Zone 4

Madison Clayton competes at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Nationals

Madison Clayton with her fourth place ribbon taken by Makenna Sowards

Madison Clayton with her fourth place ribbon taken by Makenna Sowards

April 1st, 2023 at Goucher College was a rainy, dreary day. The best equestrians from Zone 4 of the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association traveled up to eight hours to compete for the chance to go to nationals. Madison Clayton of Christopher Newport University was one of those riders standing in the mud, waiting for their chance to get in the ring. 

All throughout the competition season, Clayton garnered enough points by placing high in her level to qualify for regionals. At regionals in March, she won second place, earning her a spot at Zones. Nerves were running abound as riders waited for their classes, but Madison was confident. “Every day I have been practicing with Coach Katie and Coach Dana, and mentally preparing to perform to the best of my abilities,” Clayton said.

Coach Katie and Coach Dana are the CNU equestrian team’s coaches at Foxtail Fields in Smithfield, VA. They have taken on the task of registering riders in the IHSA circuit and training them to compete against other colleges like Sweet Briar University. 

After standing around for six and a half hours with nothing to do but watch the competition, Madison was called to draw her horse. In IHSA, you don’t compete with your own horse, you have to ride one of the horses provided by the host school. 

This is complicated, because each horse has its own personality, things it likes and doesn’t like for riders to do, things that set it off that other horses don’t blink at. Having to get on a horse without knowing the best technique to work with them and jumping straight into competition is a lot of pressure.

“I’ve been practicing all the possible tests and perfecting, taking my time and thinking through each step and preparing for anything I could be asked for by the judge,” Clayton said as she was getting ready to compete.

Not only did she not know the horse she was competing with, but she also didn’t know which of the nine tests she would be asked to perform, or how many. IHSA is special in how it determines the best riders in the show—those who quickly learn their horse and adapt, making them both look quiet and collected are placed highly.

Madison drew a horse named Vegas, a flea-bitten gray who she didn’t have much information about. As she mounted she focused herself and got prepared to compete. After waiting in the rain, and the wind, and finally the sunshine at 1:15pm, Madison finally got her time to show the judge what she was made of.

In her class of ten riders, Madison made her entire team proud by coming in fourth place.