Passing the Baton: The Next Generation of Coaches Emerge with Win Firsts at the IHSA National Championship Horse Show

Read all the coverage from IHSA Nationals

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) National Championship Horse Show is an event punctuated by emotion and team spirit. The journey to Nationals is arduous. Points must be earned at hundreds of regular-season shows, 39 Regional Championships, eight Hunter Seat Zone Finals and for Western riders, at three Semi-Finals. Of the many thousands of riders and almost 400 teams in the organization, only 16 hunter seat and 12 Western teams can qualify. The coaching must be top-notch to make the cut for IHSA Nationals.

This year, the Adrian College Western team qualified for the first time in the school’s history to compete at Nationals. Other significant firsts were the winning team coaches.

Belinda Colgan, head coach of Skidmore College, led the team to the championship for the first time since the departure of her mentor, Cindy Ford, an inductee into the IHSA Hall of Fame and IHSA Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Ford coached the Skidmore Equestrian Team from 1988-2019 to seven national championships and retired in 2018.

“It feels phenomenal,” Colgan said. “It’s my first time winning as head coach. This is my fourth (time) being here as a coach, but it’s very different being the head coach and having those decisions to make. I felt very confident in all my girls. They’re phenomenal riders, every one of them. With a little luck, which we had with some wonderful horse draws, they came through and I honestly don’t know how they do it. They handle the pressure like pros.”

Meanwhile, in the Western ranks, a similar story played out. Ariel Higgins, coach of the Middle Tennessee State University team, celebrated the first-ever win for her team. Her former coach and coach of the MTSU team for 44 years, Anne Brzezicki, is an IHSA Lifetime Achievement winner and was instrumental in launching the IHSA Western divisions. Though her team attended many IHSA Nationals, Brzezicki had never won the coveted team championship.

“We are just following in her footsteps,” Higgins said. “We have her leadership, her blessing and she’s our biggest fan.”

This year, both Brzezicki and Ford volunteered on-site at IHSA Nationals and witnessed their former teams and assistant coaches rack up the points in the team classes to win the top-team honors. They were witnessing the emergence of a new generation of coaches.

Immediately before the Western team awards were presented, there was a special acknowledgment for West Texas A&M Head Coach Amanda Ellis, who will step down from her coaching position. Then, an announcement that this would be Brzezicki’s last year volunteering at Nationals.

Read all the stories from 2023 IHSA Nationals.

Read about the first day of the competition.

Read about Back on Track presenting Senior Athletic Academic Achievement Awards.

Read about the first rounds of the Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, presenting the Cacchione Cup and more.

Read about the Hunter Seat High-Point Rider, presenting the Cacchione Cup, and the Hunter Seat Teams here.

Read what the hunter seat judges had to say.

Read about the AQHA Individual Classes, Back on Track Western High-Point Rider and the Western Teams, classes sponsored by NRHA and NSBA.

Read about the outcomes of the Back on Track Western High-Point Rider and the Western Team Championship, presented by APHA.

Read what the Western judges had to say.

Read about the special awards presented:

Lifetime Achievement Award and Pioneer Award and Hunter Seat Volunteer Awards

The NRHA Western Semi-Finals Buckle Awards and special Western Volunteer Awards.

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) welcomes all genders at all riding levels. The collegiate riding organization 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 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
(612) 209-0310