6 Interesting Facts About the JWU IHSA Team

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association was established in 1967, and in 2003 Johnson & Wales joined as part of Region 1 Zone 1. Since then, our team has grown and earned many impressive individual and team placings. At the beginning of each academic year, the team holds tryouts where anyone is welcome to come and try out, regardless of experience level. We go to about 6-10 shows per year, in both the fall and spring semesters. During these shows, riders earn points for both the team and themselves to try to qualify for regional finals in the spring.

I have been riding since I was little, and being on a college team is something I always wanted to do. Since joining the team in my freshman year, I have grown both as a rider and a team player. When I was choosing which college I wanted to attend, these facts about the Johnson & Wales IHSA team stood out to me.

1. We compete in both the fall and spring semesters.

Unlike other athletic teams, the IHSA team doesn’t have an off-season. Besides a few short weeks for winter break, we’re practicing and showing all throughout the school year. Even over summer and winter breaks, students that live locally will come to the barn to get some extra riding time in. Even when we are on breaks, the team stays in touch to plan community service activities or to post what we’ve been up to on our social media accounts!

2. We’ve had a national champion.

In 2018, alumni Jennifer DePietro ’21 made JWU IHSA history by being the first member to win the IHSA national championship in the intermediate over fences division. She was also the third JWU rider to win a national championship, just behind Samantha Burke and Julia McNellis who won titles for the IDA team. DePietro was just a freshman when she won the title in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Coach Dirk Fogg says that she was not only a talented rider, but a team player as well. “Jeni embodied the Wildcat Way. If she wasn’t riding, she was helping her teammates. She epitomized what a student-athlete at JWU is,” he says.

Jeni D after winning 2018 IHSA nationals

3. Our coach has been working with horses his entire life.

Before coming to teach at JWU, IHSA coach and professor of Equine Studies Dirk Fogg gained extensive experience in the equine industry. After starting riding at the age of six, he knew he wanted to work with horses professionally. He grew up riding and competing in New England, and then he attended Skidmore College and rode on the IHSA team there. After graduating, he worked with Gerd Zuther, a renowned trainer who mentored him for five years. This allowed Fogg to travel to Germany and train young horses to be jumpers, eventers, and high-level dressage horses. He then moved back to Massachusetts where he worked at Spruce Meadows. There, he learned more about teaching riders and prepping them for competition. After working at a couple of other barns for some time, he found an opening at JWU, and he was encouraged by a friend to apply. Since then, he has been a professor and IHSA coach for 20 years. At JWU, Fogg can spend time with his family while also pursuing a rewarding career. “It is rewarding to watch students come in and develop at all levels and also grow who they are as students,” he says.

4. JWU hosts a home show each season.

Every season, JWU has the honor of hosting an IHSA show, which is an exciting opportunity for our team to show off our talented horses and riders. The practices leading up to our home show are filled with excitement as we set up our jumps and make sure our horses are looking their best. Everyone volunteers for different tasks to make sure our show goes smoothly. We have team members announcing, getting horses ready, adding points at the secretary’s booth and more. Whether someone is riding or not, everyone has an important job!

5. We give back to our community.

Outside the ring, the IHSA team is always working together. Community service is something that is very important to us. We are honored to be a part of Team Impact, an organization dedicated to changing the lives of children across the country by pairing a child with an illness or disabilty with a college sports team. Since joining Team Impact in their mission, we have welcomed Ciara onto our team.

Ciara's mom, Cher, is grateful for the opportunity for Ciara to be a part of the team. She says:

"Being a part of JWU Equestrian team has an amazing impact on Ciara’s outlook towards the future, as well as comfort and community in the day to day. Cancer stole all of Ciara’s typical middle school experiences. Instead she spent days, weeks, months and years, fighting for her life, learning to walk, going through intense physical, occupational and speech therapy. She has lifelong medical conditions that she will be impacted by for the rest of her life. As part of her recovery, she was invited to be an honorary team member of the JWU equestrian team. The coach and team members make her feel loved, safe and welcome. Everyone greets her and offers help and company. It bridges the isolation of illness with a whole team of friends. In addition to the people, there are of course the horses. The opportunity for Ciara to bond with the horses is therapeutic. Ciara’s confidence grows with each visit to the stables. She is part of the JWU family and she loves it!"

Ciara says: “I love being able to go every week. My instructor is super friendly, and I love the horses! I’ve learned so much since I’ve started, and I am so glad I have this opportunity to participate." Not only has she made friends with our horses, but with the whole team as well. Her enthusiasm for the sport and support for the team has made her an incredible addition to our family.

Group photo of IHSA team at a show

6. Our team is a family.

One of the most important things about being on a team is being able to rely on your teammates. On the IHSA team, we are all one family. Even after graduating, alums are still a part of the family. We are always hearing updates from them and sometimes they even come out to our shows to support us. The unique love we all share for horses brings us together. Since I am not in an equine-related major like most of my teammates, being on the IHSA team has also allowed me to meet people outside of my major that I might never have met otherwise. The friendships I have made on this team are ones that I will keep with me throughout my life.

JWU IHSA team after winning a show

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