ATHENS, Ohio -- Competing against 14 of the nation's best intercollegiate equestrian teams, Ohio University's team rode to a decisive win at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association's (IHSA) National Horse Show, held May 3-5, at Cazenovia College in New York. It was the first time the Athens, Ohio team had competed as a team in the national event.
Being the best of the best is an honor and success is especially sweet for this underdog club team. The Equestrian Team at Ohio University is a club sport, meaning students run the organization -- they establish the organizational framework, provide the leadership, and raise the needed funds. Ohio University's team was the only one at nationals that is not a collegiate varsity team, funded by their institution. Of the 40 members on the Ohio University team, about 30 to 35 compete through the year. Eight rode at nationals in the hunter events.
Club President Jenna Kieley, one of those eight riders, took the team's third first-place event on Saturday, sealing the national title before the final day of competition began.
"I came out of the ring and everyone was taking pictures and another team's coach came over and told us we had just wrapped up the championship," Kieley said. "We didn't expect it at all and we hadn't been doing the math so we weren't even aware that we were in a position to win. I had to go look at the board and add it up for myself."
Although the individual effort was satisfying, Kieley says the camaraderie she has experienced on this team has proven to be a new-found pleasure in the sport. "I've been riding since I was about seven years old," she said, "and it's always been an individual thing. Now it's a team thing. We're all standing on the sidelines rooting for our point rider."
During shows leading up to end-of-the-season competition, only one rider is designated as a point rider, earning points that count toward the event's title. The accumulation of points from those events qualifies the team for the region, zone and finally national competitions. Coach Karen Hiehle, who has spent almost 20 years on the show circuit, determines who will be the point rider for each event. With the team's input, she also chose the eight riders who would represent the team at nationals.
"Everyone gets a chance to ride during the year," says Hiehle. "At each show I pick who is most apt to ribbon. For nationals these girls did their homework and they did what they needed to do."
In IHSA intercollegiate competition, horses and riders are paired up randomly by drawing; riders are not allowed to use their own horses and personal tack and schooling/warm ups are not permitted. This enables riders to compete on an even keel and truly test their horsemanship ability. Kieley explains, "It's not about money and who can afford the nicest horse."
However, to meet travel expenses, the team raised nearly $35,000 during the year, including proceeds from a show they annually sponsor in the fall at Hiehle's facility. Additionally, each team member pays a fee at the beginning of the year to cover lessons and riding time and is required to attend weekly practices and team meetings, while carrying at least 12 credit hours of course work. The cost for the team to go to regionals, zones, and nationals was approximately $11,000.
Team members riding at the national event were: Sarah Coleman, Holly Helbig, Jenna Kieley, Jill Marinis, Lisa Soukup, Anne Steptoe, Rachel Vanderberg, Jessie West.
Team alumna, Sarah Doak, also competed individually at the event, placing second and fourth in events.