IEA Western National Finals Proves to Be Hot Competition for Youth Riders

The Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) closed out their 2022-2023 season by hosting a very successful IEA Western National Finals in Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday, June 24th and Sunday, June 25th. Held at the historic Will Rogers Coliseum Complex during the American Paint Horse Association (APHA) World Championship Show, the IEA welcomed nearly 200 youth riders from across the nation in grades 4-12 for a heated individual and team competition. Fourteen National Champion titles were awarded to riders and 24 teams battled it out to claim team titles over the weekend-long event.


On Friday prior to IEA competition, several dozen IEA Youth riders joined with nearly 100 APHA youth members in a fantastically fun Youth Team Tournament (YTT) sponsored by APHA and organized by APHA leaders, Kelly Boles Chapman, Rebecca Halvorson, and Sandy Jirkovsky. The non-riding competition consisted of relay races, scavenger hunts, TikTok video challenges, a horsemanship knowledge quiz, lunch and more. This newly revised full-day event culminated in a hilarious top-three team finale stand-off to test their skills in donkey relay races which goes to show how important it is to be able to catch-ride anything.


Saturday kicked-off the individual portion of IEA Western National Finals. During the regular IEA season, riders accumulate points to be able to compete in post-season Region Finals. The top one or two riders at Region Finals (depending on the size of the region) are awarded coveted spots to compete at Finals – placing them in the top 12 riders in the nation in their divisions.

The Texas heat-wave proved to be hot, but the competition inside the Will Rogers Coliseum was even hotter as judges Charlene Carter of Goodlettsville, Tennessee and Carla Wennberg of Laurinburg, North Caroina expertly evaluated each rider’s performance and abilities. Serving as show stewards were Bryan Bradley of Warwick, Maryland and Conner Smith of Lexington, KY.

Every IEA National Finals crowns a Leading Rider, and the 2023 IEA Myron Leff Western Leading Rider Award was presented to KM Equestrian rider, Abbey Zawisza, a graduating senior and long-time member of the KM Equestrian team in Findlay, Ohio coached by Katie Morehead. Abbey is no stranger to the show pen – having won multiple titles in IEA, APHA, and AQHA arenas. Abbey not only walked away with the top award as Leading Western Rider, but also won the Individual Open Reining class sponsored by the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) – taking home an NRHA Morrison Trophy, a training program courtesy of Lyons Legacy and a custom saddle from Bob’s Custom Saddles among other awards. Abbey will attend the University of Georgia this fall and ride on their NCEA Division 1 Equestrian Team.

Bob’s Custom Saddles also awarded two additional saddles for IEA Western National Finals – both of which are drawn by lottery from the winners of each individual class and each team class. Winning her Future Beginner Horsemanship Walk-Jog class and ultimately winning the individual draw for the Bob’s Custom Saddle certificate was 6th grader, Elliott Ross of Snellville, Georgia who rides on the King Show Horses Equestrian Team coached by Jennifer King.  On Sunday, Lillian Michetti of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania who rides on the Saddlebrook Equestrian Team coached by Andrew Wolf was the lucky recipient of the 3rd Bob’s Saddle drawing for Team class winners.  Both Elliott and Lillian are middle school riders who have many years left in IEA and should get lots of use out of their new saddles.

Several years ago, the Western horse world lost a great horseman and long-time IEA Coach, Roger Elder. Roger was well-known for his quiet leadership and generous spirit and with his passing the IEA, AQHA, and friends across the equine industry created the Roger Elder Memorial Coach Sportsmanship Award. In the spirit of Roger’s outstanding sportsmanship, this award is presented each year to a deserving IEA coach who embodies the same characteristics of good sportsmanship, humble generosity, and long-standing dedication to the IEA. The 2023 Roger Elder Memorial Coach Sportsmanship Award was proudly presented to Crimson Acres Coach, Sandra Whitmore of Orange, Massachusetts. Sandra has been an IEA coach for over 14 years.

The IEA Cross-Over Rider Award was also presented on Saturday evening. IEA offers three disciplines for riders to participate – Hunt Seat, Western and Dressage – and riders can choose one or more disciplines to compete. Many riders compete in two disciplines or even three disciplines, but to be eligible for this award, a rider must qualify as an individual for National Finals in at least two different disciplines The 2023 IEA Cross-Over Award was presented to Cathryn Reachard of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania who rides for Grier School coached by Chris McElyea, Chrystal Wood, Frannie King and Megan Ahlert.


Sunday morning kicked off the team portion of competition with 12 Middle School (Future) teams and 12 Upper School teams vying for points. One of the unique aspects of IEA, other than the fact that no rider needs to own a horse or tack and the competition is all draw-based, is that every team member during team competition is equally important to the success of the team. Regardless of the ability level, riders earn points for 1st – 6th placings and the scores are tallied up for final team awards and titles. The Beginner rider is as valuable to the team as the Varsity Open rider.

Both days of IEA Western National Finals were held in two arenas on the Will Rogers Fairgrounds. Horsemanship classes were held in the Watt Arena while Reining and Ranch Riding classes were held in the Will Rogers Coliseum. This allowed IEA riders to ride in different size arenas with different footing ideal to each class. No matter which arena was being used, the energy was electric as riders cheered on their teammates and volunteer crews scurried about holding horses, moving supplies, delivering food and water to show officials, and helping with multiple tasks.

IEA Western Youth Board Members, McKinney Atkinson, Lyndsey Hoskinson, Reeghan Morawiec, and Aubree Whanger along with Hunt Seat Youth Board Member, Kelsey Barker were an integral part of the awards presentations as they assisted IEA show staff throughout the weekend. Youth Board members represent their regions/zones for an entire year and are elected to their positions by peer vote and an application process.

When the dust settled on Sunday, it was Grier School who took home the Upper School Champion Team Title marking a historic first in IEA history where one team won all three Upper School Team competitions in Hunt Seat, Dressage, and Western in the same season. A true powerhouse team with a long and successful IEA history, the Grier School Western team, coached by Chris McElyea, clinched the three-peat performance by scoring the most points. Reserve Champion Team went to the 2022 National Champions, Flamekissed Equestrian Team out of Portal, Georgia and coached by Amanda Pope.

In the Middle School division, KM Equestrian Black of Findlay, Ohio again rose to the top spot – marking their 5th Middle School National Championship title for coaches Katie Morehead, Cindy Morehead and Leah Ely.  Coach Rebecca Halvorson of Halvorson Ranch expertly led her team to the Reserve Champion title. Halvorson Ranch is located in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Sportmanship is a very important tenant of the IEA and in addition to the Roger Elder Memorial Coach Sportsmanship Award, IEA also awards a Coach Sportsmanship and Rider Sportsmanship Award to those individuals showing outstanding sportsmanship behavior during the event. Taking home the silver platter and tri-color ribbon for Coach Sportsmanship was Amanda Pope of Flamekissed Equestrian Team. Myla Hochstein of dmb Performance Horses took home the Rider Sportsmanship honors and awards. Myla is coached by Dustin Boehmer of Mason, Michigan.

IEA closed out the 2023 IEA Western National Finals by presenting a number of awards as follows:

  • Team Spirit AwardMarciak/Caustelot Equestrian Team coached by Kathy Marciak of Cecil, Pennsylvania
  • Volunteer of the Show AwardTristen Raiche of PD Equestrian Team
  • NRHA Outstanding Western Reining Horse – “Mister” provided by coach Jessica Bein (Arizona Reining Equestrian Team) and sponsored by the National Reining Horse Association
  • Outstanding Western Horsemanship Horse – “Hunter” provided by coach Jessica Bein (Arizona Reining Equestrian Team)
  • APHA Most Valuable Paint (MVP) – Chipped By Deluxe “Chip” provided by Lindsey Thigpen and sponsored by the American Paint Horse Association
  • Arabian Horse of the ShowPhoenix CA “Phoenix” provided by Jessica Bein (Arizona Reining Equestrian Team) and sponsored by the Arabian Horse Association
  • Half-Arabian Horse of the ShowBusy Riggin Chex “Elsa” provided by Jessica Bein (Arizona Reining Equestrian Team) and sponsored by the Arabian Horse Association

Professional photography was provided by Ruehle Photographix.  Live Stream Videography was provided by APHA, Equine Promotion and archived by Horse&Rider.

More than 100 Sponsors and Member Partners support the three IEA National Finals events each year. Prominent Western National Finals Sponsors include presenting sponsor, National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) along with the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA), American Paint Horse Association (APHA), American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), Bob’s Custom Saddles, Boot Barn, Cinch, Kimes Ranch Jeans, Lyons Legacy, Rod’s Western Palace, Schneiders Saddlery, St. Andrews University, University of Findlay, UltraCruz, Weaver Leather and many more.

Complete results including the full program, list of officials, and other links can be found on the IEA website at:

IEA is scheduled to return to the APHA World Championship Show in Fort Worth for the 2024 IEA Western National Finals. For more information on IEA or IEA membership, visit or call 1-877-RIDE-IEA.  Find them on social media @rideiea.




Now entering its 22nd year, the IEA has over 14,600 members across the United States participating in Hunt Seat, Western and Dressage disciplines. There is no need for a rider to own a horse because the IEA hosting team supplies a mount and tack to each equestrian for competitions. IEA’s mission is to promote lifelong involvement in equestrian athletics. IEA wishes to introduce students in grades 4-8 (Future) and 9-12 (Upper School) to equestrian sports and to develop understanding and appreciation of equestrian sports through organized competitions and educational opportunities. IEA further wishes to inspire and facilitate adults to continue their journey in equestrian athletics for a lifetime. For more information, visit


The American Paint Horse Association is the world’s second-largest international equine breed association, registering more than a million horses in 59 nations and territories since it was founded. APHA promotes, preserves and provides meaningful experiences with Paint Horses. For more information, visit

Media Contact: Kimber Whanger
IEA Director of Marketing and Communications  |  614.542.9415

Photo credit to Ruehle Photographix