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IHSA – Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association

What Is The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA)?

Photo Credit: Kellsie Mullikin ’16 Virginia Tech IHSA Team

Choosing a college can be difficult for most anyone, but especially for those who still want to ride. Just where do you want to spend the next four years of your life? Where does riding fit in?

The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) provides a great opportunity for you to ride and compete while you are in  college.

Here is a statement from their website describing who they are:

IHSA provides collegiate riders of all skills the opportunity to compete individually and as teams in equestrian competition. It was founded on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in horse shows regardless of his or her riding ability or financial status.

But what exactly is IHSA?

Let me start by giving you a brief overview of how the equitation competitions work. This is a very simple outline, so please visit their website for a list of full qualifications.

IHSA is unique in that students do not bring their own horses to the show. Instead, the host college provides all the horses. Riders travel to the show’s location, which is hosted by a college within the team’s region. At the show riders then participate in a draw/lottery to determine who they will ride. After drawing a horse, the rider will mount, adjust their stirrups, and enter the ring. Riders are not allowed to warm up. The classes are equitation classes, and riders will be judged on the flat or over fences.

The types of classes:

There are 9 levels in IHSA: three jumping levels (Open, Intermediate and Novice) and six flat levels (Open, Intermediate, Novice, Advanced Walk-Trot-Canter, Beginning Walk-Trot-Canter and Walk-Trot). Each level has specific qualifications to ensure that riders are competing against others with a similar skill set and show experience.

Open Over Fences: Riders who have won 10 blue ribbons in classes 3’6” or higher in a recognized competition. (Doesn’t matter if it was hunter, equitation, jumpers, etc.)

Open Flat: Riders who have won 10 hunter seat equitation classes on the flat at recognized competitions. (This does not include hunter U/S)

Intermediate Over Fences: Riders who have won 6 blue ribbons in classes 3’, 3’3”, 3’6” or higher in a recognized competition. (Doesn’t matter if it was hunter, equitation, jumpers, etc.)

Intermediate Flat: Riders who have won 5 hunter seat equitation classes on the flat at recognized competitions. (This does not include hunter U/S)

Novice Over Fences: Riders who have competed in any recognized competition over 3’. (If you have ever competed at an A show at 3’ or higher you are Novice)

Novice Flat: Riders who have competed in a recognized USEF/USEA competition. (If you have ever competed at an A show)

2B. Advanced Walk-Trot-Canter: Riders who have competed in ANY type of competition higher than 18”. (Doesn’t matter if it is a fun show, local show, etc., if you competed over 18” you are ADV WTC)

2A. Beginning Walk-Trot-Canter: Riders who have not competed in a mounted competition which required them to jump over 18”. (Same division as ADV WTC, just the first phase of it)

1. Walk-Trot: Riders who have less than 24 weeks of professional experience, and never competed in ANY competition that required them to canter or lope.

IHSA hunter rider jumping a jump
Photo Credit: KatieGehrt

How do they judge classes?

Riders are required to compete on horses they have not had the privilege of riding in the past. Because of that, the judge has to consider the horse’s ability. Simple changes, the use of the crop, and add step in over fences classes, are all permitted in IHSA shows. Suitability of the horse and horse difficulty are also accounted when being judged. By this I mean, if you are 5’1’’ and you draw a 17.2hh horse, you will not be marked down for not having an appropriately sized horse suitability.

Many of the horses used in IHSA are donated and have varying abilities. Some horses have flying changes and some do not. The same is true of length of stride. Because the level of difficulty varies from horse to horse, the judge takes into account all the factors associated with the situation.

You compete as an individual:

Schools are grouped into regions based on location. Throughout the year, schools located within the region will host horse shows using their facility, horses, and tack. There are between 5 and 10 regular season horse shows throughout the fall and spring semester. Riders are pinned first through sixth, and each ribbon has points associated to it. The points are: First- 7 points, Second- 5 points, Third- 4 points, Fourth- 3 points, Fifth- 2 points, and Sixth- 1 point.

The points from your placings at the horse show are documented after each show and added up. Once you have earned 36 points in the current level you are competing at you “point up” into the next division and you qualify for Regionals.

When a rider competes at Regionals, they compete as an individual rider. They must place first or second to move onto Zones. Once a hunter seat rider is at Zones, they must place first or second to move onto the National Horse Show.

You also compete as a team:

So what does that mean? Competing in IHSA is an individual and a team sport. Each horse show has a number of rides per team allowed. In Zone 4 Region 5, 16 is the average amount of rides allowed per show. That means each team will have riders in 16 classes. But since there are only 9 levels, some levels will have more than one rider.

On the day of the show, the head coach will choose one person from each level (8 people) to represent the team. Those 8 people will be competing for personal points as well as points for the team. Think of them as the “offense.” The other 8 riders will still be competing, but think of them as the “defense.” Even though their points do not go towards the team, if they win that means the other school didn’t get the first place ribbon. Every member of the team is an important aspect. Whether you are offense or defense, every person contributes to the success of the team.

Just like individuals, the points earned at the horse show are documented after each show and added up. At the end of the season the team with the most points will represent the region at Zones. When a team competes at Zones they take just their “offense.” The team must place first or second to move onto Nationals.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Collegiate Riding! Visit for more information about colleges involved in IHSA.

Did you know IHSA, IEA, and USPC riders and coaches qualify for a 67% off annual memberships on through our EDU program? That’s just $99 per year! Learn more at:

We also offer a turnkey instructor kit. This kit is designed for coaches and offers a complete training tool: DVDs and Test Booklets to provide instruction for the novice to advanced rider. Learn more about the Instructor Kit at:

Video Recommendation:

Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals

FREE VIDEO: 2012 IHSA National Championship Experience‬
Take an inside look at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, behind the scenes at the 2012 National Championships, the Collegiate students that participated, The judges, and the people that make the IHSA “Genius.”
Running Time:  8 minutes and 45 seconds

View Video

Kayleigh Burke

Kayleigh is a 22-year-old equestrian raised in Northern Virginia. She began riding at the age of 5 and competed in the local equitation and hunter circuit as well as ‘A’ shows until college. Kayleigh graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2015 with her B.A. in Public Relations. While in college she competed with the Virginia Tech IHSA Hunt Seat team for 4 years. During those four years, she served as team manager her Junior year and Team Captain her Senior year. She is currently working on her M.A. in Communication and has continued on as the assistant coach for the VT IHSA equestrian team.

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