IHSA National Championship Horse Show Western Wrap Up

May 10th, 2018 4:38 PM | No Comments

Harrisburg, Penn.—May 10, 2018 —The 2018 Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) held their National Championship at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Nearly 450 students from across the U.S. and Canada qualified to compete at the event.

University of Findlay and St Andrews University’s Connor Smith Take Top Honors



Danielle Paulson from the University of Wisconsin River Falls has been on the team for two years and qualified for Nationals for the first time this year.
 “Last year I had a rough go at Semi-Finals and making it back to Nationals this year was an incredible opportunity,” said Paulson, who is from Rochester, Minnesota.
 While watching the warmup, she spied Juice, a cute chestnut mare owned by St. Andrews University. “I liked Juice when I saw her warming up. Her spins were great, her stops were awesome,” she said. “She was a heck of a mare to ride.”
 Though Paulson has shown American Quarter Horses for 10 years, this is her first year competing in reining. Paulson also competed in NRHA Individual Open Reining and AQHA High Point Western Rider.


The third time is a charm for Codi Uecker from Rocky Mountain College who piloted Terrell, owned by the University of Findlay to the win in the Individual Open Western Horsemanship. Uecker hails from Lewistown, Montana, and is a junior studying biology. She has qualified and competed at Nationals every year of her college career. “I’m so excited,” said Uecker. It’s taken three years, so it’s good.”



Morgan Knerr from University of Findlay and her best friend, Tyler Kirby from Ohio State University were tied at 148 points after their first reining run. The judges asked the two top contenders to swap horses and return for a showdown. Knerr, who rode Karen Black’s Brie in the first round mounted up on Gunny, also owned by Black. In the end, the judges gave Knerr the top prize.
 “She was so good,” Knerr said about her mount. “I knew it was a tough competition with Tyler. I know he’s a good rider. I was excited to go back in the arena and do it again.”

 Knerr is a freshman studying pharmacy. She hopes to have a career in hospital pharmacy and continue riding. “Both my parents are involved in reining and I’ve grown up in the reining industry,” she said.

 Before joining the University of Findlay, Knerr and Kirby rode at Autumn Rose with the Griffiths and competed together in the NRHA.



 The final day of the 2018 IHSA National Championship Horse Show featured the conclusion of the Western divisions. Young men and sparkle-clad women sat tall in the saddle to compete at the Pennsylvania Farm Complex in Harrisburg. The AQHA National Champion Team University of Findlay took home the trophy after a stunning victory over talented teams from across the country. Ohio State University was named reserve champion.

 In his first year at the helm as head coach, Spencer Zimmerman led the Findlay Oilers to the win, but he credits his students and the Findlay program for their success.
 “The team’s dedication to one another set them apart—helping each other get to the pen, schooling each other at home, hours of practice to come out here and shine,” Zimmerman said. “I am proud of my riders for putting it all out there in the pen and remembering everything we practiced at home. It really showed.”

 Zimmerman, who is from Newport, Pennsylvania, not far from Harrisburg, has spent the last two years as assistant coach to his predecessor Cindy Morehead, who retired last year. And he knows what it is like to walk in his students’ boots. During his time on the team Findlay earned two national championships.

“I was on the team for four years and I got to compete under Cindy, Clark Bradley and Jake Bowman,” he said. “It has come full circle close to my hometown.”
He explained that most of the 30-member team ride on the equestrian program as well. They ride a couple of horses a day, five to seven days a week. In addition, they have more practice. The riders that are not in the program practice as much as the others. The students have access to a depth of horses available to help them learn.
 This is the University of Findlay’s sixth IHSA AQHA Team National Championship.


It was a big day for Connor Smith. The polite and humble St. Andrews University senior from Gastonia, North Carolina, won the Team Open Western Horsemanship and earned the AQHA High Point Western Rider.
 Smith’s coach Carla Wennberg fought back tears of excitement and pride in her student who she described as a leader for the team. He went from the Intermediate division to Open under her tutelage, but she credits other trainers for helping to develop the talented rider.

“He’s put a lot of effort in with other trainers to help him with reining,” Wennberg said. “I can’t take all that credit.”
“You know I just took what Carla always says, ’You can never wait, you just have to start from where you are and learn from what happens as the days pass and build from that,’” Smith said. 
 Smith complimented Jade, the horse he drew on the final day of competition and described her as sensitive, very correct and a good mover.
 Smith has been a member of the IHSA for four years and this is his second trip to Nationals. In his sophomore year, he placed third in Team Advanced Horsemanship. After graduation, Smith has a job in Charlotte with a company that does search engine optimization and web design.


 Harley from Middle Tennessee State was awarded the SmartPak Most Popular Western Horse and the Triple Crown High Point Horse award went to Sarah from Alfred University. Harry Hurd, coach of the Alfred team and Kendall Woellmer from West Texas A & M University were both honored with the AQHA Sportsmanship award. Bryan Bradley from Penn State University was named Volunteer of the Year.

 Skidmore College and Sweet Briar’s Mckayka Benjamin Take Home National Championships


 The opening class of the day was Open Equitation Over Fences, sponsored by Collegiate, Windham Hill, LLC and Athletic Equestrian League. Centenary University junior, Michael Andrade earned the national championship aboard Skidmore College’s Clay. Andrade was in second place at the end of the first round and the judges asked the top-four riders to return for a challenging test. They were asked to counter canter two jumps and lengthen the stride to the last jump.

 ”It’s awesome, it means a lot,” said Andrade, who won both the Open Flat in both Team and Individual in 2017. “I have to thank Heather Clark and Michael Dowling for all they do.” Andrade hopes to ride professionally after school.

 ”The bending lines in the first round were a test,” said reserve champion Halle Kutsche from Kansas State University. “I drew Sun Bear who is the greatest horse ever. He was super adjustable and listened to everything I asked.”

 Kutsche is a senior studying mechanical engineering and the sole representative of Kansas State University at IHSA Nationals. She participated in a cooperative educational program with Anheuser-Busch and will return to the company for an internship this summer.


 The first two phases of the coveted USEF/Cacchione Cup, the Equitation Over Fences and the Equitation on the Flat took place. All teams participated in the colorful Parade of Teams

 In the USEF/Cacchione Cup Equitation Over Fences, Mollie Kowalchik, the captain of the Mount Holyoke College team, produced the leading round aboard Collins, owned by Cazenovia College.

 Going into the flat phase, Kowalchik was two points ahead of the pack with Halle Kutsche from Kansas State University in second. Both riders maintained their positions after the flat phase with only one point separating their scores. The top 10 riders returned for the work-off phase Saturday morning.


The Skidmore Thoroughbreds maintained a lead throughout the show and finished with 30 points, earning them the right to take the Collegiate Cup home to Saratoga Springs. Reserve champions Savannah College of Art and Design were just two points behind and Stanford University was third with 22 points.

 Skidmore head coach Cindy Ford credited the teamwork of assistant coach Belinda Colgan and the rest of the staff for their success. This group, she said, could work anywhere at the top of the industry. She also complimented her students for being academically strong, motivated and hard-working. The strong string of Skidmore horses also contributes to their success.


 Judges Diane Carney and Tony Sgarlata determined that the format of the final work-off phase of the USEF/Cacchione Cup would be a challenging course over fences. In a major upset, Makayla Benjamin, a senior at Sweet Briar went from eighth place in the top 10 to win the championship. She drew Collins who was reserve champion, Mollie Kowalchik’s draw in the first phase.

 Benjamin has ridden all her life and competed in the Big Eq. Both her parents rode in the IHSA and met while competing at Purdue University. She has been on the IHSA team all four years at Sweet Briar. This is her first time at Nationals.

 When Benjamin knew she had drawn Collins, she decided to make the handier turn to the trot jump. “He was a joy to ride,” she said. “It (the course) posed a lot of questions and I answered most of them right. I was shocked that I was actually in the top three.”

 Benjamin is a mathematical economics major with a double minor in business and engineering. She will spend some time working at Bitterroot Ranch, a dude ranch in Wyoming, before starting her corporate job in February.


 Michael Janson from Boston University competed in the Collegiate Cup Open Equitation Over Fences. The judges selected the top four to test over a shortened course that included two changes of lead. Riding Maverick, owned by Savannah College of Art and Design, Janson set him set himself apart by holding the counter canter and turning to the right rather than the left. His choice earned him the judges’ nod and the win.

 ”There was the option to be creative, which I liked,” Janson said about his round. “The horse was great. The competition was spectacular.”

 Janson, a finance major from Berkley, Massachusetts, has ridden most of his life and has competed in the equitation and the jumpers. His family breeds and trains Zangersheide horses.

 Cervelli said it has been since 2001 since Boston University has won a class at Nationals. Most years they send individual competitors but haven’t sent a team since the mid-90s. Janson’s win helped Boston University finish the Collegiate Cup in fourth place.


 Skidmore College’s Clay, who produced many top rounds, was awarded the SmartPak Most Popular Hunter Seat Horse. Collins from Cazenovia was named the Triple Crown High Point Horse. The Collegiate Cup Sportsmanship Awards went to Centenary University competitor Skylar Laakso and Centenary University Coach Michael Dowling. The Volunteer award was presented to Rebecca Jacobsen. Megan Taylor, national alumni director, was presented with the IHSA Lifetime Achievement award.

 The IHSA is grateful to all their generous sponsors, the competitors, teams, coaches, volunteers and horses for a successful National Championship Horse Show. We look forward to the 2019 season and next year’s Nationals in Syracuse, New York.



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