Photo by Eleanor Crow.
The opportunities available for a young equestrian to compete on a riding team without owning a horse are few and far between. The Interscholastic Equestrian Association is out to change that and is coming on strong in membership growth, scholarship opportunities and participant recognition. (California Riding Magazine, June 2014)
The IEA is a national non-profit organization for student equestrians in grades 6-12. Originally designed as a program to introduce students to riding in a format similar to those found on the collegiate level, the IEA also strives to recognize student riders as athletes, provide structured team competition, encourage good sportsmanship among their members and expose young riders to the opportunities that await them after high school.
"To many, myself included, IEA is a perfect gateway to showing on the A-circuit, explains Francesca Macrae, a member of the Woodside Equestrian Team. "IEA provides enough competition to make it slightly nerve-wracking and exciting, but it is coupled with support and warmth so riders never feel too intimidated. This environment, combined with the wonderful spirit of a team, nurtures confidence and capability.
"The IEA has launched my equestrian career. Without joining the Woodside Equestrian Team, I would never be where I am today as an equestrian showing outside of IEA on the circuit, something that has always been a dream of mine. IEA sparked a newfound passion and enthusiasm for the sport while keeping me grounded and appreciative."
Zone 10 Finals at the Iron Horse Equestrian Center
Photo by Eleanor Crow.
It's an inclusive environment," Francesca continues. "The breeches and boots you wear don't matter, but your riding and sportsmanship do." A moment that sums up her IEA experiences happened this past May at the Hunt Seat Nationals.
"After a disastrous journey from California to Massachusetts, my show clothes had been lost in the shuffle of cancelled, delayed and rescheduled flights. I turned up to the showground in clothes that I had unfortunately been wearing for two days, a get-up that was far from competition worthy. We were able to purchase breeches, a shirt, gloves, belt, etc., from the wonderful vendor, but were not willing to spend $500 on a brand-new jacket when mine was en-route.
"A girl from a Triple Bar Stables overheard our issues with baggage (or the lack of it!) and ran over offering her jacket. Unfortunately, it was a little too big but this gesture meant a lot. Unasked, she quickly came back with an army of her friends all offering their entire wardrobe to me. This particular example represents the sportsmanship, teamwork, and friendships that IEA builds."
The IEA was established in the spring of 2002 and held its first annual national invitational event the following year in Willoughby, Ohio. Beginning with just 200 members, the IEA now has over 10,000 participants in 32 states across North America.
The IEA program is available to any student age 11-19 years. In the interest of safety, the IEA requires that all members have a minimum of one-year professional instruction before competing on an IEA team.
Currently, the IEA offers two competition disciplines: hunt seat and western. An IEA team consists of a minimum of three riders and must be led by a professional riding instructor. A team may represent a school (public or private) or riding facility.
An IEA team will participate in regular season competitions held by other teams in their area to earn the opportunity to move on to region, zone and national final competitions.
Zone 10 Regionals competition at the Monte Vista Equestrian Center in Watsonville. Photo by Eleanor Crow.
Competing with the IEA prepares serious equestrian athletes for collegiate competition and provides scholarship opportunities on both the local and national levels.
The unique aspect of IEA competition, both at the local and national level, is that none of the riders will supply their own horses or tack. Instead, the host team arranges for the horses and equipment. Because the horse is new to the rider, the scores are based upon horsemanship and equitation. Each discipline offers a variety of ability levels from beginner through advanced. The IEA has set guidelines for the placement of new riders entering the IEA to allow for the unique program format of riding an unfamiliar horse.
Riders not only compete for individual points, but for their team as well. Prior to discovering what horse each student will ride, coaches select riders from each class to accumulate points for their team. This format adds team camaraderie to a normally individual sport.
Once a team has been a member of the IEA for one year, they are required to participate in organizing an IEA show either on their own or in cooperation with another IEA team(s). Hosting shows can be a daunting idea for some members; therefore the IEA has resources in place for teams to connect with other teams more comfortable with the format.
As the IEA grows so does its mission to give back to its members. Nearly $25,000 in scholarships and member support was granted during the 2013-14 season through the IEA Benevolent Fund, Founders Scholarship Fund and the National Sportsmanship Award.
Photographer Eleanor Crow rides for the Stanford Red Barn IEA team. For more information, visit www.rideiea.org.