Mount Holyoke College, Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Findlay Earn Team Wins at IHSA Semi-Finals, Presented by NRHA

Mount Holyoke College makes history. Teams and individuals qualify for the IHSA National Championship Horse Show at Tryon International.

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) held its Western Semi-Finals, sponsored by the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), March 23-24. The events were hosted by the University of Findlay (Findlay, Ohio), Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) and Albion College (Albion, Michigan). Western Semi-Finals is the qualifying event to determine which teams and individuals will compete at the IHSA National Championship Horse Show at Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina, May 3-5. The top-four individuals per division and the top-four teams advance to Nationals from each Semi-Finals.

Semi-Finals Hosted by Albion College

At the Albion College hosted Semi-Finals, judges Lori Gordon and Debra Jones Wright presided over the event. The Mount Holyoke College team, led by Kelly Wainscott, made history by clinching their first-ever Semi-Finals team championship. The reserve honors went to Black Hawk College, the IHSA 2022 Western Champion Team, coached by Rebekah Irish. The Albion College team, coached by Adam D’Agostino, finished third, and Saint Mary-of-the Woods, led by Head Coach Tabatha Taylor, was fourth. These four teams are all IHSA Nationals-bound.

The Western team at Mount Holyoke College was founded in 2008 and Wainscott started coaching the team in 2010. She says it’s been a challenge because there are fewer Western teams in the Northeastern part of the country.

“I’m on cloud nine,” Wainscott said. “Right now, we have a lot of talent and they were able to go and beat a national champion (2022 National Champion Black Hawk College Team) at the Semi-Final. It’s really eye-opening.”

She explained that the makeup of her team all has a little experience, with her Open rider a very experienced rider. Level I and Level II riders are also on the Mount Holyoke Hunter Seat team, with the Level II rider the unofficial USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Rider. Presenting the Cacchione Cup entry.

“We worked very hard to make sure they got on a variety of horses,” Wainscott said. “Mount Holyoke is pretty much a hunter/jumper/dressage barn, and we don’t have many Western horses.” She explained that they practice at many area Western barns. “So, they get to ride a lot of different horses,” she said.

Wainscott complimented Adam D’Agostino and the Albion College team for hosting a top-notch Semi-Finals. “Those horses were phenomenal,” she said. “You would’ve thought you were at a breed show.”

Black Hawk College’s Calen Braden won the first-place slot in the AQHA Individual Open Horsemanship. She will be joined by second-place finisher Carli Kerns from host Albion College at Nationals. Third-place finisher Lilli Evans from Mount Holyoke College and fourth-place rider Megan Malief from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods will also make the trip to Tryon.

Athletes rocked the NRHA Individual Open Reining, with Black Hawk College’s Courtney Benter nabbing the win and Audrey Barnes from Michigan State University in second. Emma Suplicki, from Alfred University, had a third-place finish, and Ashlyn Montague, from Utah State University, was fourth.

In the popular AQHA/NRHA Individual Ranch Riding, Miley Phillips from host Albion College earned the win, with second going to Grace Strief from Black Hawk College. Truman State University’s Payton Koopman was third and Kia Davis from Southern Illinois University Carbondale rounded out the top four.

Semi-Finals Hosted by Middle Tennessee State University

The IHSA 2023 Western Champion Team, Middle Tennessee State University, coached by Ariel Higgins, won their second consecutive Semi-Finals at their home-hosted competition. Head Western Coach Connor Smith and the Midway University team were second. Ohio State and coach Abbie Noble qualified their team and the University of Wisconsin River Falls, led by Coach Jamie Huot, will progress to the IHSA National Championships at Tryon International. Sissy Anderson and Rebecca Halvorson judged the event and NRHA Senior Director of Corporate Relations Christy Landwehr was on hand for the presentations.

 “Our team is comprised of a little over 50 members, and all put in a great amount of effort to make it all happen,” Higgins said about hosting their Semi-Finals. “We were in charge of 22 horses, so it took a lot. We just owe so much to the entire group.”

Higgins shared that their journey to the Semi-Finals championship wasn’t a given. “We actually struggled a lot this year,” she said. “We did not take the lead in our region until the last day of our last regular season show. We were behind all year until the last day, and we ended up winning by 27 points. We would have a missing piece at every show, and then we got it together there at the end and regained some lost points and put it together.”

The Middle Tennessee State team elevated their team spirit with their blue and white colors and lightning bolts everywhere. They are headed to Nationals to defend their championship title, but Higgins said their plan has to be a process.

“More than anything, we want to go lay out a lot of good, consistent rides, control the emotion and be excited and happy just to be there,” she said. “We do not take for granted the process. It’s an honor to make it there.”

Josie Spratt, from Murray State University, brought her game to the hotly-contested NRHA Individual Open Reining division, finishing in front. Second place went to Shagena Kooper from North Dakota State University. Both Joran Schauer from Midway University and Middle Tennessee State University’s Jordan Martin, finishing third and fourth, will also compete in NRHA Individual Open Reining at IHSA National Championships.

In AQHA Individual Open Horsemanship, Midway’s Schauer took the blue ribbon. Martin from Middle Tennessee State University earned red ribbon honors. Ohio State University’s Erin Murray was third and Brenna Orchard from Reedley College was fourth.

In the AQHA/NRHA Individual Ranch Riding, host Middle Tennessee State University’s Kenlee West took the win. Kaitlin Praisler from Morehead State University was second and Dakota Tierney from North Dakota State University earned third. Mississippi State University’s Natalie Ruha took the fourth-place prize.

Semi-Finals Hosted by the University of Findlay

At the Semi-Finals hosted by the University of Findlay, the host team, coached by Spencer Zimmerman, took the overall team win with 38 points. St. Andrews University, coached by Carla Wennberg, took the second spot with 34 points. The Chris Mclyea-led Penn State University squad was third with 24 points and West Texas A&M University, with coach Julia Bastian, was fourth with 23 points. All top-four teams are National Championships-bound. Tammy Braham and David Denniston officiated the Ohio Semi-Finals.

 The University of Findlay won the trophy and National Championships Western team honors in 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2018 and 2019.

“There are so many moving parts to hosting,” Zimmerman said. “You know, having to get a lot of paperwork done and all the details put together. The kids help with that. The riders need to practice, too. It is a good thing because they are consumed with the horse show, whether it be putting it on or preparing for it.”

At the University of Findlay Semi-Finals, they used all their own horses. “(We used) some horses that we don’t actually practice on,” Zimmerman said. They’re more specific for our other classes. So, some of the horses that we used, our riders had never ridden before. It was a catch-ride scenario for them. As a coach, it is very rewarding to see them draw a horse they had never ridden before and catch ride, just like at the other schools.”

In NRHA Individual Reining, the judges’ top pick was Wilson College’s Hulie Warnick. The second-place prize went to Madison Story from North Carolina State University. Maggie Herbert from SUNY Morrisville repeated her 2023 third-place finish and Sidney Hawk of the University of Findlay was fourth.

In AQHA Individual Open Horsemanship, Lake Erie College’s Hannah Belich, last year’s third-place finisher, earned the top podium finish. Faith Borbonus was the second-place finisher for host school, the University of Findlay. Jessica Bozio from St. Andrews University was third and Anna Wilhelm from West Texas A&M University took fourth. All punched their tickets to Tryon.

In AQHA/NRHA Individual Ranch Riding, Brooke Wolfinger from Delaware Valley University topped the class. West Texas A&M University’s Jennica Dannehl earned the red ribbon and Bozio took home a second yellow ribbon. Ryann Piperno from the University of Findlay was fourth.

“This year’s Semi-Finals included some expected and some surprising results from all across the country,” said IHSA Executive Director Peter Cashman. “It’s great to see Mount Holyoke take their Western team to Nationals for the first time. Many thanks to our title sponsor, NRHA, and thank you to NRHA Senior Director of Corporate Relations Christy Landwehr for presenting at Middle Tennessee State University. A special shout-out to Back on Track and all our sponsors. Thank you to all the host schools, judges, riders, coaches and parents. Now, we move on to Zones for our hunter seat riders and our National Championships at Tryon International the first weekend in May.”

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) welcomes all genders at all riding levels and offers individual and team competition in hunter seat equitation, Western horsemanship and reining at more than 400 member colleges and universities. Membership in IHSA means 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 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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EQ Media