such an honor and we are just so humbled and grateful to be in that position again.”

The IHSA congratulates all of the student-athletes competing in the 2024 National Championship and thanks the schools, horse providers and volunteers for their hard work to make this championship possible and a special experience for all involved.

Carrie Wirth
EQ Media

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