Jan 14, 2024

Interscholastic Eventing League Creates Camaraderie and Fun

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
IEL Committee co-chairs Chris Donovan (left) and Molly Pellegrini (right). USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

With the inaugural USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) Championship happening this year from May 4-5 at Stable View (Aiken, South Carolina), IEL Task Force members took the opportunity to talk about the program at the USEA Annual Meeting & Convention, held Dec. 7-10, 2023 in St. Louis, Missouri.

In front of an interested group of riders, trainers, and organizers, IEL Task Force co-chairs Chris Donovan and Molly Pelligrini spoke about the benefits of the program, which is open to junior members from 5th-12th grade.

The idea behind the IEL is to build camaraderie and team collaboration and to give juniors a pathway to other USEA programs like the Intercollegiate Eventing Program or the Emerging Athletes Under-21 program.

Now in its third year, the IEL currently has 411 members across 29 Affiliates.

Pellegrini, who’s also the USEA Board of Governors liaison to the IEL Task Force, is mother to young rider Meg Pellegrini. Meg grew up riding in Pony Club in California and enjoying the camaraderie that comes with West Coast eventing.

“West Coast eventing is different than East Coast eventing—we would go to events on a Wednesday and stay until Sunday,” said Molly. “We had that kind of camaraderie. Our barn created those kinds of team atmospheres, and I think the kids end up holding each other accountable, and your horsemanship is checked, and your tack cleaning is checked. There’s so many components of being on a team at that age. They just learn to help each other out. I think that’s really important. When we got to the East Coast, she was older—15—but she was like, wait, all this stuff I learned by being in a team environment helps me here when I’m just thrown in it on my own. I think it’s hugely important for these kids to develop the camaraderie and team work and then take it into whatever other aspects of young riders they want—NAYC, Intercollegiate, or all of the other programs we’re working on.”

Shelley Page, an organizer and president of Equestrian Events, LLC, spoke up from the audience. She organizes events at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (Mill Spring, North Carolina) and helped put on the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championship in 2023.

She noted that the young rider program can be prohibitively expensive for some, so the IEL is a good alternative option. The IEL Championship will be held alongside the Intercollegiate Eventing Championship in 2024.

“[The Intercollegiate Eventing Championship] was so much fun, and the kids were amazing, and the teams and the gifts from the teams to the organizers were hilarious. The energy of it—I find that the young riders' program is great, but it’s so expensive that it’s really hard for those kids to get to those big things,” she said. “I think the Intercollegiate and Interscholastic are a good conduit to create a championship-type thing without having to take that next giant financial commitment as a young rider.”

There was some debate about the date for the inaugural IEL Championship, but Donovan said the idea was to motivate IEL riders by putting them in the same environment as the Intercollegiate riders and coaches for a source of inspiration and mentorship.

The long-term goal is to have a standalone championship as a cap stone, so future dates could change. Currently there are no limits on numbers of team members per IEL Affiliate at the Championship and there are no qualifications required to enter to compete.

Some organizers questioned how much it would cost them to put on an IEL Team Challenge, but Donovan assured them that it was as easy as hosting a competitor party or a bonfire so that riders can come together and mingle—no special ribbons or prizes required, though incentives for the IEL competitors are highly encouraged.

Most IEL Affiliates have 6-10 members, which can be made up of school friends or barn friends and can be across programs. Members of a Pony Club can also make up a team. IEL Team Challenges are hosted at a multitude of venues across the country year-round.

Joining IEL is simple. Create an IEL Affiliate (a “team”) and recruit members. Groups should be comprised of friends, barn-mates, and/or other students from 5th-12th grade under the same coach. Members can only be on one Affiliate.​

Appoint an Affiliate representative (must be over 18 years of age). This person maintains communication with USEA. It could be a coach, parent, owner, or team captain.​

Register your Affiliate with USEA. The fee is $75, and registration is required by Feb. 15 to be eligible to participate in the Championship. If your Affiliate is associated with a certified USEA ECP coach, the registration fee is waived.​

Rosters must be submitted by Feb. 15. There is no limit to the number of members on your roster.​ All IEL Affiliate members must be a member of the USEA.

For more information on IEL and a schedule of Team Challenges, click here.

About the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL)

In August 2020, the USEA Board of Governors approved the creation of the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) as an official program of the USEA. The mission of IEL is to unite junior riders who are in the 5-12th grade and provide a supportive community through which students can continue to pursue their riding interests. A group of junior members in the 5th-12th grade who share a common bond, such as the same barn, school, Pony Club, or other connection, register with the USEA as an interscholastic team. The USEA Board of Governors recently approved an inaugural IEL Championship to kick-off in 2024, in correlation with the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championships. Click here to learn more about the Interscholastic Eventing League.

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