What Is the IHSA? The Complete Guide to IHSA Equestrian Teams, Levels, & Events

The IHSA is a great way to get involved in collegiate equestrian competition, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been competing for years.
What Is the IHSA? The Complete Guide to IHSA Equestrian Teams, Levels, & Events

Heading off to college shouldn’t mean leaving your riding boots at home. That’s why the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) was created–so equestrians like you who can’t imagine their life without horses can continue competing in college. The IHSA makes equestrian competition accessible to college students all over the country, so young adults can continue their education without giving up the sport they’ve loved for years. In this guide, we’ll explain what the IHSA is, how it works, the different competition levels it offers, and how you can join an IHSA team.

What is the IHSA?

The IHSA is a nonprofit organization committed to providing equestrians the opportunity to compete at a collegiate level, regardless of their background. The IHSA holds both team and individual co-ed competitions for hunter and Western riders at beginner through advanced levels. Through competition, the IHSA aims to encourage excellent sportsmanship, horsemanship, and scholarship.

In 1967, 18-year-old student Bob Cacchione established the IHSA alongside a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. From the first hunter seat equitation competition between two colleges, the IHSA quickly developed into a nationally recognized collegiate equestrian league. The Western division was added in 1979, and today, the IHSA recognizes over 400 college teams.

How does the IHSA work?

Riders competing in the IHSA cannot bring their own horse or tack to compete with, setting a level playing field for all competitors and eliminating some of the expenses typically involved in equestrian sports. Male and female riders compete together in either the English division, which is hunter seat equitation, or the Western division, which involves horsemanship and reining. Competing colleges are a part of one of the 40 regions in one of the eight zones across the United States and Canada. 

IHSA levels

The IHSA offers nine classes in the Hunter Seat division and eight classes in the Western division. The levels range from Beginner to Open and are as follows:

Hunter Seat classes

  • Class 1: Introductory Hunter Seat Equitation
  • Class 2A: Pre-Novice Hunter Seat Equitation
  • Class 2B: Novice Hunter Seat Equitation
  • Class 3: Limit Hunter Seat Equitation
  • Class 4: Limit Hunter Seat Equitation Over Fences
  • Class 5: Intermediate Hunter Seat Equitation
  • Class 6: Intermediate Hunter Seat Equitation Over Fences
  • Class 7: Open Hunter Seat Equitation
  • Class 8: Open Hunter Seat Equitation Over Fences

Western classes

  • Class 11: Beginner Western Horsemanship
  • Class 12A: Rookie A Western Horsemanship
  • Class 12B: Rookie B Western Horsemanship
  • Class 13: Level 1 Western Horsemanship
  • Class 14: Level II Western Horsemanship
  • Class 15: Ranch Riding
  • Class 16: Open Western Horsemanship
  • Class 17: Open Reining

How to earn points in the IHSA

Riders and teams earn points for placing in their respective classes at IHSA shows within their Region throughout school the year to advance to the next class level and/or qualify for Regional Finals. Riders can log into their IHSA accounts to check how many points they’ve earned, and if they happen to change schools, their points move with them.

Who is eligible to join the IHSA?

Riders who are full-time undergraduate students of member colleges are eligible to join the IHSA for up to four calendar years. Every year, over 10,000 students participate. Likewise, any college, university, or junior college in the United States or Canada is eligible for IHSA membership.

Which colleges have IHSA teams?

There are over 400 IHSA teams at colleges affiliated with the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) division I, II, or III, NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes), or NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association). If you’re interested in a college and you’re unsure if they have an IHSA team, this information should be available on the “athletics” page of their website, or you can visit the IHSA website’s team directory.

If the school you’re attending does not already have an IHSA team, you can start one. To ensure all teams join the right region and zone, new teams must be approved by the Regional President. Team membership costs $300.

Top IHSA equestrian teams

Although the IHSA remains competitive year after year, there are several schools that consistently earn top rankings at the National Championships. The top-performing colleges statistically excel in the Hunter Seat or Western division, not both, but many colleges do have strong English and Western teams.

In recent years, these teams have stood out in the Hunter Seat Team Championship placings at the IHSA National Finals:

  • Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD): Reserve Champion in 2018, 2019 and 2023, SCAD became Champion again in 2024. They also held the championship title from 2015 to 2017. 
  • Skidmore College: Skidmore came in 3rd in 2024, but they were the 2023 Champions.
  • Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry: Champions in 2019 and 2022, Emory & Henry has stayed near the top, earning 3rd in 2023 and 5th in 2024.
  • Sacred Heart University: Though they have not won in recent years, Sacred Heart is an up-and-coming team, improving from 9th in 2023 to Reserve Champion in 2024.

In recent years, these teams have stood out in the Western Team Championship placings at the IHSA National Finals:

  • Middle Tennessee State University: They were the 2023 and 2024 Champions, but Middle Tennessee State was strong even before the pandemic, earning 3rd in 2018.
  • Black Hawk College: Champions in 2022, Black Hawk has continued to make it into the top five performers in 2023 and 2024.
  • University of Findlay: The University of Findlay team won the Champion title in both 2018 and 2019.
  • St. Andrews University: St. Andrews won the Championship in 2017 and shared the title with Berry College the year before. But in 2023 and 2024, they were the Reserve Champion.
  • Midway University: A team to look out for, Midway University finished in the top three in 2023 and 2024.


If you aspire to be or you are a collegiate equestrian, you have a lot of scholarship opportunities. There are a number of scholarships available to IHSA athletes through the IEF (Intercollegiate Equestrian Foundation) and EQUUS Foundation. Many of these scholarships honor great equestrians and aim to support promising equestrians in need of financial support.

IEF General Scholarships

These IEF scholarships are awarded to deserving undergraduate students at IHSA Nationals each year:

  • The Jack Fritz Memorial Award is named for the Fairleigh Dickinson University professor who helped Bob Cacchione found the IHSA.
  • The Joan Johnson Memorial Award honors another founding member of the IHSA, “JJ”, who served as a coach, Zone 3 chairperson, and chair of the Scholarship Foundation.
  • The Emily Jane Hilscher Memorial Award was created to memorialize Hilscher, a Virginia Tech veterinary science student and IHSA member, who was a victim of the 2007 shooting.
  • The Margaret “Maggie” Blackmon Memorial Award recognizes a rider who exemplifies the same passion and dedication as the late Maggie Blackmon, a member of the St. Lawrence University riding team.

IEF Noted Scholarships

These IEF Noted Scholarships give coaches the opportunity to nominate a stand-out rider from their team with financial need (the nomination deadline is February 20th):

  • The Jon Conyers Memorial Scholarship is reserved for an undergraduate IHSA member competing in the Western division Horsemanship classes in their first or second year. This scholarship honors Jon Conyers, who competed in the IHSA, coached for several programs, then dedicated many years as a member of the IHSA board of directors.
  • The Bob Anthony Memorial Scholarship is awarded to an undergraduate IHSA member competing in the Wester division’s Open Reining classes. Anthony was a six-time NRHA (National Reining Horse Association) World Champion, as well as an esteemed trainer and judge.

EQUUS Foundation Scholarships

The EQUUS Foundation is dedicated to protecting horses by supporting rising equine professionals. These scholarships are granted to junior and senior undergraduate or graduate students with at least one semester remaining at the application deadline (October 15th):

  • The Equus Foundation Equine Studies Scholarship is awarded to eight students enrolled in equine studies in the amount of $1,000. One of these eight scholarships is reserved for a current ISHA member.
  • The Samantha “Sam” Calzone Memorial Scholarship honors the passionate and dedicated Samantha Calzone, who pursued a Master's Degree in Equine Science before her passing. This scholarship supports an equestrian with this same drive and promise.
  • The Hilltop Bio Veterinary Scholarship is a $2,500 scholarship for a veterinary student at a college or university within the EQUUS Foundation’s Equine Education Network.

IHSA events

Between regular season shows and finals, IHSA events last from August to the beginning of May, giving competitors three months off from academics and athletics in the summer. Events are organized by the eight zones and 40 regions, so schools do not travel outside of their regions during the regular season. Below, we break down all of the IHSA events.

Regular season

Each region hosts between five and ten regular season Hunter Seat and Western shows annually. Typically, these regular season shows take place on the weekends in a location within the region. These shows are spread out over the period from August to the end of March.

Regional Championships

Following the regular season, IHSA teams compete in Regional Championships, where riders compete to make it to the Zone Championships. From each region, the top two placing individuals from each class, the highest scoring team, and a Regional USHJA High-Point Rider are sent to compete against other regions in their zone.

Zone Championships

The top two hunter seat riders in each class at Regionals qualify for the Zone Championships. This competition takes place at the end of March or beginning of April, hosted by a college or university within each zone. The two top-performing individuals in each class and two top-performing overall teams at Zones qualify for the IHSA Nationals.

Western Semi-Finals

After Regionals, qualified Western riders compete in one of the three Western Semi-Finals, which take place in different Western division “areas”. Each region’s qualifying competitors are sent to one of the three venues based on travel distance and a few other factors. The Western Semi-Finals take place in the third weekend in March.

IHSA Nationals

Both Hunter Seat and Western seat finalists compete in the IHSA Nationals at the beginning of May. Because of the scale of the competition, Nationals are hosted at a different major arena each year.

At Hunter Seat Nationals, the days begin with schooling and a course walk. Each class will compete, starting with individuals, followed by USHJA Hunter Seat High-Point Riders and teams. First, hunter seat riders compete over fences, then on the flat. The winning High-Point Rider will receive the Cacchione Cup, and the top teams will be recognized with the Hunter Seat Team Awards.

Western Nationals begin with a pattern walk and schooling and include competitions between individuals, teams, and Western High-Point Riders. The Western Nationals include Reining, Ranch Riding, Upper-Level Horsemanship, Lower-Level Horsemanship, and Beginner Horsemanship. At the close of the competition, winners are presented with the Back on Track Western High-Point Rider and Horse & Rider Western Team Awards.

How to be part of the IHSA

The IHSA is a great way to continue participating in equestrian sports when you head off to college. If you’re interested in joining an IHSA equestrian team after graduation, here is what you can do to make that goal a reality.

1. Practice

Sharpen your skills so you can excel in your discipline in the collegiate arena. Inform your trainer and coach about your goals, so they can help you develop the skills you need to excel at the IHSA level. Since IHSA riders must use the host school’s horses and tack, it’s a good idea to get comfortable riding unfamiliar horses.

2. Compete in shows

Enter as many competitions as you can, and go for gold! Any wins look great on your resume, and shows provide the perfect opportunity to record your performances for a highlights video. Plus, competing in shows prepares you for the pressure of the competitive IHSA atmosphere.

Before you compete, make sure you have all the proper attire! R.J. Classics offers quality equestrian apparel for men and women, including show shirts, schooling shirts, breeches, and show coats that provide the confidence and comfort you need to perform at your best.

3. Research schools

Find out which schools have IHSA teams that also offer your intended major. If your priority is joining a competitive team, each year’s national results are listed on the IHSA website. Many of the schools with strong IHSA teams also have strong equine study programs. Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a few schools, visit their campuses and request to see their riding facility.

4. Contact coaches

Before visiting your top picks, contact the equestrian team coach at each school. Introduce yourself, express interest in competing on their team, and ask about the recruiting process. Before you visit, learn what you can from their website, create a resume specific to riding, and put together a highlights video of your best performances.

5. Apply for scholarships

College can be expensive, but luckily, there are many organizations willing to help you further your education. To help cover tuition, apply for as many scholarships as you can. Listed above are several awards reserved for equestrians, but you should apply to academic scholarships as well.

6. Join or start a team

There are over 400 IHSA teams across the country that you can join. But if you’re going to a college or university that does not yet have an IHSA team, you can start one. Talk to your athletic director or another representative if you’re interested in adding an equestrian team. Starting a team takes time and money, so it may take a few years to get the program up and running. You can find more information in the IHSA’s guide to starting an intercollegiate team.

The IHSA is a great way to get involved in collegiate equestrian competition, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been competing for years. If you’re looking to become one of the more than 10,000 competitors in the IHSA, shop our collection of classic, stylish equestrian apparel to level up your wardrobe as you level up to collegiate competition.


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