Western Riders Shine Bright at Interscholastic Equestrian Association National Finals in Oklahoma City
More than 150 of the nation’s best middle school and high school riders competed on June 23-24 in Oklahoma City, OK, for the 2018 Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) Western National Finals. This highly competitive event was a culmination of nearly a year of regular and post-season competitions held across the United States for riders in grades 6-12 who compete in western reining and western horsemanship. IEA Western National Finals is held during the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Derby, a week-long, highly-attended event for professional and non-pro reining horse trainers.
Day one of the two-day competition consisted of individual classes, where twelve qualified riders in each class rode against other riders of similar age and riding ability to compete for individual National titles. Each year an outstanding rider in the highest level of high school competition known as Varsity Open is awarded the Leading Western Rider Award. For the second time, this prestigious award was given to Ellexxah Maxwell of Autumn Rose Farm Equestrian Team. Maxwell hails from West Mansfield, OH, and was a previous winner in 2016. To determine the winner of this award, the IEA conducted a ride-off between Maxwell and last year’s Leading Rider, Olivia Willeke of KM Equestrian Team that consisted of a difficult horsemanship pattern.
Day two saw similar classes, however riders were competing as qualified teams and each rider’s score was accumulated for team points. It was determined that Autumn Rose Farm Equestrian Team of Dublin, OH, was the Champion Upper School Team with Grier School of Tyrone, PA, taking reserve champion honors. In the Middle School Team competition, Hammond School of Hopkins, SC, took top honors as Champion Middle School Team with Autumn Rose Farm Equestrian Team taking the reserve champion title.
Other notable awards went to the 2018 Leading Crossover Rider, Kim Saunders of Grier School. Saunders competed at both IEA Hunt Seat National Finals and IEA Western National Finals and accumulated the highest score among crossover rider candidates. The Leading Reining Horse Award went to Woody from Woosley Performance Horses. The Leading Horsemanship Horse Award went to Pete, graciously provided by Halvorson Ranch. The NRHA National Finals Sportsmanship Awards for riders and coaches, which recognizes individuals who show outstanding volunteerism and sportsman-like conduct throughout the show, was awarded to rider Lily Johns of Dare Equestrian Team and to coach Karen Kapp-Vance of Diamond V Ranch Equestrians. The Team Spirit Award was won by King Show Horses of Snellville, GA.
IEA has several unique features, including the use of a draw-based system whereby each rider is given a horse and tack to use that they have never ridden before. This method of selection is drawn shortly before the rider competes and levels the playing field. Horses are graciously provided by teams, colleges, private owners, and professional show barns for every competition throughout the season. “The level of horses at this year’s Western National Finals was again truly outstanding,” says IEA Co-Founder and Executive Director Roxane Durant. “We are so incredibly grateful to those coaches and trainers who willingly give us their talented animals for our kids to ride. Being at the NRHA Derby and using such high quality reining horses is indeed a treat.” More than 15 different horse providers from several states were involved in providing horses.
One of the most anticipated prize awards was sponsored by Bob’s Custom Saddles, who donated three custom saddles to be awarded to IEA class winners. Winners of each class were given one raffle ticket for a saddle. Mason Dorsey of Concord Equestrian Center and Emerson Madonia of King Show Horses were ecstatic winners of the individual raffle, while Erin Murray of Autumn Rose Farm Equestrian Team won the saddle on team competition day.