A day by day account of the challenges and triumps at the IEA Nationals.
by Alexis Spencer
I qualified at our zone 3 finals, the mid-Atlantic region, three weeks ago as an individual and obtained enough points to also help the middle school team qualify, allowing three of my teammates to be selected to make the trip with me to the National Championships in Georgia!
Thursday morning was an early wake up call. The draw for horses that I would ride was at 6:30am. The drive from our friend’s house to the Georgia 1996 Centennial Horse Show Park in Conyers, Georgia was an hour, and I did my best to help my mom navigate the directions to the park in the pitch dark. As we turned on to Centennial Drive and approached the park, the sun crested the tree line and my excitement started to build. I would be riding in a ring that Olympians like Karen and David O'Connor and Leslie Howard had ridden in for the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympic Games. I had hoped to have a new show jacket and pair of tall boots for this event, having recently out grown mine. The trip to Georgia was expensive though, so my mom said that if we were to make the trip that I would have to wait for the new show outfit.
I finished dressing into a borrowed show jacket and borrowed tall boots knowing that many of the other girls would have new outfits of their own. My trainer then handed me an arm sash and told me that she had nominated me from our team for the sportsmanship award. To win the sportsmanship award a rider must exhibit an overall effort and enthusiasm in supporting the show throughout the 4 days of competitions. I was to represent my team with a spirit that would inspire the other competitors, both on and off the horse. As the only rider from my team to have qualified as an individual, I was up for the challenge and eager to represent my team in all the best ways I could.
I lined up with my class and drew a horse name out of a hat. This would be the horse that I would ride in the first part of the competition. I would not have an opportunity to practice riding this horse prior to entering the show ring. The only information provided about the horse was a one sentence description about the horse’s way of going. My trainer coached me on what I should focus on and then sent me into the ring with 10 of my fellow middle school competitors from around the country. This first phase consisted of two groups of 10 riders that would result in narrowing down to a final group of just eight riders to be back for the finals. I was on of the eight to be called back!
After the first phase, I had some time to wait for the final round and I got the chance to see some other classes compete before returning to draw a horse for the final phase of my division. The day was long and I was tired but the fact that I had qualified to come to Nationals and made the final cut was something to be proud of and I was.
I mounted my second horse of the day and rode the best that I knew how; that is what I came here to do. The announcer called out the order of the winning names; I placed 4th over all and received a ribbon and a tote bag with the IEA logo on it. Even though the competition was not about winning, my trainer was very proud of my accomplishments.
My mom and I navigated the hour drive to the show grounds in the dark for a 6:00am start to the day’s competition. Two of my teammates had also arrived now from Washington, DC and were competing with me today. I was happy to have my friends with me. We watched the morning jumping competitions together and then it was my teammate’s turn to ride. She placed 4th for the team. As one of the smallest teams at the competition with only 4 riders, we were elated to have both placed in our divisions.
I waited much of the day for my jumping division to commence. I helped the jump crew change the courses and made myself useful throughout the day by bringing the Stewards water. After being patient all day, I placed my feet in my stirrups at 5:30pm. My first round was for an individual ribbon and I placed 5th of the best 20 riders in my division in the country. My second class was for the team and despite riding well, I made a few mistakes that cost me a ribbon in that class. I was still happy with my overall performance though. After the competitions were over for the day, all the teams dressed for the exhibitor’s party. Our 4th teammate arrived and the four of us, along with our parents and coach had a great night of southern food and dancing in the exhibitor’s courtyard of the show grounds.
We arrived at the show grounds at 9:00am as the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down. Tornado warnings were issued for the area and we got a real taste of southern spring weather! In the rain and high winds, I went to take the horsemanship test that my trainer had signed our team up for. This was a written test to determine our knowledge of horses, their care, and their training. The test was harder than we all thought it would be! I still have a lot to learn but since I am still only 12 years old, I have several years to learn about all the diseases that can affect horses, (one of the questions on the test!)
Today’s competition was the western phase of the show. Living on the East coast and training in the discipline of hunter/jumper, being able to watch the western competitors was fascinating! The differences in their style of riding, from their outfits consisting of a cowboy hat to very beautiful and glittery outfits to the differences in the training of their horses was great to experience. What a great sport this is with all the different ways you can ride and compete with a horse!
Two more of my teammates competed in final equitation phase of the show later in day and also both placed in the top eight of final competitors. Another great day of horses!
The show’s last day resulted in the final competitions and the sportsmanship award was announced as well as the team that had acquired the most overall points. Despite not winning the sportsmanship award for me or our team not acquiring the most points, our team tied for 4th place of all the teams participating at the IEA Nationals. The tie breaker resulted in us settling in 5th place but we were grateful for a successful show and look forward to competing as a team over the coming year. I hope to qualify for next year’s National Championships. The opportunity to ride with fellow middle and high school students from around the country was a wonderful experience! Making new friends and participating with fellow riders, both English and Western, were two of the best parts of this competition and privilege.
About the IEA Nationals
The Interscholastic Equestrian Association is an association consisting of 12 zones throughout the country that each has equestrian teams as members. Participants in grades 6 through 12 have an opportunity to compete with their school or barn’s equestrian team that is a member. These competitions are unique and unlike other national horse shows where riders compete with their own horse. At the IEA shows, you draw a horses name from a hat and compete on a horse that you have never ridden before. Various barns and teams provide the horses for the shows and each zone holds competitions throughout the school year where riders acquire points. At the end of each season, each zone hosts a zone final competition where the two top riders each division from that zone qualify and are invited to compete at the national championships.
For more information on the IEA Zone and Nationals, please visit www.rideiea.com
Topics: Alexis Spencer, David O'Connor, equestrian competition, IEA Nationals, Interscholastic Equestrian Association, junior equestrian competition