(top) The Elvenstar high school team finished fourth overall. They are shown here in the riders' parade at the Eastern States Exposition Center in West Springfield Massachusetts. Photos by Tim Sommerfeld
What it lacks in numbers, the West Coast IEA membership more than made up for with strong finishes at the association's National Hunt Seat Finals, held May 16-18 in West Springfield, MA.
Elvenstar's high school team finished fourth overall and the Red Barn team, based out of Stanford University's stables, finished ninth in overall middle school competition. California riders ribboned in eight of the Finals' 11 team divisions, highlighted by a win of the Varsity Open Over Fences, by Kayla Lott, who rides for Elvenstar's Moorpark team. West Coasters were pinned in 12 of the competition's 12 individual classes, highlighted by blues for Skye Bolen in the Future Intermediate Flat and Sydney Shelby in Future Novice Over Fences. Both are middle school riders with Monte Vista Equestrian in Watsonville.
The IEA's motto is "It's your life. Grab the reins." The organization was formed in 2002 to promote and encourage equestrian sports among private and public middle and high school students. The competition format is similar to that of the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association in that riders show on unfamiliar mounts provided by host schools. The majority of the IEA's approximately 10,000 members come from the East Coast or Midwest, but the association's efforts to build participation out West in the last few years are taking root.
Sydney Shelby, the winner of the Future Novice Over Fences individual championship. The sixth grader from Santa Cruz rides for the Monte Vista Equestrian Team in Watsonville.
Photo by Kendy Ellison
California and Nevada comprise IEA's Zone 10. Its current membership of 320 riders reflects a 20 percent growth in participating teams and 30 percent growth in the number of individual participants this season (2013-2014) over last year. Zone 10 chair Colin Daly expects similar expansion in the years ahead. A hunter/jumper trainer in Woodside, Colin coaches two teams out of Stanford's Red Barn: the Red Barn and Woodside squads. A former coach of an IHSA team at UC Davis, Colin attributes the region's growth to more trainers, coaches and parents learning how to organize a team and understanding the concept, structure and benefits of the organization.
Teams can be affiliated with one middle or high school, like those representing Monte Vista Christian School, the Thacher School in Ojai and San Domenico in San Anselmo. Or they can be affiliated with a training barn or equestrian center and accept riders from different schools, like the Elvenstar teams. Competition ranges from equitation on the flat for middle school beginners (Future Beginners) to 3'3" over fences equitation classes for high school riders, (Varsity Open Over Fences.)
Top hunter/jumper trainer and Elvenstar founder Jim Hagman has taken riders to the highest echelons of the A-rated hunter/jumper circuit. He loves the IEA because it enables talented riders to shine on a regional and national stage regardless of whether they can afford the horseflesh needed to do so on the open A circuit. Plus, riders of all economic brackets benefit from IEA's team aspect, a rarity in the individual-oriented world of equestrian sports.
Skye Bolen, winner of the Future Intermediate Flat Individual Championship. The MVE
seventh grader is from Aptos.
Photo by Kendy Ellison
Jim learned of the IEA circuit about five years ago in the course of his ongoing coaching role with Stanford's IHSA team. Stanford's head coach Vanessa Bartsch encouraged him to get involved in IEA and the Elvenstar teams got started two years ago under the direction of coach Kaycee Kurtze Bischoff.
Like Colin, Jim praises the amount of teamwork that's built into the IEA program, including horse care, show prep and organizing and building a solid base of horsemanship knowledge. He was thrilled to have student Ivy Burns finish seventh in the Finals' USPC/Holy Innocence Horsemanship Test.
Riding unfamiliar horses is a terrific opportunity to advance skills and gain experience, and it can be fun, notes IEA parent Janet Sommerfeld. Her ninth grade daughter, Paris, loved it. A frequent competitor on the regular circuit's 3'3" medal divisions, Paris first drew an almost pony-sized horse at the Nationals, then drew a much bigger mount in the next. "It was really interesting, challenging and fun," Janet observes.
Making the most of lesson horses that may be past their A circuit prime is a side benefit of the IEA program, adds Jim. Elvenstar's cadre of 30 well-cared for school horses, along with its great facility, enables the team to host shows.
Cash for College
In this new frontier of West Coast IEA competition, Monte Vista Equestrian coach Cassie Belmont is a relative grand dame. The high school squad from the private boarding school's team was third overall last year, and its middle school team had several riders with terrific showings this year. Cassie echoes others' positive comments about IEA and adds another: the prospect of earning scholarships for riders with collegiate equestrian ambitions. "This is a real resume building activity because there are lots of schools on the East Coast with equestrian programs and they are out there (at IEA Nationals) recruiting kids."
Elvenstar coach Kaycee Kurtze Bischoff with Paris Sommerfeld, who was second in the Varsity Intermediate Over Fences. Photo by Tim Sommerfeld
She was thrilled to see IHSA founder Bob Cacchione at the IEA Nationals, reflecting his support for the high school program from its outset in 2002. "He addressed the crowd and told them, 'If you can get here, you can ride in college,'" Cassie relays.
The IEA season coincides with the academic year and the Hunt Seat league culminates with the May national finals, which will be held next year in Wellington, FL. (IEA also offers Western and Saddle Seat competition). New teams and/or individuals may join up until Nov. 15 of this year and still earn points to qualify for zone and national competition.
The more the merrier, says IEA co-founder and COO Myron Leff. "There's a great ripple effect. The more participation from the West Coast, the more shows there will be out here and that's great for the kids and for barn owners and trainers. When most of these kids get into the program, they want to move on in order to qualify for the next level of competition and that is great for the equestrian community at large."
For information on joining and/or starting an IEA team, visit www.rideiea.org, where the "Quick Start Guide" is particularly helpful. Zone 10 chair Colin Daly welcomes inquiries at 510-551-5405.
Freshman Jessica Ellison, who placed third in the Novice Flat class,
Sydney Shelby, Skye Bolen, and sixth grader Francesca Goyette who placed third in the Future Novice Flat class. All are Monte Vista team members.
Photo by Kendy Ellison