IHSA National Championships

Oregon State University and AQHA member Austin Griffith, riding for Ohio State University, rode off with wins on May 3-6 at the 2012 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships.

By Tara Christiansen
The American Quarter Horse Journal
May 10, 2012

Austin Griffith at 2012 IHSA Nationals

AQHA member Austin Griffith, riding for Ohio State University, won AQHA high-point western rider title, open reining championship, open horsemanship AQHA Trophy championship and open horsemanship individual reserve championship at the 2012 IHSA Nationals. (Journal photo)

There wasn’t a bad seat in the house at the 39th annual Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships. The 2012 event, held May 3-6 at the Hunt Horse Arena of the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, drew riders, their coaches and fans from around the country for one of the most challenging competitions in the sport of collegiate equestrian.  
The biggest stories of the event were those of patience and perseverance, setting and achieving those goals.

Oregon State University’s close calls with a western national championship, in 2009 and 2011, finally came to an end as the Beavers, coached by Dawn Ross, clinched the 2012 AQHA trophy western team championship.

The 12-year-old Oregon State equestrian program has always held its own in IHSA competition, on both the hunter seat and western sides, but Coach Ross attributes teamwork as the secret behind the team’s 2012 success.

“This is truly a team; it’s not just about those who represented us at Nationals," Ross explained. “It took the whole team to get us to where we are now. They had the optimism to think positive, the faith to believe in themselves, the vision to think big, the enthusiasm to enjoy the challenge, the determination to take big risks and, most of all, the perseverance to try until the goal – the national championship – was achieved.”

The 2012 AQHA western team reserve championship went to Ohio State University and Coach Ollie Griffith. It was Griffith’s son, Austin, who stole the show as an individual rider; winning the AQHA high-point western rider title, open reining championship, open horsemanship AQHA trophy championship and open horsemanship individual reserve championship.  

“There are really no words to describe this,” said Austin, a sophomore at Ohio State. “I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the classes I wanted to win before I graduate. I had some very good horses, and the nice thing about growing up part of an IHSA team is that it always feels like family. (My next goal) is winning the (collegiate competition at the) National Reining Horse Association Derby and getting our team back to Nationals in 2013.”

As a coach and as a father, Ollie couldn’t be prouder.

“He did a great job; it’s really nice to see him get rewarded,” Ollie said of his son’s win. “He’s fun to coach; win or lose, he’s a great sport.”

Riders aren’t the only individuals honored at the IHSA Nationals; horses receive their own recognition, too. And the IHSA western horse the year, Colonel Pepenator, was a clear winner to those who know him best.

“We use him for everything,” said Jill Bergstresser, coach of Oswego State University and one of “Peppy’s” caretakers and fans. “Beginners can ride him and our open riders for reining ride him.”

Bergstresser said that the 12-year-old chestnut stallion certainly enjoys what he does, day in and day out.

“Not a day goes by that he doesn’t walk out of the stall with his ears perked forward,” she explained. And the coaches and riders at Oswego State definitely appreciate the caliber of horse that Peppy is.

“Prior to being donated to the university, he was a contender at the World Equestrian Games,” Bergstresser said. “We just love him.”

AQHA Professional Horseman Carla Wennberg, coach of St. Andrews University and recipient of the 2012 IHSA Nationals coach award for outstanding sportsmanship, said that the horses provided to the competition are top-shelf.

“I have horses here that have won the All American Quarter Horse Congress and AQHA World Championship Show,” Wennberg said. “These top show horses have made a second career out of IHSA showing. They are great teachers.”

Another part of teaching a rider receives while competing with IHSA is from the lack of warm-up time with a horse.

“What I love about this program is that the riders have to ride from feel – they can’t be an aggressive rider,” Wennberg explained. “You have to teach them how to get a feel for the horse with no warm-up. It’s hard, but fun.

“I have many young people that come from no horse background,” she added. “We teach them how to ride, and how to become true horsemen.