September 2017 - My IHSA Experience
Written by by Katherine Steiner
Thursday, 31 August 2017 21:50
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This year’s Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Cacchione Cup champion found the catch-riding format a perfect fit.

by Katherine Steiner

Ever since I was little, horses were the driving force in everything I did and aspired to be. I was fortunate enough from a young age to have a family that backed me in riding and trainers who were just as passionate about the horse industry to guide me through countless lessons, horse shows, and horse ownership. As a junior rider and working student at Crystal Image Farms in Northern California’s Sunol under the tutelage of Denize Borges, I was able to gain the experiences needed to decide that riding was something I wanted to pursue professionally. When the time came for me to choose a college, I was stuck between two schools; California State University Fresno where I could ride on a NCAA Division 1 riding team and Centenary University, a small private school in New Jersey with a strong Equine Studies program and a nationally ranked Intercollegiate Horse Show Association riding team.

Ultimately, my choice to attend Centenary boiled down to the small class sizes, the barn full of 100 horses, as well as the knowledge I could acquire from learning from active professionals in the industry.

Joining the IHSA was an eye opening experience as a junior who showed her own horses in the hunter and equitation rings because the premise of intercollegiate riding is based upon “catch-riding,” or riding an unfamiliar horse. When our team travelled to horse shows, we were able to watch the competition horses warm-up, then we would draw horses at random to compete on. Once we were mounted on our show horse, we couldn’t practice on them; we were only allowed to pick up our reins as we walked into the in-gate to jump around a course or participate in an equitation on the flat.

My freshman year at Centenary, I was placed in the Intermediate division and I quickly pointed out to the Open division by the end of my sophomore year. Open is the highest level of intercollegiate competition and riders compete both on the flat and over fences at every regional horse show to earn points to become the region’s Cacchione Cup rider, or the rider who earns the most combined points on the flat and over fences. My senior year, I was lucky enough to be Zone 3 Region 3’s Cacchione Cup rider, adding my name to the list of the 38 Cacchione riders to compete at the IHSA National Horseshow held in Lexington, Kentucky this past May.

A Back Number In The Big Ring

My freshman, sophomore, and junior years, I travelled to IHSA Nationals as a groom and a schooler for the horses Centenary sent to use as competition horses. Prior to this year, I was used to wiping down my teammate’s boots as they walked into the ring and riding the horses for the competitors to observe, but on my last trip to Nationals I was finally going to get to wear a back number in the big ring. Aside from qualifying as the Cacchione rider, I also qualified individually for Open Jumps and Open Flat so I was able to soothe my nerves in smaller classes, getting the kinks out early on in the week.

Friday morning, my Centenary coaches, Heather Clark and Michael Dowling, and I set out into the ring with the other competitors to walk the Cacchione Cup over fences phase. The course was a series of bending lines with only a few options to take that would set a rider apart from the others.

Once I drew my horse, SunBear who was on loan from Cazenovia College (New York), we further discussed my plan, which, included a different opening circle from the previous competitors, and all of the inside turn options.

In the two and a half minutes I was in the ring jumping SunBear, all of the work from my 14 years spent in the saddle fell together and my well-executed track earned me a score of 88, placing me at the top of the 38 riders after the first phase of competition. In the afternoon, the Cacchione Cup flat phase took place. I drew Ajax, a horse from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). I felt confident in Ajax during the entire flat and I was told he excelled at the lengthening of strides, which he did. After a long wait we discovered I had also been awarded the highest score on the flat, an 89. My combined flat and jumping score placed me 6.5 points ahead of second place, giving me a very solid lead going into the work-off that took place Saturday morning.

I was horribly sick my entire time at Nationals and woke up in excruciating pain Saturday morning (I had cracked two of my ribs coughing), but luckily my lead came in handy during my work-off aboard EJ, another horse on loan from SCAD. Our work off included an interesting bending line up centerline, a halt towards the in-gate, and a trot fence. EJ was the perfect horse for me to test on as I prefer a hunter-type ride and we laid down a solid test.

Being the last person standing in the middle of the ring and hearing my name announced as the 2017 Cacchione Cup Champion was beyond my wildest imagination. As growing riders, everyone pushes to rise to the top and the hours and hours spent in the saddle- many of which were without my irons- had finally paid off.

Overall, I would not be the young professional I am today without my participation in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. Being exposed to many different kinds of horses and forcing myself to step into the show ring cold on an unfamiliar horse taught me some very valuable lessons, not only in the saddle but in life too.

Riding on a team truly enforced the fact that “alone we’re a whisper, but together we’re a cyclone;” everything is possible with teammates and coaches who become your own IHSA family.

Author Katherine Steiner returned to Crystal Image Farms after graduating Centenary and she is working for owner Denize Borges as an assistant trainer.

West Coast IHSA action starts soon. For more information on our teams, visit and navigate to Region 8.