The Intercollegiate Dressage Association School Horse: A Breed of its Own

Colleges and universities reflect on their special horses as key players in the world of Intercollegiate Dressage.

It was a cool April morning in Hackettstown, New Jersey. The first day of the 2016 Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) National Championships was about to begin and my teammates and I were taking the Cazenovia College horses for a walk around the grounds to stretch their legs. As we moved past a crowd of young, eager equestrians, one of them called out to me: “Is that Chop Chop?” It was a question that I would grow accustomed to nodding my head “yes” to when asked throughout the weekend. I had a small notion that the horse I was handling was an equine celebrity of sorts. 

The IDA was founded in 1995, and began as an informal competition among a group of northeastern colleges and secondary schools. It later spread to other regions of the country as well as to Canada. In 2003, the IDA became a college-only organization. Today it has over 500 competing members from more than 50 colleges and universities. Intercollegiate dressage competition involves catch-riding, and riders will travel as a team to one particular school and ride its horses for each show. Riders get a 10-minute warm-up period with the horse and then are sent into the ring to ride their test. Many schools actively participate in running these horse shows, as they are the backbone of the IDA. 

IDA horses are a breed all of their own. They tend to be levelheaded and patient horses, always willing to play the game. They are good at their jobs and show up ready to do the very best they can. Without wonderful horses like Chop Chop, collegiate dressage would not be possible. Here we recognize some of these equine athletes in the same way that we so often recognize their riders. 

Cazenovia College’s Chop Chop 

Located in Cazenovia, New York, Cazenovia College’s 240-acre Equine Education Center houses around 70 horses as well as the management program’s equine business specialization and the intercollegiate equestrian team. The center is also home to the famed gelding Chop Chop. 

Credit: Courtesy, Sarah Babineau Cazenovia College’s Chop Chop is known for his versatility.
Credit: Courtesy, Sarah Babineau Chop Chop has an extensive USEF record on the hunter circuit.

At 18 years old, the Dutch Warmblood still has a lot of giddy-up and go. He does it all, from dressage and jumpers to participating in hunt-seat lessons and shows. Before arriving at Cazenovia, the 15.3-hand bay competed in the Low Adult hunters as well as the Adult Amateur hunters. His hefty USEF record lists accomplishments in the ring ranging from 3-Foot Pre-Green Hunter to the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) National Hunter Derby. Competition venues on his resume include the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, Hits on the Hudson and Lake Placid, New York.

Cazenovia College senior Alex Belton spent the 2016 spring semester riding Chop Chop two days a week in an advanced dressage lesson. “Chops” is the type of horse who you must continuously ride every stride in your work session. He gets easily distracted by other horses or things he sees in the barn aisles, but he is always eager to please.” Belton says that he can throw a little bit of an attitude into his routine at times and is always seen in the ring with one ear forward and one ear back, always paying attention to his surroundings. “It is customary after every ride for the horses to get peppermints, and he definitely knows that is coming,” says Belton. “He gets very excited about it. He always needs to be the first one in line for his treat! He’s a very smart guy.” Some of Chop Chop’s most recent accomplishments include 2014 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championships High Point Horse of the Horse Show, 2015 Judges’ Choice at the IHSA National Championships, 2015 IHSA National Championships Cacchione Cup Winner as well as two 2016 IDA National Championships Individual and Team Championship wins at Upper Training Level. Chop Chop stands out with his versatility and personality, two traits that make the college grateful for this equine. 

Otterbein University’s Pedro

Otterbein University, located in Westerville, Ohio, is home to 35 school horses, all vital members of the equine science department. The university also participates in the IDA and IHSA. “The equestrian team at Otterbein is not part of the academic curriculum, it is solely an extracurricular activity,” says Otterbein Equestrian Business Manager Kari Briggs. “All riders make our teams and therefore we need a variety of school horses to accommodate all levels.”

Credit: Lindsay Paulsen Otterbein University’s Pedro is a schoolmaster who loves his job.
Credit: Lindsay Paulsen Pedro has a quiet demeanor, but is only as mellow as his rider allows him to be.

At Otterbein, school horse Pedro, a 19-year-old, 16.2-hand, dark bay Dutch Warmblood gelding, is an easy fan favorite. “Pedro has a lovely personality that makes him one of the nicest horses in the barn to take care of,” says Briggs. “His quiet demeanor extends into the show arena, and Pedro demands a confident rider to get the most out of him. His calm nature and at times delayed reaction to his rider’s aids has given him the reputation of being pretty lazy. But he’s only as mellow as you let him be—get him in front of your leg and he is an amazingly kind schoolmaster who loves his job.” 

Before making his debut at Otterbein, Pedro successfully campaigned at the Prix St. Georges, Intermediaire I and II Levels. His USEF record shows experience at competition venues ranging from Florida and Illinois to Ohio and Kentucky, and he even has experience with Children’s Jumper classes. While at the university, Pedro has worked as a schoolmaster for Otterbein students as well as a mount for summer camp. Says Briggs of this unique horse: “Pedro is the ultimate professional.”

Pedro has been a part of the Otterbein family for six years. “He is versatile in his ability to teach all levels and makes a yearly appearance in our IHSA horse shows. He has competed at the IDA National Championships and is a dependable member of our IDA team,” Briggs states. 

Gabby Angelico, who graduated from Otterbein in 2013, is now a working student for Canadian dressage Olympian Evi Strasser and leased Pedro for two summers when she was a student at Otterbein. Reflecting on her time with Pedro, Angelico said that the horse taught her many upper-level movements from piaffe and passage to tempi changes and pirouettes. “It was pretty amazing to come to college and advance not only my academics but also my riding abilities.” Pedro is known for his laziness, but Angelico says that just like any horse, there are always a few bursts of energy in him. One of her favorite memories of Pedro still makes her laugh to this day. “He took off with me in the cross-country field. A friend and I had decided to take our horses for a gallop, and we expected Pedro to barely be able to keep up with my friend’s Preliminary-level eventing mount. Once we began picking up the pace in the canter, Pedro leapt in the air and took off to the other side of the field, easily passing his larger, more fit counterpart. I recall catching a glimpse of my friend’s face as Pedro and I sped past and her look of shock.” By the time the ride was over, recalls Angelico, “I was laughing so hard that I had tears streaming down my face!”

Centenary University’s Coral Reef Ambassador 

Centenary University, located in Hackettstown, New Jersey, is home to around 100 horses and features collegiate programs in equine business management and equine studies. 

When it comes to equine versatility, the university’s Coral Reef Ambassador has got it covered. Donated in 2013 by John and Beezie Madden of John Madden Sales, “Ambassador” as he is called around the barn, knows how to be an excellent catch-ride. This 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood participates in all aspects of the Centenary equestrian program. From IHSA and IDA to the American National Riding Commission (ANRC) and recognized competitions, Ambassador continually impresses with his sweeping gaits and elegant demeanor.

Credit: Sarah Hollander Sarah Hollander of Centenary University rides Coral Reef Ambassador at an IDA show in Spring 2015
Credit: Courtesy, Sarah Hollander Coral Reef Ambassador also competed at the American National Riding Commission in Spring 2016 with rider Caroline Norton.

Before arriving at Centenary, Ambassador had an impressive USEF record. The gelding showed all around the country, competing at the Las Vegas National, Winter Equestrian Festival, the Hampton Classic and the Pennsylvania National. Some of the classes on his record include the $25,000-Plus Grand Prix, 6- and 7-Year-Old Young Jumpers and the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search. 

The Centenary gelding has had many notable collegiate achievements in the short time that he has been with the university. He went to the IHSA National Championships two years in a row, was used for the IDA National Championships this past year and has competed at ANRC for the past two years as well. He was also part of the 2016 reserve champion Novice team at ANRC with his partner Caroline Norton, who graduated in 2016. “Ambassador has been a huge asset to our collegiate program,” says dressage team captain Sarah Hollander. “The first year here he won the Horse of the Year award, an award voted on by the students and given to the most well-rounded and well-liked equestrian partner on the property.”

Although Ambassador is the ultimate partner under saddle, students also love his quirkiness. “He bites his tongue all of the time! It’s like when a little kid is chewing on his tongue and trying to concentrate… that’s Ambassador,” says Hollander. Centenary graduate Amanda Defelice of the class of 2016 also elaborated on all that she has learned from this remarkable teacher. “I learned three and two tempi’s on him. He’s so easy that anyone can ride him, but he can also teach some very advanced movements. He has helped me improve half passes, flying changes and pirouettes.” 

Averett University’s Romio
Averett University, located in Danville, Virginia, offers an equestrian studies degree as a major or a minor. The university also houses 40 horses and has both an IHSA and IDA team. Romio, a popular member of the Averett equine herd, is commended for his work in the IDA. The 22-year-old, 14.3-hand, dark bay pony was discovered by his donors at a flea market. Feeling sorry for the pony, they purchased and took him home, where he then became a mount for children and actively participated in Pony Club. 

Credit: Courtesy, Ginger Henderson Romio, owned by Averett University, is one of the most sought-after draws at competitons, according to Ginger Henderson.
Credit: Courtesy, Ginger Henderson Romio, owned by Averett University

Donated in 2012 at the age of 18, Romio quickly brought the Averett staff up to speed on pony behavior. “When he came to Averett we were warned that he could be pushy and an escape artist—both of which have proven to be true. He can still open his stall door and escape faster than any horse we have ever had,” says Averett dressage coach and Region 1 representative Ginger Henderson. 

Despite his tricks, Romio has become an influential collegiate horse. “Romio has settled into school life famously. He can show at First Level in IDA and turn right around and do the over-fences classes in an IHSA show. He is by far one of the most sought-after draws at our IDA shows!” 

Amanda Arnold of the class of 2017 considers Romio her favorite school horse and loves him for his quirks. “He’ll eat just about anything, but he likes brown sugar Pop-Tarts and Mike and Ike candy the best,” says Arnold. The pony also loves to give slobbery kisses, particularly after a drink of water. “Romio’s funniest trait is his uncanny ability to get loose. One time, he managed to jump a wheelbarrow out of his stall and took the stall cleaners on a jaunt down the road. Aside from that, he’s pretty mild-mannered and will stop at any patch of grass he can find!” 

Despite his sense of humor, Romio always steps up to the plate when it comes time to do his job. He has been high-point horse of the show several times during his career in regular season IDA shows, and Henderson reflects on all that the pony does for his riders.

 “He is patient with the incoming freshman who are learning how to influence their horses by asking them to come onto the bit as well as starting lateral work.” Romio also responds well to correctness, which makes him a versatile teacher. “He is the best kind of teacher because when the rider is correct, he rewards them.”

Without patient, hard-working horses, collegiate riding would be unheard of. Just like their riders, these horses are all very different. However, regardless of previous background, size or breed, it is very clear that the IDA’s horses all have one thing in common: They each hold the keys to teaching young riders how to unlock some very valuable lessons.






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