For the second consecutive year, the University of Findlay Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Western team is the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) national champion. Led by head coach Spencer Zimmerman, Findlay riders defended their 2018 title at the Syracuse, New York event by earning 49 points in the team competition and took home several individual awards. “Similar to last season, I saw a lot of hard work and dedication from the team,” said Zimmerman. “They rode their hearts out, peaked at the right time and were the best they could be on that day.” Senior Julia Roshelli had a stand-out performance, receiving championship honors in each of the three classes she qualified for at Nationals. Findlay horse Honey also received recognition as the high point horse of the show.
Ten Findlay students rode at Nationals, four in individual events, five in the team competition, with Roshelli and senior Bryant Fox competing in both. “It’s absolutely incredible, the best way to end my senior year I can imagine,” said Roshelli. “My favorite class I rode was the Team Open Horsemanship because I was riding for my team in the final class of the day and was able to contribute to our team win.” While winning was a highlight for Zimmerman, it was not the most exciting part of the event. “To see where a rider starts out in the fall season and how they’ve developed by the spring season is the excitement for me,” he said. “Regardless of if the rider wins or not, I’m happy with the ride they had if they did the best they could in the arena at that time.”
This win marks the seventh National Championship for the IHSA Western team. The Oilers also won the National Championship title in 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2018, and won the Reserve Champion title in 2008, 2014 and 2015.
Students who competed in the team competition include Morgan Eckstein, Bryant Fox, Miranda Klein, Morgan Knerr, Julia Roshelli and Charity Thacker.
Students who qualified for nationals individually include Leah Ely, Bryant Fox, Jamie Kittle, Cece Klein, Alexi Nielsen and Julia Roshelli.
An alumnus of the Western Equestrian Studies Program, Zimmerman began instructing at the University in 2016. Taking on the mantle of head coach for the IHSA Western Team in 2018, he is undefeated during his tenure. Being able to work with riders during classes is valuable when it comes to coaching members on the team. “I know all my riders individually,” Zimmerman said. “I can run down the roster and give you each rider’s strength and their weaknesses.” When coaching, he focuses on giving riders just one thing to focus on at a time to address their weaknesses and keep their strengths. Looking towards next season, he views it as a fresh start. While the senior riders will be missed, coaching a new team with new challenges is its own kind of excitement.
The Western Equestrian Studies Program at the University of Findlay is one of the largest in the United States. Students in the program learn every aspect of the horse world including colt breaking, training privately-owned horses, training and showing reining horses, interacting with clients, breaking and training 2-year-old pleasure futurity projects and training lead changers, cutters, trail and ranch horses. The program shares a 158-acre facility with the Animal Science and Pre-Veterinary Medicine programs and includes three large indoor arenas, an outdoor arena, round pens, stalls and pasture for 300 horses. The facility is used extensively during the summer months for shows and clinics hosted by organizations like AQHA, NRHA, ARHA, and others. Findlay also offers degrees in English equestrian studies and equine business management. Students from any major can participate on the equestrian show teams.