Hunt Team heads to postseason finals in Georgia


Students from the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Hunt Team compete at regional finals on March 7 at Sewanee: The University of the South. (Photo courtesy of Mary Price)

MacKenzie Rogers, Staff Writer

As the 2023 Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) Hunt Team show concluded for the season, two members of the team advanced to the last stage in Savannah, Georgia, before nationals.

This final round of postseason competitions, called “the Zones,” are before IHSA’s national finals. In order to move on to nationals, participants will need to place second or higher in their given categories.

Hunt Team Co-Captain Mary Price advanced to the Zones. She said she is happy to be returning.

“I am thrilled to be advancing to Zone 5 Finals once again this year and am so incredibly thankful for my teammates, coaches, parents and MSU horses who all contributed to getting me [this far], and [Co-Captain] Amelia Sauls, who also qualified,” Price said. “I honestly feel so blessed to have made it this far two years in a row that anything else is simply icing on the cake. It would certainly be a dream come true to be able to represent Murray State at the national level.”

Murray State’s Hunt Team as a whole placed fourth in the region out of nine teams.

“IHSA is unique in that it attempts to ‘level the playing field’ among equestrians,” Price said. “Horse shows always go by so fast that it’s honestly just a blur. I remember hearing my name and thinking, ‘Oh, wait, that’s me,’ and giving the horse I rode, Louie, a big pat to say ‘thank you.’”

Upon arrival, the jump riders are allowed to walk the course on foot and watch the noncompeting riders warm up the horses. However, participants are not allowed to practice or warm up beforehand, and the moment they mount their horse, the judging begins.

Sauls said she thought the season had been fun, but challenging.

“We have traveled several weekends and have had to balance practice with school work,” Sauls said. “Each show weekend involves packing into several vans with all our personal gear, driving to the hosting school and early days on Saturdays and Sundays. It has all been worth it to be at this point, though, and I am so excited to be heading to Savannah and representing Murray State.”

Compared to other equestrian events, hunt team riders use English saddles, which is lighter and more streamlined than the western saddles one would see at a rodeo or on a vacation trail ride.

“It is all judged on how you ride, your position, your technique and how easy you make riding that horse looks,” Sauls said. “We are not given any practice rides on the horses, and it’s literally the luck of the draw with who you pull and ride. If we bring horses to a show, and we draw our own horses, that is good for us since we know their quirks and needs.  Some of my favorite draws are Big Rig and Duncan from Murray State  and Winston from University of the South, who gave me my winning round.”

A common term used in Hunt Team is “flat class,” which refers to a type of competition hosted in IHSA, where riders exhibit basic horsemanship, technique and positioning at a walk, trot and canter. In an “over-the-fence class,” riders handle a jump course, jumping heights from 2-3 feet.

Sauls referred to the competition as a game of  “Simon says” on horseback.

“I have never made it to Zones before,” Sauls said. “I have made it as far as regionals in [Interscholastic Equestrain Association] at home in high school but have missed the cut-off for Zones by one placing before. This is a first for me and is very exciting.”

Senior Carylynn Akers, who placed third in the Novice Flat class, said she considered the season to be a successful one.

“To prepare for these shows, we switch what horses we ride each week in practice so that we get to experience more than one horse and become knowledgeable on how to handle different types of horses when we ride,” Akers said. “Though all of us on the team have our favorites that we like to spend a little extra time with when we can.”

This year’s Zones takes place on April 1 at the Savannah College of Art and Design.