On Sunday, Jan. 29, the James L. Child, Jr. Equestrian Center was bursting with riders from 14 area colleges. Any bit of spare space was filled with tack, sponges, grooming kits, helmets, jackets and boots. In the midst of the excitement, a distinguished looking gentleman wearing an IHSA jacket, quietly observed a young lady taking a large bay horse over a jump. The gentleman is Bob Cacchione, and the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) is his baby.
On this chilly January weekend, the University of Findlay was hosting its second IHSA show of the season. Cacchione, the founder and executive director of IHSA, was a special guest in honor of his organization’s 50th anniversary. Sitting in the Equestrian Center lounge, he shared his story, which is also the story of IHSA. As a sophomore at New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1967, his parents broke the news that they would no longer pay for his riding.
“They had four of us in college at the same time, so riding didn’t fit into the budget,” Cacchione recalled. Not one to be easily deterred, he negotiated the use of some horses at a local stable in exchange for teaching riding lessons. Starting with just six riders, he put together a makeshift team and held a show at the stables. Word got around and nearby colleges contacted Cacchione to see if they could form teams of their own and compete together. From those initial half-dozen riders, the IHSA has grown to more than 8,300 members with nearly 400 colleges and universities participating across the United States and Canada.
“It’s a way for any college student to ride and compete without bearing a huge cost,” he added. The concept is unique but simple. The “host” school supplies the horses and tack. This eliminates the expense of transporting horses. Competing students draw for horses before the show and meet their mounts just a few minutes before entering the ring. This levels the playing field and also gives competitors the opportunity to ride all kinds of horses. The open rider in each region with the most points earns a trip to Nationals and the Cacchione Cup competition. The cup is named after Bob’s father, Marty Cacchione.
“Riders of all levels are welcome,” Cacchione said. “There are eight levels in IHSA from walk/trot classes to jumping.” He feels it’s one of the only collegiate sports where students can be on a team and compete with little previous training or experience. At the University of Findlay, team members pay for their own riding attire, but incur few expenses otherwise.
A familiar visitor
Attending shows almost every weekend, Cacchione has been a frequent visitor to Findlay over the years, spending time at both the English and western farms.
“I love your facilities,” he beamed. “It’s great that you have farms dedicated to both English and western riding and training. You also have professionals in both disciplines as faculty members. They are top notch.”
Being able to major in equestrian studies and equine business management is “fantastic” Cacchione stated. Schools don’t have to offer an equestrian major in order to have an IHSA team, but offering a major is part of the “whole picture.” He also had great predictions for the equine job market and opportunities for graduates.
“The whole industry has changed in just the past few years. Professionals want to hire young people with experience and that’s what your students have,” he added. He feels there are currently lots of jobs in the horse industry, “better than even a few years ago.” He tells the story of a student from another college whose job it was to feed 52 horses and measure out doses of different supplements. She became the founder of SmartPak, producer of pre-measured packets of supplements and now a familiar name in the horse world.
Although everyone associates Cacchione with IHSA, he’s also quite well known in other areas. He helped start the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) for middle and high school students and a “feeder” program for IHSA. He’s a past winner of the United States Hunter/Jumper Association’s (USHJA) President’s Award and the Humanitarian Award from the Equus Foundation. A former division manager at Cartier, he’s had several celebrity clients who became friends and was almost in a hunt field collision with Jackie Onassis.
“I guess now you can just call me the ‘face’ of IHSA,” he laughed