Showing in College: AQHA, IHSA and NCEA

Showing in College: AQHA, IHSA and NCEA

A former collegiate rider shares her insight on Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and National Collegiate Equestrian Association competition.

black horsemanship horse pattern (Credit: Journal)

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By Elizabeth Ellis

As American Quarter Horse Youth Association members begin to look at colleges and opportunities in furthering their education, one very important topic of conversation might come up: showing in college.

Showing in college is an important topic of conversation between parents and their children who love to show horses. During application time, it is important to discuss what you are looking for during your college experience. Knowing what you want to experience during college is crucial to deciding if showing during school is right for you.

Ways to Show in College

AQHA-Sanctioned Shows

Showing at AQHA-approved events on the weekends is a great way to make sure you get all your assignments and studying done during the week. It also allows you to see your “barn family” and all the friends you have made while competing on a regular basis.


The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association allows all skill and experience levels of riders to compete in college and is especially great for those who do not have a horse. There are opportunities to ride at every level, even beginning riders can show competitively on a team. Showing opportunities include horsemanship, reining, equitation on the flat and equitation over fences. 


The National Collegiate Equestrian Association allows high-level female riders to earn scholarships to compete in school. This is a great way for all your hard work during your youth career to pay off. Showing opportunities include horsemanship, reining, equitation on the flat and equitation over fences. The NCEA is governed by the NCAA.

Why I Loved Showing in College

Showing in college – at Berry College – gave structure to my days and weekends. I had goals I wanted to accomplish during the week with my horse, lessons and school so that I could leave all weekend to go to a horse show. I showed both AQHA-sanctioned shows and IHSA shows during school. Because I showed at both AQHA and IHSA shows, I rarely had a weekend off. During the week between classes and studying (and trying to get some sleep), I had lessons for the team at school. On the rare weekend I didn’t have a horse show, I would drive home to take lessons and practice on my American Quarter Horse, “Jax.”

Competing in IHSA horse shows opened up a whole new world of people to meet and experiences. One of my favorite parts of getting to show on an IHSA team was the ability for me to not only learn from new coaches but also learn from my fellow teammates.

Trying to juggle classes, studying, lessons and shows, I learned a good bit about time management and how not to procrastinate. Riding also provides a great stress relief when you are bogged down with lots of assignments and need a break from your dorm or the library. If you join an equestrian team during college, it allows you to find a group of friends who have a passion just like you. If you show AQHA, it allows you to get involved with the people you grew up showing with, and if you are in a new area, it gives you the opportunity to get to know more people who are also AQHA members.

Overall, the experience of showing in college was one I will never forget. From the late nights at the barn at school with all of my teammates, trying to master one more thing before we leave for the show, to going home for quick weekend trips just to see my horse again and practice one more time, I will never forget the memories made during school while getting to continue my passion of showing horses.

Wondering how to connect with college equestrian coaches? Read this advice from coaches for launching your collegiate equestrian career