When asked if he ever dreamed the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association would grow the way it has, founder Bob Cacchione responded, “Oh never! Never! I never dreamed it would get this large. I never thought we would reach California!”
Bob Cacchione (with the help of his professor Jack Fritz) formed The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) in 1967 when Bob was an 18-year-old sophomore at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. This year he and the IHSA are celebrating their 50 year anniversary.
Realizing that not everyone is fortunate enough to own a horse and have the opportunity to compete, Bob founded the IHSA on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in horse shows, regardless of their financial status or riding level. Students ride horses that are furnished by the host college and chosen by drawing lots. Since riders are unable to school, ride horses they own, or use personal tack, the IHSA levels the playing field and is a true test of horsemanship. Riders compete at every level ranging from walk/trot to Open (a division that many times is populated with the top riders from the Medal/Maclay division).
Another great aspect of the IHSA is that all divisions count equally. So the points of a Walk/Trot rider count just as much as the points of an Open Rider.
Beginning with just two intercollegiate competing colleges, the IHSA now encompasses 40 Regions in eight Zones with almost 400 member colleges in 45 states and Canada, representing nearly 10,000 riders in Hunter Seat Equitation, Western Horsemanship, and Reining. The IHSA partners with USHJA, the AQHA, the NRHA and USEquestrian.
Bob views the growth as “fabulous!” When asked what the incredible success of the IHSA means to him, he responds, “Look at the amazing caliber of riders who have come through the system. Beezie Patton, Greg Best, Peter Wylde (all of whom have gone on to be Olympic medalists), Chase Boggio, and Jimmy Fairclough have all competed.”
Others have become involved in different disciplines, expanding the concept of the IHSA. In 1995 the Intercollegiate Dressage Association was formed and now boasts over 50 member colleges. The Affiliated National Riding Commission, established in 2006, holds an Equitation Championship determined by four phases: a program ride, a written test, a Hunter Seat Equitation Medal course, and a Derby Course (natural jumps in a field). Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, now spearheads a Saddle Seat group.
In addition, the IEA (Interscholastic Equestrian Association) has taken off like wildfire.
How do IHSA participants feel about the organization? Sarah Fogel, a senior at Trinity College, has been on the team throughout her college years and is now the captain. She competes in the open division and has her own horse at Oak Meadow Farm in E. Windsor, Connecticut where the team trains with Coach Amy Kriwitsky. “I love competing in IHSA because it brings different people together, different levels of riders together, and different schools together. Riding can be an expensive sport so it is wonderful that there is a way for anyone from beginner to advanced to get involved and develop or share their love of horses and riding. Also the friendships developed because of the shared passion is what made my college experience so positive. Sometimes freezing our toes off at a horse show might not be an ideal way to spend Saturdays, but we always manage to have fun and it definitely leads to strong bonds between the team.”
And it’s not just the competitors that love the IHSA.
First Vice President Peter Cashman (who along with his wife Sherry coaches the West Point Equestrian team) jokes that his involvement with the IHSA is “a sad story. I was at a horse show and someone told Bob Cacchione he should meet me. Bob came up to me, and said, ‘From time to time, I need help…’ Now I’m the sucker called the VP, which means whenever Bob needs help he calls me.”
Peter calls the IHSA “a phenomenal concept. All the kids have the chance to ride in a horse show. I have 18-year-olds who had never been on a horse before they came to West Point who can show at Walk-Trot. And where else can you find a Maclay competitor who rides the first thing in the morning and then waits around all day to clean the boots of a Walk/Trot rider?”
Peter’s love for the IHSA became a family affair. His daughters rode with the team at Centenary College and now run a barn together. He and Sherry consider the team an extension of their own family.
The culmination of the IHSA calendar is the Nationals, which will be held this year at the Kentucky Horse Park in Kentucky from May 4-7 and features more sponsors than ever before. A parade of teams will be held, giving the competitors a thrill like only Olympic riders have heretofore experienced. Lifetime Achievement awards, Academic Achievement Awards, and over $700,000 in scholarships will be awarded. The 50th Anniversary Nationals will include a huge reception for riders and coaches, and photos of past years’ participants will be included in the program.
The Nationals are managed by Bill Yeager, who rode in the IHSA as a student at Cazenovia College. At the time, Naomi Blumenthal, the IHSA’s treasurer, ran the school program, and she got Bill involved. Bill managed the Nationals for the first time at Harrisburg in 2006 and has now been the manager since 2012.
Naomi started as a coach at Cazenovia. Very interested in doing more to help the IHSA grow, she soon became Regional President, then Zone President, a member of the Executive Board, and is now Treasurer.
“Once you get on the ‘Bob go-round,’ she jokes, you can’t get off.” Despite the fact that Naomi was coaching and training at Cazenovia, had her own business, and was running 40 shows a year in addition to her various roles with the IHSA, she says, “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It’s a great experience. I love it and I would be sad if I had to walk away from it.”
When talking to Bob the word that keeps coming up is “proud.” He’s proud of the riders, the coaches, the parents, the horses, the organization, and the amazing growth of his concept. And well he should be.
What’s next for Bob? “The next 50 years,” he quips.
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