What is the IEA?
Have you ever known (or been) a kid that wanted to show but was hindered by not owning a horse? Most likely, you have- it’s a common issue in the equestrian world. But through IEA, kids that don’t own a horse have the opportunity to compete, and all riders have the opportunity to test their skills on different animals as well as prepare for collegiate competition. Even better, it gives riders the opportunity to be part of a team. As founder Roxanne Darby put it, “You compete WITH your fellow riders, not just AGAINST them.”
The Interscholastic Equestrian Association began in Ohio in 2002 with just 200 riders and now has grown to 13.500 members in 42 states. Darby wanted to introduce students in private and public middle and secondary schools to equestrian sports and to promote and improve the quality of equestrian competition and instruction. Among IEA’s many goals are to encourage recognition for competitive riders, to promote higher standards of coaching and instruction, and to keep pace with the continuing evolution of equestrian sports.
The IEA Board of Directors recently voted to officially adopt the Dressage discipline into their program beginning in the 2019-2020 season. So now, there are even more opportunities! Follow them on Instagram to stay in the loop!
Getting in the Show Ring
Competitive riding is now a possibly for riders in grades 6-12- without a horse of their own. Back in the day, if you didn’t have access to a horse- either through lease, purchase, or some other complicated arrangement, aspiring riders were often limited to grooming and barn crew. Perhaps, the occasional schooling show on a lesson horse. If you were lucky enough to go to a college with an equestrian team, you could try out for the opportunity to ride and horses would be provided. Now, we have a well-structured program that is inclusive of all riders.
Similar to collegiate (IHSA) teams, riders try out for a spot representing their team in four different types of classes- beginner, novice, intermediate, and open. Teams can be started at public schools, private schools, or individual barns. Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers will each be their own team, with riders that can be in one of each of the four skill levels. Classes are judged on equitation- or rider skills- rather than horse ability, in order to level the playing field. Horses, provided by the host barns, are sorted into appropriate divisions, and judges are made aware of horses shortcomings so that the playing field is as level as possible.
It’s important to work with a trusted coach, who not only is an experienced trainer, but has a great understanding of the IEA Rider Divisions as well as all the Rules and Regulations. It is the coach’s role to place each rider in their appropriate division for the season. It’s a tricky job, because with each jumping class, riders get just two warm up jumps, and then it’s right in the ring to canter the course. This can be much more challenging than performing on a horse you know well. Your coach is the only person who can instruct you in the warm-up ring, and help you strategize for the course in those last few moments.
Your coach is also the person that organizes practice sessions between shows, keeps riders, as well as parents, educated, and keeps everyone organized on show day. These are challenging tasks, especially since IEA is growing every year and there are new teams, new riders, new horses, new hosts, all trying to learn and understand this different program.
How do IEA Shows Work?
Member teams take turns hosting shows after their first year, often joining forces with other teams to do so. Teams travel within their region to five shows each season (September to April) , with points accumulating for both individual riders and for the middle school and high school teams. Although they don’t need to own a horse, like any sport, riders need to provide your own competitive attire, and pay for your dues, travel, accommodations, and coaching.
Shows can take place over one or two days, depending on the number of riders participating. Management draws horse at the start of the show day, just like at collegiate competition. And then classes commence with Varsity Open, which is the most advanced high school division, jumping 2’6”. There are four jumping divisions, and four flat divisions the show must work though. Each rider has one jumping and one flat class, or sometimes just one or two flat classes.
IEA Volunteers track and post points during the show, in real time. If your team, or if individuals, qualifies with enough points, you will move on to the Regional Finals. Successful riders at Regionals move on to National Finals, usually held in April. The hosting venue, changing every year, has previously been places such as Palm Beach International Equestrian Center and the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Teams can qualify as groups, or riders can qualify as individuals.
The unique and wonderful component of IEA is not only the access to competition for more riders. The biggest benefit is the team atmosphere. Practicing, traveling, winning and losing as a team is a powerful bonding experience, and one not often experienced in the equestrian world. Generally, riding qualifies as an individual sport. But to work together as a team adds a new valuable element. Young riders feel part of something bigger than themselves, feel supported in competition, and begin to emerge as leaders. Also, this team atmosphere often carries over to other events and competitions outside of IEA. For many, it can create a wonderful camaraderie and collaborative culture for the barn group in general.
Hairnets and Breeches blogger Sabrina Riehl loved her IEA experience- and it helped her step smoothly into collegiate riding as well. Sabrina competed on coach Alicia Wilkerson’s IEA team in high school, saying, “Being a part of an organization such as IEA and IHSA is critical in high school and college, it instantly provides you with a vital support system of peers who share your interests.”
Further, riding in competition- whether in IEA or not, accelerates learning. Practice and drilling at home is very valuable, but a competitive environment drives athletes to work harder, learn faster. To learn to harness their nerves under pressure, and to develop emotional intelligence. Enhancing their skills in sport and life. Finally, participation success, and leadership in IEA gives students a leg up when applying for college.
How can you become involved in IEA? Check out rideIEA.org for more information and to learn more details. In the Charlotte area, reach out to accomplished trainer Alicia Wilkinson, whose team has qualified for nationals every year since their inception in 2016.
UPDATE: Not only does IEA now have a dressage program, but all IEA programs have now been extended to 4th and 5th graders! Exciting news!