April 24, 2017, Lexington, VA - Nearly 400 of the nation's leading middle and high school equestrians competed in the Waldron Arena within the Anderson Coliseum at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia on April 21-23. The finalists represented 82 teams from a total of 11,167 eligible hunt seat student-riders from nine zones throughout the country. Individuals and teams participated in multiple competitions during regular season shows, regional finals and zone finals to qualify for the National Finals competition.

During the three-day weekend, riders competed in Hunt Seat Equitation Over Fences and Equitation. The IEA format requires that riders compete in unfamiliar tack on unfamiliar mounts; therefore, they draw their horses the day of competition and enter the arena after a brief, if any, warm up.

In the individual competition, Abigail Whitmer, grade 10, who rides for Tuscaloosa Equestrian Team in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Zone 4) was named the 2017 Leading Hunt Seat Rider, winning the Varsity Open Championship class. Whitmer is coached by Reid Rickett.

The Champion of the Upper School Hunt Seat Team Competition was Grazing Fields Farm from Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts (Zone 1) and coached by Jennifer Sullivan and Nicole Melanson. The Middle School Hunt Seat Team Champion was Movado Farms Equestrian Team from Durham, Connecticut (Zone 1) and coached by Tricia Carlton and Louisa Fedora. The Team Spirit Award went to Chatham Hall from Chatham, Virginia (Zone 3).

The IEA holds the trait of good sportsmanship in the highest regard - both for riders and coaches. Lauren Britton-Kamber from Fortitude Farm in Milton, Georgia (Zone 4) took home the 3rd Annual Coach Sportsmanship Award. Carly Stirewalt from Lucky C Stables in New Paltz, New York (Zone 2) was awarded the Victor Hugo-Vidal Sportsmanship Award.

Each year at IEA National Finals, the United States Pony Clubs, Inc. (USPC) presents a non-riding competition in the form of a test - A Holy Innocents' Horsemanship Test for the Hunt Seat riders. Anna Bihuniak from Rising Star Equestrian Team in Medway, Massachusetts (Zone 1) was the overall winner.

Since its creation, the IEA has relied on the support from its many volunteers to assist in the success of the organization. Three Volunteer of the Show Awards, sponsored by Braveheart Farm at North Gate in Sudbury, Massachusetts were awarded to Alex Prymek, grade 12, from Shreveport, LA (Zone 7), Madison Rheinheimer, grade 10 from Cleveland Heights, Ohio (Zone 5) and Hannah Keough, grade 10 from Burton, Ohio (Zone 5), for their hard work at this year's National Finals.

The 10th Annual Timothy J. Boone Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to K. Simon Towns. Towns is the former trainer at Falcon Ridge Stable in Woodstock, Georgia (Zone 4) and is the current IEA Zone Administrator Captain and the Zone 4 Administrator. She also sits on the IEA Rules & Ethics Committee, Education Committee, and the IEA Board of Directors.

The IEA is committed to the wellness of the horses in all competitions. To recognize the quality of the horses donated for the three-day event, "Gypsy" (provided by Memory's Hill Farm) was named Champion Outstanding IEA Hunt Seat Horse and "Gem" (also provided by Memory's Hill Farm) was named Reserve Champion Outstanding IEA Hunt Seat Horse.

The outstanding quality of the horses brought to this show by our horse providers are among the best we have ever seen at any IEA Nationals," said Roxane Durant, IEA Co-Founder and Executive Director. "We know that our kids appreciated the opportunity to ride such quality horses in such a competitive and beautiful environment."

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2017 Leading Hunt Seat Rider - Abigail Whitmer (Tuscaloosa, AL - Zone 7)

Pictured L to R: Ringmaster Ed Nowak; Abigail Whitmer; Roxane Durant, IEA Executive Director; Myron Leff, IEA Chief Operating Officer

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Photo credit: Ron Schwane Photography