IHSA National Championship Horse Show Western Wrap Up

University of Findlay and St Andrews University’s Connor Smith Take Top Honors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—Harrisburg, Penn.—May 9, 2018 — The 2018 Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) began Western and reining competition Friday, May 4, at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, featuring AQHA Team Open Reining and Individual Open Western Horsemanship. All teams demonstrated their school colors and team spirit as they participated in the Parade of Teams.



Danielle Paulson from the University of Wisconsin River Falls has been on the team for two years and qualified for Nationals for the first time this year.

“Last year I had a rough go at Semi-Finals and making it back to Nationals this year was an incredible opportunity,” said Paulson, who is from Rochester, Minnesota.

While watching the warmup, she spied Juice, a cute chestnut mare owned by St. Andrews University. “I liked Juice when I saw her warming up. Her spins were great, her stops were awesome,” she said. “She was a heck of a mare to ride.”

Though Paulson has shown American Quarter Horses for 10 years, this is her first year competing in reining. Paulson also competed in NRHA Individual Open Reining and AQHA High Point Western Rider.


The third time is a charm for Codi Uecker from Rocky Mountain College who piloted Terrell, owned by the University of Findlay to the win in the Individual Open Western Horsemanship. Uecker hails from Lewistown, Montana, and is a junior studying biology. She has qualified and competed at Nationals every year of her college career. “I’m so excited,” said Uecker. It’s taken three years, so it’s good.”



Morgan Knerr from University of Findlay and her best friend, Tyler Kirby from Ohio State University were tied at 148 points after their first reining run. The judges asked the two top contenders to swap horses and return for a showdown. Knerr, who rode Karen Black’s Brie in the first round mounted up on Gunny, also owned by Black. In the end, the judges gave Knerr the top prize.

“She was so good,” Knerr said about her mount. “I knew it was a tough competition with Tyler. I know he’s a good rider. I was excited to go back in the arena and do it again.”

Knerr is a freshman studying pharmacy. She hopes to have a career in hospital pharmacy and continue riding. “Both my parents are involved in reining and I’ve grown up in the reining industry,” she said.

Before joining the University of Findlay, Knerr and Kirby rode at Autumn Rose with the Griffiths and competed together in the NRHA.



The final day of the 2018 IHSA National Championship Horse Show featured the conclusion of the Western divisions. Young men and sparkle-clad women sat tall in the saddle to compete at the Pennsylvania Farm Complex in Harrisburg. The AQHA National Champion Team University of Findlay took home the trophy after a stunning victory over talented teams from across the country. Ohio State University was named reserve champion.

In his first year at the helm as head coach, Spencer Zimmerman led the Findlay Oilers to the win, but he credits his students and the Findlay program for their success.

“The team’s dedication to one another set them apart—helping each other get to the pen, schooling each other at home, hours of practice to come out here and shine,” Zimmerman said. “I am proud of my riders for putting it all out there in the pen and remembering everything we practiced at home. It really showed.”

Zimmerman, who is from Newport, Pennsylvania, not far from Harrisburg, has spent the last two years as assistant coach to his predecessor Cindy Morehead, who retired last year. And he knows what it is like to walk in his students’ boots. During his time on the team Findlay earned two national championships.

“I was on the team for four years and I got to compete under Cindy, Clark Bradley and Jake Bowman,” he said. “It has come full circle close to my hometown.”

He explained that most of the 30-member team ride on the equestrian program as well. They ride a couple of horses a day, five to seven days a week. In addition, they have more practice. The riders that are not in the program practice as much as the others. The students have access to a depth of horses available to help them learn.

This is the University of Findlay’s sixth IHSA AQHA Team National Championship.


It was a big day for Connor Smith. The polite and humble St. Andrews University senior from Gastonia, North Carolina, won the Team Open Western Horsemanship and earned the AQHA High Point Western Rider.

Smith’s coach Carla Wennberg fought back tears of excitement and pride in her student who she described as a leader for the team. He went from the Intermediate division to Open under her tutelage, but she credits other trainers for helping to develop the talented rider.

“He’s put a lot of effort in with other trainers to help him with reining,” Wennberg said. “I can’t take all that credit.”

“You know I just took what Carla always says, ’You can never wait, you just have to start from where you are and learn from what happens as the days pass and build from that,’” Smith said.

Smith complimented Jade, the horse he drew on the final day of competition and described her as sensitive, very correct and a good mover.

Smith has been a member of the IHSA for four years and this is his second trip to Nationals. In his sophomore year, he placed third in Team Advanced Horsemanship. After graduation, Smith has a job in Charlotte with a company that does search engine optimization and web design.


Harley from Middle Tennessee State was awarded the SmartPak Most Popular Western Horse and the Triple Crown High Point Horse award went to Sarah from Alfred University. Harry Hurd, coach of the Alfred team and Kendall Woellmer from West Texas A & M University were both honored with the AQHA Sportsmanship award. Bryan Bradley from Penn State University was named Volunteer of the Year.

Thanks to the generous IHSA sponsors, the competitors, teams, coaches, volunteers and horses for a successful National Championship Horse Show. We look forward to the 2019 season and next year’s Nationals in Syracuse, New York.


Young men and women from the U.S. and Canada qualified to represent their colleges and universities in hunter seat equitation and Western horsemanship in a range of levels from Walk-Trot through Open, alumni championships, the USEF/Cacchione Cup, the NRHA Individual Open Reining final and the AQHA Western High Point Rider national final.


The IHSA was founded in 1967 by Robert Cacchione while he attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. The organization was established so that any full-time college student could participate in equestrian competition regardless of economic status, gender or riding level and offers Hunter Seat and Western competition at eight levels from Walk-Trot through Open divisions for both male and female college athletes. The IHSA emphasizes learning and sportsmanship and fosters teamwork. The organization has grown to include 400 member teams and 10,000 members encompassing 39 Regions, 8 Zones and 45 states and Canada. College or university teams, individuals, alumni and coaches may become members.

For more information go to IHSAinc.com or contact media@IHSAinc.com

High-res photos available upon request.

Media Contact:
Carrie Wirth
EQ Media
(612) 209-0310

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