Horse Course

Terre Haute was once a destination for harness racing, with a unique four-cornered track east of town. Nowadays, equine competition is on the west side, specifically the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods campus. This season’s first college horse show under the auspices of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) took place on October 26th and 27th.

Horse shows are generally associated with the upper class, but the IHSA attempts to make their events highly egalitarian. They’ve created a system where a rider could compete without even owning a horse, because the horses used in competition are all provided by the host school.

The host school can’t create an unfair advantage by keeping the cleverest steeds for themselves and foisting obstinate old nags off on the other teams, because all riders draw for their mounts. I’d love to see this kind of system put into place elsewhere. Imagine Indy 500 drivers drawing a number for the vehicle they’re going to drive, along with a pit crew they’ve never met. Or how about drawing for a caddy and a bag of golf clubs on the PGA Tour?

the IHSA attempts to make their events highly egalitarian

I doubt these professionals would ever go for it. They must know their success is based on something more than just their individual skill. But these college equestrians get up on a horse they haven’t ridden or trained and simply show how well they can handle it.

The riders share information with their teammates about the horse they rode. This is done openly and earnestly; it’s not in the least like stealing another team’s playbook or spying on their signals. The overall spirit of cooperation within competition is admirable, and maybe indicative of the feminine aspect of the event. Not that there’s anything frilly going on. The traditional riding gear is tailored and somber in color. The riders pin up their long hair and tuck it under an unattractive hairnet so tendrils don’t stray from under their riding helmets. These are confident young women used to controlling animals much bigger than they are.

The horses are various in color, physique and temperament. Some looked as if they were thrilled to be out in the cold wind, while others seemed more reluctant. Names like Gatsby, Kaiser and Ziggy contribute to a spectator’s sense of what the horse’s personality might be. The horses are classified as either jumpers or flatters. (This means just what it seems to mean.)

In the stands on Saturday were mostly various team members wrapped up against the wind. Others who’d come out were friends and family – especially moms. There was no admission fee, which would seem to make this a good event for families (with well-behaved children, please – those who won’t try to frighten the horses).

ISHA shows are a meet where all schools in a region compete simultaneously. Teams in this region in addition to SMWC are Ball State University, Butler University, Earlham College, Eastern Illinois University, Indiana University, Manchester University, Parkland College, Purdue University, Saint Mary’s College, Taylor University, and the University of Illinois.

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