Interscholastic Equestrian Association: Encouraging Student Riders

The IEA’s Executive Director reveals how middle and secondary school kids can enjoy equestrian sports and become better riders.

by Darley Newman

The Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) was formed in 2002 to “ introduce students in private and public middle and secondary schools to equestrian sports.” The brainchild of Roxane Lawrence, the current Executive Director, this non-profit began with just 200 members and recently crossed its 10,000-member mark.

One of the things we at Equitrekking like about the IEA is that student riders do not have to own their own horses or tack, making riding accessible to kids. Kids ride a variety of horses, leveling the playing field in competitions and focusing on developing diverse equestrian skills. Students also have the chance to earn scholarships toward their college education through awards in competition and through sportsmanship activities.

After speaking with Roxane over the phone, we wanted to share more information on the IEA to help more young riders and aspiring riders get in more saddle time.

Madison Brayman - Hunter Ridge Equestrian Team - RI

Madison Brayman - Hunter Ridge Equestrian Team - RI (2014 Hunt Seat Leading Rider). Photo Credit: Ron Schwane.

Darley Newman, Equitrekking: How did the Interscholastic Equestrian Association begin and why?

Roxane Lawrence: It really started as a chip on my shoulder.

I went to a high school that had a great equestrian program, but our riding accomplishments were never acknowledged like other sports programs. We didn’t get our team picture in the yearbook; we didn’t get to announce our wins in the Monday morning assembly, and we certainly didn’t get “letter” status or have an awards banquet. I always thought we should be getting the same credit as other athletes. So, when I was an adult, and in a position to potentially help students gain experience and recognition, I was motivated to do something!

Darley: What are the benefits of kids participating in IEA? What does the experience teach kids?

Roxane: As in all equestrian sports, and most youth activities in general, the benefits are innumerable! But, I’d name a few key ones for IEA as follows:
-Ability to participate in equestrian sports without the financial requirement of owning or providing a horse!
-Team atmosphere = camaraderie and enjoying favorite activity with the company and support of your best friends! You compete WITH your fellow riders, not just AGAINST them.
-Improves horsemanship skills as riders learn to ride a variety of mounts, and to quickly adjust their riding “feel” to communicate with all types of equine personalities.
-Prepares students for collegiate riding as they learn to deal with a “draw-based” competition. (Also, expands scholarship opportunities as IEA offers many scholarship awards, and many colleges offer financial support to riders from our program too.)

Southeastern Connecticut Course Walk Hunt Seat Finals 2013

Southeastern Connecticut Course Walk Hunt Seat Finals 2013. Photo Credit: Ron Schwane.

Darley: Can you share a story of a child who has benefited from the IEA in either their general life, studies or career?

Roxane: Gosh, I could probably tell about 11,000 stories since we have that many members now. But, really, my all-time favorite story is a pre-IEA riding story. I used to teach a riding class as part of a physical education requirement at a private school. We had one girl that was seriously overweight, and loved horses and animals in general. She REALLY wanted to ride, but was TERRIFIED of mounting the horse. She would tentatively put her foot in the stirrup, but just could not commit to that feeling of putting her weight into it and climbing up and over. She spent several lessons attempting to mount, and finally did it! We had four instructors helping her, and a wonderful, solid school horse. I will never forget the beaming smile that broke out on her face when she finally succeeded in mounting that horse! All of her classmates cheered for her! It still makes me cry a little to remember that small accomplishment that was so meaningful for that rider.

That’s what I love about this sport, and I love about IEA! It is so much about your personal quest, and your own level of accomplishment. The rate of those accomplishments is personal, and the gratification is unequalled. We offer four levels of riding in the IEA, and I see incredible accomplishments from every participant. Our riders do have to be able to walk, trot and canter at the beginner level of competition, but we also have riders that are top finalists in the Medal/Maclay, or in the World Show or Congress for the AQHA, and top youth riders in the NRHA! Our riders are doing great things in the equestrian world of the IEA and in many other organizations as well!

Darley: What are some of the challenges for riders participating in IEA competitions?

Roxane: NERVES! It is really nerve-racking to get on a horse you have never ridden, and with minimal warm-up, you step into the ring to compete. (Over fences riders get two warm-up jumps. All other IEA classes = no warm-up at all. Just mount, adjust stirrups and show.) So, riders have to work on being focused for the ride, and on quickly analyzing their mount so they get the most of their ride.

Interscholastic Equestrian Association Western

Sean Sullivan - Dare Equestrian Team - OH. Photo credit: Waltenberry, Inc.

Darley: There are National competitions for Western and Hunt Seat. What is the experience of going to the Nationals like for riders?

Roxane: Hunt Seat or Western…..IEA Nationals is a great event!

Our Hunt Seat Finals moves to a different location around the country each year, and we host the event in many exciting venues. This year, we will be in Wellington, Florida-the equivalent of Equine Disney World for the hunter/jumper world. Last year, we were at the “Big E” in Springfield, MA, and in recent prior years we were at the NY State Fairgrounds Coliseum in Syracuse, NY and the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Maryland. Each year, the pool of horses is exceptional, and the riders constantly exclaim what a great experience it is to ride a good, dependable horse in such a spectacular ring. The stands are full, and the prizes are plentiful!! We give awards through 8th place in every class, and every placing comes with multiple prizes from IEA logo gear to riding attire to tack trunks!

In recent years, our Western Finals has been in conjunction with the NRHA Derby in Oklahoma City. We start the event with the best-exhibitor-party-ever! (Including a cook-out, costume contest, inflatable games, and “bubble-runners”) We borrow wonderful horses from top NRHA trainers and outstanding western programs in the area. Our kids earn belt buckles, trophies and prizes, and then when our riders finish for the weekend, they pack the stands in the main coliseum and cheer for top national and international reining stars! It is the ultimate Western experience!

Claire Darnall Hammond School SC

Claire Darnall - Hammond School - SC. Photo credit: Waltenberry, Inc.

Looking ahead, we are planning a combined national finals in 2016. Both Hunt Seat and Western will join together for a mega-finals! We like to get both groups together ever 4-5 years so they can learn from each other and potentially experience something new. But….the 2016 Finals will be in a surprise location. I can’t announce that yet.

equestrian school competition south carolina

Creekside Farm - 2014 Champion Upper School - South Carolina.
Left to Right: Emma Phillips (coach), Cloe Taylor, Beverly Davis, Kayleigh Gates, Megan Whiting, Brooklin Kuipers, Adrian Mack (coach). Photo Credit: Ron Schwane.

Darley: What are resources for parents or kids who want to get involved with the IEA?

Roxane: All of the overview information and membership materials for the IEA are available on our website: We have lots of wonderful staff members and volunteers to help get new coaches, riders and families into the IEA. Our membership office has full-time staff members that can talk you through the paperwork, navigating our website, or help with checking results in the database. We also have a Zone Administrator in each of the 8 active zones across the country (a “local” expert on IEA), and there are regional presidents in every area as well. Our website is full of information to learn about the organization and to get started. Please note, however, that our membership does close off each November. So, at this point, new members would be looking at joining for NEXT year (2015-16 season). Members can join again in late May/early June when the new applications are posted on our site.

I’d recommend taking a trip to an IEA show and seeing what it’s all about. There are shows all over the country, and it’s a great way to get involved in equestrian athletics! 

Learn more about the IEA and check out other great places for kids to ride, including Horse Camps and on a Ranch or Riding Vacation.