CWU News

CWU Student Earns Place Among Top Collegiate Equestrians

Central Washington University senior Tessa Churchill, a member of the CWU Equestrian Team, is among the nation’s best collegiate riders. She earned the honor for her Top-10 finish at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) National Finals held in Lexington, Kentucky.

The IHSA Nationals brought together the best riders from colleges and universities across the nation to compete in 20 events. Churchill claimed 10th place in the Individual Novice Western Horsemanship competition, which initially involved more than 5,000 riders nationwide.

“It was a huge honor just to have just made it to nationals,” said Churchill, an English education major and native of Olympia. 

Unlike most equestrian shows, IHSA competition requires that riders use horses that are not their own. The riders are judged on how well they handle the horse through a series of patterns and rail work. Western horsemanship is specifically judged on criteria that includes the precision of the rider’s seat, hands and feet, subtlety in riding, and strength of the lines and angles as the competitor rides a series of maneuvers designed by the judge.

“It’s challenging because every horse behaves in its own way,” said Churchill. “They’re all trained differently so you have to be really flexible with your commands. A lot of the times if something goes wrong, it’s because you’re not asking in the way that the horse was trained.”

Churchill also serves as student coach of the CWU Equestrian Team, which boards and trains out of Orrion Farms in Ellensburg. Team advisor Ann Anderson, CWU’s community and government relations director, credits its success to hard work and the generous support from Orrion Farms. 

“Tessa worked extremely hard this year to qualify for nationals,” noted Anderson, herself the 2009 Western Horsemanship world champion at the Appaloosa World Championship Show in Fort Worth Texas. “Part of Tessa's success was having the ability to ride all year long at the indoor arena at Orrion Farms.”

The Equestrian Club was established in 2006 by a group of CWU students who wanted to be able to bring the world of competitive riding to the university. “To be able to come to college and meet other people with the same interest and love of horses has been the best experience,” Churchill said. “It’s been an amazing experience because horses have been my stress relief during school.”

With approximately 35 members, the CWU Equestrian Club is the largest club of the 20 members of Collegiate Sport Clubs program, which is designed to allow university students to participate in regional and intercollegiate competitive activities.

IHSA gives collegiate riders, of all skill levels, opportunities to compete individually and as members of equestrian teams. The national organization was founded in 1967 on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in horse shows regardless of his or her riding ability or financial status.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of radio services and integrated communications, 509-963-1487,

June 9, 2016