The IHSA Nationals began on Wednesday, May 5 with a difficult horse judging contest. As I sat on the bleachers rather befuddled by many of the classes, I watched as the students bravely stepped up to explain why and how they placed the horses. The whole time I thought, "I am really glad it's them and not me." Hoping for the best, each student stayed poised and confident.
"It was like drawing a number out of a hat; there was not a definite winner in some of the classes," said Katie Fistner of Cazenovia College. Proving they could hold onto their championship title, Black Hawk College once again finished first in the competition, followed by Kansas State University in second and Cazenovia in third.
Virginia Intermont College proved they had what it took to be national champions by placing first in the hunter seat team competition. The University of Findlay grabbed the reserve championship.
The coveted USEF/Cacchione Cup competition fulfilled all expectations with rigorous testing in both the over fences and flat phases. Twenty-nine of the country's best collegiate hunter seat riders competed for the title and the chance to be the high point rider of the competition. Tara Brothers from the University of South Carolina claimed the title, defeating Missy Star, a Cazenovia senior and three-time Cacchione Cup rider.
The western classes seemed to show a whole new level of competition this year, from the custom show outfits to the quality horses and riders. The judges separated the best riders from the good riders with intricate patterns that included extended jogs, simple lead changes and various turns on the haunches. Texas A&M University claimed the AQHA Team National Championship Trophy. California State University-Fresno took the Reserve National Championship.
Kristin Dickerson of Oklahoma State University was named the AQHA High Point Western Rider Champion.
The Individual Open Reining class was by far the most thrilling and enjoyable class of the show. My excitement grew as the hollers and whistles echoed through the Miller Tennessee Coliseum as the horses tore around their large fast circles and ran down for a sliding stop. As a competitor in this class in 2003, it felt as though I was right there riding it again.
Eighteen riders competed for the national championship and the chance to compete at the National Reining Horse Association Derby. The top four individual riders will compete in the intercollegiate class at the derby in Oklahoma City, Okla., May 17-23. Kyle Johnson from Morrisville State College laid out a nearly flawless pattern to score 148 points and win the Individual Open Reining Championship.
The horses exhibited endless patience, forgiveness and effort. There were more than 150 horses donated from all over the country for the show. Although all of the horses were excellent, a few were true superstars. The University of Findlay's horse Strauss was named Hunter Seat Horse of Show, while a little gray Appaloosa was named Western Horse of Show for his versatility in competing in both the horsemanship and reining classes.
The 300 volunteers helped make everything run smoothly, and there appeared to be smiles all the way through the coliseum from competitors, spectators, sponsors and workers. This year was by far the most difficult of all three IHSA nationals I have participated in. Of course there were upsets and disappointments, but not everyone can be a national champion. After all, to even make it to nationals is quite an honor--one that many people only get to dream about.