Robert "Bob" Milk (in cowboy hat, holding clipboard) judges the alumni western class at the Western Alumni Tournament of Champions event which took place within the Let's Ride Farm indoor on August 2nd.


Coleman, MI - For the first time since March 8th a horse show took place with an honest IHSA connection. Every summer since 2014 the Western Alumni Tournament of Champions has taken place and even in the covid-19-ridden world of 2020 the show went on. Originally to have been held in Oxford, Ohio during the month of May, the seventh annual western meet took place on a rainy day at Let's Ride Farm in Coleman, Michigan on August 2nd. Ten riders who were undergraduates at seven different schools participated which due to covid-19 travel-related restrictions made for the smallest field ever at an Alumni Tournament event.

Of these ten riders five were common to both the advanced horsemanship and advanced reining divisions. Meanwhile the alumni horsemanship and alumni reining divisions nearly had the other five riders entered in each. 2003 Cazenovia College graduate Connie Chave rode only in the alumni horsemanship class, reducing the field to four riders in the alumni reining.

One rider who did not compete but is no stranger to previous Alumni TOC's as well as past IHSA Nationals was on hand with two of her horses. Former Saginaw Valley State University graduate Caitlin "Katy" Arthur and her Mother were present, and this writer wants to praise their horses (one of which had already won some significant ribbons at regular shows even though Katy Arthur had only purchased this horse less than three months earlier) as well as three others that were brought in along with a few that belong to Let's Ride Farm. It was a joy to see each horse do spins exactly like what is seen at IHSA Nationals. Though this writer missed what were most likely very good horses at the 2018 and 2019 Western Alumni events in Ohio it appeared to me that this was the best collection of western horseflesh I have seen at an alumni tournament to date.

2012 Morrisville State College graduate Andrea LaManque is seen here riding in the advanced horsemanship class. LaManque is the only rider who can claim to have competed in the first Western Alumni Tournament of Champions event in 2014 and the most recent in 2020.

The show got underway at 9:21AM with Advanced Western Horsemanship. After everyone had walked, jogged and loped judge Robert Milk lined the five entries up. 2012 Morrisville State College graduate Andrea LaManque would be the first of the five to try the pattern. LaManque's effort nearly won the class. The rider who went fourth had not previously competed head-to-head versus LaManque yet both had competed at all the same 2019-20 IHSA regular season shows. Baylee Reader, who was one of two riders entered who had to take on-line classes to close out her senior year, finished second in the Zone 2, Region 3 western open rider standings in 2019-20. Therefore Reader, from the State University of New York at Cobleskill, was making her alumni debut and later competed in the Futures divisions, which are reserved for those who graduated in the most recent school year. Going fourth in advanced western, Reader was deemed best in the division by judge Milk with LaManque second.

The other five riders entered in the show then mounted up for the Alumni Horsemanship Division. Sponsored by this writer, the class included 2018 Grand Valley State University graduate Kelsey Prosch-Jensen. At 2018 IHSA Nationals Prosch-Jensen was third in individual advanced western horsemanship and she was one place better on August 2nd. Coming out on top in the alumni western was Lee Levine. Levine made State University of New York at Cobleskill riders 2-for-2 as the 2010 graduate prevailed. During the regular season Levine finished one point ahead of LaManque 29-28 for second place in the Alumni Western Division within Zone 2, Region 3. It should be noted that Levine and LaManque have become good friends over the years having shown head-to-head in alumni classes since LaManque graduated from Morrisville eight years ago.

Just as the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) sponsors the individual reining division at IHSA Nationals the organization sponsored two of the reining classes at today's event. The runner-up in this division is one of those rare cases of a rider who rides alumni from one school while graduating from another. Marina Nadobny, who rode for Saginaw Valley State University in 2016-17, transferred to another school without an IHSA program. This season Nadobny was very successful as an alumni rider during the regular season, as she was second overall in the presentation of the High Score Award (more on that later). Nadobny, who was third earlier in advanced horsemanship, was reserve champion behind Reader, who remained undefeated for the day with one two-phased class remaining.

From left to right are Kaitlyn Belcher, Lee Levine, Kelsey Prosch-Jensen, Kaycee Hatch and Connie Chave. Save for Chave each of these riders showed in the alumni horsemanship and alumni reining divisions on August 2nd. Levine won the former and Prosch-Jensen the latter. Chave competed only in the horsemanship class but could be the only rider to compete in the western show and the ATOC hunter seat event a week later.

The NRHA-sponsored Alumni Reining was the fourth class of the day and the last that was not part of a 'Cup' competition. Kaycee Hatch, a 2018 graduate of the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, was the only rider of the day to claim "Reunion" status. Each year there are alumni riders who compete in this event who also competed in IHSA Alumni Classes during the previous school year. At the same time riders who did not ride during the most recent season are allowed to compete as Reunion riders. When enough Reunion riders enter a show there is usually a separate class or two for these riders but with covid-19 in the air Hatch was the only rider entered that could not claim to have competed at a 2019-20 IHSA show. Hatch, who had finished fifth in the second class of the day moved up to second here while Prosch-Jensen moved up from second to first. One of three GVSU grads competing at today's show, Prosch-Jensen was the first rider of the day not from the state of New York to win a class.

At this point this writer needs to turn the clock back to August 1st. On that evening (less than 14 hours before the show started) there was an informal gathering of the riders for the presentation of the annual High Score Award. The award is presented to the rider who is considered to be the top Western Alumni Rider for the most recent IHSA Regular Season based on a formula (also the complete alumni totals for a region must reach Alumni Tournament show organizers Lena Andrews and Jamie Windle, for if a region does not send their totals then riders from that region are not considered for this award). Finishing sixth was LaManque while Laura Zemaitis of Grand Valley State was fifth. Levine was fourth while Tammy Cranouski, a 2004 Westfield State University graduate who was not in Michigan for the show, was third. Nadobny, who had a great year showing in her old region, was the reserve champion while Tara Mathews was the blue ribbon winner. Former University of Connecticut rider Mathews was not present but will hopefully be at the hunter seat show to be held in East Greenville, Pennsylvania on August 9th. At 2019 IHSA Nationals Mathews made history when she became the first rider ever to win both a hunter seat alumni class (Both flat and fences that weekend) and a western alumni class (alumni horsemanship) at not only the same Nationals event but at any nationals in the organization's history. Up to that moment no rider who won a Western alumni class at an IHSA Nationals event could say they ever won an English alumni class at the current Nationals or a previous one. In 2019-20 Mathews finished 14 points ahead of Levine in Zone 2, Region 3 Western (though that region held only alumni horsemanship classes but no alumni reining). Mathews will be high up in the hunter seat high score standings, as her efforts in Zone 2, Region 2 hunter seat alumni during the past season gave her the lead in both the flat and fences in that region.

Sadly the rider who was the reserve champion in the Western High Score award for 2019 is no longer with us. The Western Alumni Cup competition was re-named the Amanda Belcher Memorial Western Alumni Cup in 2020. The world lost Belcher in a tragic accident (not horse-related) either late last year or early in 2020. A 2015 graduate of Murray State University, Belcher was reserve champion in Alumni Reining at 2019 IHSA Nationals and competed at the 2019 Western Alumni Tournament weeks later. Belcher's parents and sister (and two of her dogs) were present on August 2nd for the presentation of the award going to the top rider of the event (Belcher was sixth overall in this same division in 2019).

The parents of the late Amanda Belcher are seen here with former Saginaw Valley State rider Marina Nadobny (center). The Belchers, who lost their daughter since last year's western alumni event, sponsored the Alumni Cup classes on August 2nd. Nadobny, making her first appearance at an ATOC event, won the multi-phased Cup division.

LaManque, Zemaitis and Nadobny made up the field, with Nadobny earning the Cup championship award in her first-ever appearance at a Alumni Tournament event. Zemaitis, currently the co-coach of the GVSU Western team, was second one year after winning the future alumni cup in Oxford the previous June 2nd.

There were only two riders entered in the Future Alumni Cup classes, which surprisingly is the same number of entries in this division as a year ago. Katelyn Belcher, a 2020 Grand Valley State University graduate who is not related to Amanda Belcher, was the reserve champion while Reader went undefeated for the day by following Zemaitis into the record books as a Future Alumni Cup blue ribbon winner. If Reader shows alumni in Zone 2, Region 3 next year along with LaManque, Levine and Mathews it will be one of the strongest groups of alumni horsemanship riders any region has ever claimed.

Don't leave anyone out!: Also entered in both advanced horsemanship and advanced reining was 2019 Ohio State University graduate Taylor Day. It was Day's first appearance at an alumni tournament event, in which she earned a fourth in horsemanship and a fifth in reining. Day is another rider to attend two schools as an undergraduate. While Nadobny only rode IHSA for one school Day was a member of the 2015-16 Murray State team and a member of the 2016-17 Ohio State team. Cazenovia graduate Chave was fourth in alumni horsemanship. Save for someone who might have had a jumbo jet and their own landing strip, Chave stands to be the first person to ride in both the Western Alumni Tournament event and the Hunter Seat Alumni Tournament event in two seasons. Last year both events were held on June 2nd, with Western at Miami University of Ohio and English at Briarwood Farm at Black River Farm in Ringoes, New Jersey (making it all but impossible to show at both). With the two shows spaced a week apart in 2020 Chave is the only rider to show on August 2nd who is also registered to compete a week later. The field at Rosewood Equestrian Center in East Greenville, Pennsylvania on August 9th will be much larger than the western event, with nearly 60 different riders signed up to compete including Chave.

She came very close to earning an automatic trip to 2020 IHSA Nationals in the individual AQHA high point rider competition. 2020 State University of New York at Cobleskill graduate Baylee Reader is seen here outside the Let's Ride indoor shortly after the show ended and the rain stopped. Reader was the most decorated rider on August 2nd, winning three of the six classes held that day and going undefeated in her three appearances.

One more paragraph: The Western Alumni Tournament was completed in only two hours and 15 minutes, with the placings for the future alumni cup announced at 11:36AM. Following the show photos were taken of the various combinations of class winners, as this did not happen immediately after each class which is normally the case. By 12:30PM most had left Let's Ride Farm (where the rain stopped only minutes after the show was completed). Though it was a short show there was great enthusiasm among the competitors, their families, the horse providers, the media, the staff and ownership of Let's Ride Farm and even the Dogs ("Newton" the English Bulldog tried his best to knock down a few of the spectators when he wanted attention. Newton and two other dogs belonging to farm owner Joal Brisbois were almost as much entertainment as the show itself). If you were there it felt great to see an actual horse show going on in this very different world we currently live in halfway through 2020. Hopefully the English event on August 9th will be as enjoyable (the first time to date that the western ATOC preceeded the hunter seat ATOC in a calendar year).

--Steve Maxwell

The August 2nd Class-By-Class Results, listed in the order in which they were held. The Judge was Robert Milk. Weather: Rain, with a high temperature in the low '70's. Entire show held indoors. Start Time: 9:21AM. Finish: 11:36AM. This show was Western Only:

Advanced Horsemanship: 1. Baylee Reader, State University of New York at Cobleskill. 2. Andrea LaManque, Morrisville State College. 3. Marina Nadobny, Saginaw Valley State University. 4. Taylor Day, Ohio State University. 5. Laura Zemaitis, Grand Valley State University.

Alumni Horsemanship: 1. Lee Levine, State University of New York at Cobleskill. 2. Kelsey Prosch-Jensen, Grand Valley State University. 3. Katelyn Belcher, Grand Valley State University. 4. Connie Chave, Cazenovia College. 5. Kaycee Hatch, University of Wisconsin at River Falls.

Advanced Reining: 1. Baylee Reader, State University of New York at Cobleskill. 2. Marina Nadobny, Saginaw Valley State University. 3. Laura Zemaitis, Grand Valley State University. 4. Andrea LaManque, Morrisville State College. 5. Taylor Day, Ohio State University.

Alumni Reining: 1. Kelsey Prosch-Jensen, Grand Valley State University. 2. Kaycee Hatch, University of Wisconsin at River Falls. 3. Katelyn Belcher, Grand Valley State University. 4. Lee Levine, State University of New York at Cobleskill.

Future Alumni Cup: 1. Baylee Reader, State University of New York at Cobleskill. 2. Katelyn Belcher, Grand Valley State University.

Alumni Cup: 1. Marina Nadobny, Saginaw Valley State University. 2. Laura Zemaitis, Grand Valley State University. 3. Andrea LaManque, Morrisville State University.


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