Olympian Peter Leone tries riding on a college team and learns some valuable lessons.

With Carrie Wirth
Published Spring 2013

During my college years at Drew University, I did not participate in intercollegiate showing. Instead, I juggled my studies and riding and continued to show in international competitions. Years later, after hosting an IHSA event at Lionshare Farm, I became curious about what it would be like to compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA).

So I tried an experiment. I played the role of a freshman competitor to gain a full understanding of IHSA competition. Two top-notch coaches helped guide me through the process: Michael Dowling from Centenary College and Mary Drueding from St. Lawrence. I participated in an IHSA scrimmage and “competed” as a hunter seat open rider.

I drew my mounts at random, like the IHSA riders are required to do. I learned first-hand the challenge that riders face, with only an opening circle to get to know their mounts.

To win in the hunters and in equitation in mainstream AA and AAA shows, the horses are all hitting their spots. They all jump quite well. The riders are turned out, and they try their best to present a perfect, rhythmic, and smooth round over fences, all while maintaining beautiful form. What separates first place from third place from sixth place are subtleties.

In the IHSA, the individual riders are judged on their equitation — not the provided horse. But the key to IHSA riding is the team component. Just like riding for Team USA at the Olympic Games, you ride for a team and should have a strategy to help your team win.

I drew my horse and rode my course. I saw a place on the course to put in an inside turn and I went for it. The horse refused.

I learned that, for the team, I should have ridden the course conservatively, to guarantee a good score. Instead, I tried to be brilliant and do the inside turn. All I did was let my team down.

So much about what I thought intercollegiate riding was all about was wrong. I learned a lot about it — and about myself. I was a horse show snob. As a coach, many young riders ask me, “What do you think of IHSA? Should I ride when I go to college?” And I can say unequivocally, yes!

“So much about what I thought intercollegiate riding was all about was wrong…I was a horse show snob.”

Peter Leone is an Olympic equestrian, trainer, producer of hunter/jumper instructional DVDs and author of Peter Leone’s Jumping Clinic: Success Strategies for Equestrian Athletes. He owns and operates Lionshare Farm in Greenwich, Connecticut. Leone was a member of the 1996 Silver Medal United States Olympic Show Jumping Team and winner of numerous national and international Grand-Prix show jumping competitions.