Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Benefits of Trying a New Discipline

Short post today because in just a few minutes I’m off to Oklahoma City for IEA Western National Finals, which are held in conjunction with the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Reining Derby. 

As I was packing my blue jeans and boots last night, I was thinking that one of the coolest things about the IEA and IHSA is that hunt seat riders can experiment with western, and western riders can take a shot at hunt seat without the commitment of buying or leasing a horse or tack. 

At no other time in your equestrian career will riding and showing in a different discipline be so easy.  All you have to provide is your clothing.  Quite honestly, with my IHSA team at least, many of the riders share show clothes so there is very little they actually have to purchase.

You can start out with a lesson or two just to see if it’s up your alley.  Then, once you have a few rides under your belt, you can go to a show and compete in a division suitable to your experience in the new discipline.  Don’t worry, just because you may be an advanced hunt seat rider doesn’t mean you’re going to be thrown into the show pen with AQHA world show qualifiers, and you western riders don’t have to worry about competing against Maclay veterans in the hunt seat ring.

Learning a second discipline can make you a more rounded athlete as you work to develop the skills associated with the other seat.  It can also foster team spirit as the western riders cheer on the hunt seat riders who have joined them in their arena, and vice versa.

Also, competing in a different discipline can be a fun challenge without the stress that goes along with working to place well in your regular discipline.  You can just relax and have a good time without points and qualifying weighing you down.

I encourage all my riders to take some time to try something new.  Who knows?  You might even end up at the NRHA Reining Derby.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ten Questions to Ask About an IHSA Program

If you’re a rising high school senior or incoming college freshman, you’re probably spending some time this summer visiting colleges and touring barns with IHSA teams.  

Here is a list of ten questions every prospective IHSA rider should ask before committing to a team.

1.   It is a club team or a varsity team?

IHSA teams can be club or varsity.  Every team is unique, but for the most part, club teams are not fully funded by their school, don’t offer scholarships, are often coached by an independent trainer out of his/her own barn, may or may not hold tryouts, and may or may not be co-ed.  

On the other hand, most varsity teams are funded by their school and may even offer scholarships.  Varsity teams usually ride at a school-owned facility with a university-employed coach.  Many varsity teams hold tryouts and some, but not all, are female-only.

2.  What are the costs and does the school provide any funding?

Standard costs include:
  • Lessons
  • School Dues
  • IHSA Dues
  • Show Entry Fees
  • Travel and Hotel
  • Coaching Fees
  • Horse Transport Fees
These fees vary by team.  The coach can give you an estimate of the costs associated with his/her team.  Some varsity schools fund everything, including lessons, show entries, travel, etc., and sometimes even the cost of show attire.  Club teams may get a small stipend that covers a portion of each rider’s costs.

3.  Are there any scholarship opportunities?  If so, how do you apply?

Some teams offer riding scholarships.  If so, the coach can give you the procedure for applying.  Other types of non-riding scholarships are also available such as service, privately-funded, and some publicly-funded scholarships (i.e. the HOPE grant here in Georgia).  You can contact the school admissions office to get information on potential non-riding scholarships that may be available to you.

4.  Does the team hold tryouts or can anyone participate?

Some teams hold tryouts at the beginning of each year or each semester to determine who gets to compete.  Sometimes students who don’t make the competitive team can still train with the team and try out again the next semester or year.  Other teams are open to the entire student body and allow anyone who is a full-time undergraduate degree-seeking student to join.

5.   How big is the team?

IHSA teams can be as small as one committed horse person or as large as 60-80+ riders.  There are benefits and drawbacks to both.  With small teams, everyone may get to compete in all of the horse shows, but the team may not be big enough or diverse enough to have a rider in each division.  With larger teams, everyone might not get to compete at every show, but the team as a whole may be more competitive.

6.  Does everyone get to show? 

Depending on the size of the team, not everyone who is a competitive member of the team may get to compete in every horse show.  Each coach has his/her own way of determining who gets to compete.  Some coaches base their decision purely on riding performance, while others may factor in a rider’s commitment to the team, attitude, and work ethic.

7.  How many lessons do team members take per week?

Some teams only offer one lesson per week, while others may require competitive members to ride three or even four times per week. 

8.  Are there opportunities for extra riding outside of lessons?

Some teams offer opportunities for students to get in more riding time, such as practice rides in exchange for barn work or a small fee, or the coach may have a horse available for lease or half-lease.

9.  Are there other obligations such as team workouts, team meetings, fundraisers, etc.?

Some teams require morning workouts several days per week.  Many club teams are student run and not funded by the school, which means you would need to attend administrative meetings on campus and participate in fundraisers to make money.

10.  What is the team's 'signature' or thing about them that makes them unique?

A team's signature may be performance-related, for example their signature may be that they have won a national title, or that they have won their regional championship every year for the past decade, or they have sent an individual rider to nationals every year.

Another team's signature may be that they are known as the 'sportsmanship team' in their region, or they are active in hippotherapy, or they take pride in being a place for beginners and lower-level riders to learn and grow in their riding.

Whichever type of IHSA team you are looking for, getting the answers to these ten questions will help you make the right decision about joining an IHSA team while in college. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Should you bring your horse to college? Four questions to consider before loading the trailer.

I’m an IHSA coach, and it’s that time of year when a new crop of incoming freshmen contact me about entering college in the fall, joining the team, and possibly bringing their horse to school with them.

If you’re an incoming freshman struggling with whether or not to bring your horse to college, here are four questions to ask yourself that may make your decision a little easier.

1.       How committed are you to riding versus other activities?

College is a time to expand your horizons, meet new people, and figure out who you are.  At no other time in your life will you have the opportunity to try such a variety of new things.  Weekend camping trip?  Sure!  Study abroad?  Absolutely!  Fraternity or Sorority?  Sounds fun, where do I sign up? Oh, and don’t forget, you’re going to have to spend some time studying, too. These endeavors are much more difficult with a horse in tow.   Are you willing to miss out on some of the fun extracurricular activities college has to offer in order to ride your horse regularly?

2.      How committed are you to riding your own horse versus someone else’s? 

Most colleges offer at least a club-level IHSA team in which the horses and tack are provided, and a quick web search will locate near-by barns that offer lessons.  Is it absolutely necessary that you ride your horse as opposed to someone else’s?  Maybe a once a week lesson would satisfy your riding needs without draining your free time or budget.

3.       How will you cover the costs?

Will your parents be paying for board, lessons, farrier, vet, etc., or will you be responsible for these bills?  If you are paying for everything, do you want to spend your free time working a part-time job to pay for the horse-related costs?  With a part-time job will you have time to spend with your horse?  Could you possibly end up in a cycle of working to pay for your horse, then not having time to spend with your horse because you’re working to pay for your horse?

4.      What’s the best option for your horse?

Will you be able to give your horse the level of care and personal attention you lavished on him in high school?  If not, will being at a new barn without you there to spend time with him be good for his mental well-being?

If your horse stays home, you may be able to lease him out under the guidance of your home trainer.  With a lease, your horse stays in shape and you get money off his board, or you may even get to pocket some extra spending cash. 

If you bring him with you, you could look into half-leasing him out to your school’s IHSA coach or a nearby lesson barn in exchange for board or lessons.  That way you could get your horse time in, but you wouldn’t have to do all the riding yourself, all while having some of the costs covered by the lease.

Or maybe it’s time to think about allowing your horse to continue his show career with a new mom.  College is a transitional period.  You will enter as an adolescent, but you will graduate as an adult looking for a full-time job, possibly with a soon-to-be-spouse alongside.  You will probably have some student loan debt to pay off.  The added expense of a horse can be a large burden for a recent grad.  Also, it’s important to consider that you may be better off selling before you enter college while your horse is still in show shape, rather than after you graduate when he is four years older (at least), and probably less tuned up than he was when you were in high school. 

Whether or not to bring you equine partner with you to college is a difficult decision, and there isn’t one answer that is correct for everyone.  Yes, even the most committed equestrian should have an identity outside of riding.  It’s part of being a well-rounded person.  But, on the other hand, for some people, riding is more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle.  Only you can decide the right balance for you. 

The most important thing to remember is, whichever option you choose, you can always change your mind.  There is always next semester.