Bob Cacchione started the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association as a teenager at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. The organization now boasts a membership of more than 380 colleges and 9,000 riders, but the executive director drew on the humble beginning to inspire the Albion College equestrian program during his Feb. 10-11 visit to the Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center.
"You have a dream. Follow that dream, work hard and make it happen," Cacchione said when asked about his message to Albion riders at Feb. 10 pizza party. "Doors have been opened for you already in this industry. Now you go through those doors."
Cacchione grew up horseback riding outside New York City, but his parents couldn't afford the expenses to allow him to continue the activity he was passionate about when he went away to college. He found five classmates who rode and formed a club at a county park with 12 horses, an outdoor ring, and some trails two miles off campus.
"I told the owner of the county park, 'I'm going to bring you these five riders. They are going to rent the horses from you for the hour and pay you. I'll instruct them for nothing. Will you give me a free horse for that hour so I can stay in the saddle?' That kept me riding," Cacchione said. "All of a sudden the word got out that I was giving free horseback lessons and my club went to 40 members in one semester.
"Here I was, a sophomore at the age of 18, and the college approached me about teaching a one-credit course in the physical education department," Cacchione added. "The school later gave me $200 to run a horse show, so I called [Fairleigh Dickinson's] Madison campus and the dean of history had a club. I called him and asked him to bring his club to Teaneck.
The first show had 30 riders and it was so successful that I got called to have another show the next year."
The second show featured riders from seven colleges across three northeastern states, which led Cacchione to encourage schools to host a show leading up to a national championship.
A sport where everyone participates
The beauty of IHSA shows, Cacchione said, is that the eight levels allow riders of all abilities to participate. The team scoring is computed so that points accumulated by a novice rider count the same as those of an expert rider, leading to close relationships among teammates.
"Albion will take walk-trot riders and Medal/Maclay riders," Cacchione said. "That rider that rode in a summer camp when they were 10 years old, but always wanted to do it, they can come to college and not only learn how to ride, they can also compete at their level on an even playing field with the possibility of getting into regional, zone, all the way up to the national championship.
"It is a team sport," Cacchione added. "The open classes [with the higher-ability riders] are in the morning and when those riders are done competing they have their jackets off, their sleeves rolled up, and for the rest of the day they are working with the walk-trot, the walk-trot-canter, the novice riders. Helping them get up [on the horse], buffing their boots, or whatever. The team camaraderie is amazing."