JT Tallon to be honored at IHSA Nationals in Kentucky

J.T. Tallon

 Two great Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) equestrian team coaches will be recognized for their service and contributions to college riding and the horse industry on Saturday during the 44th IHSA National Championships, May 5-8, at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington: the late James T. ‘JT’ Tallon (Southern Seminary, Randolph Colleges) and Lori Cramer (Miami University of Ohio).
JT Tallon is remembered as a pioneer in the development of college riding in Virginia, spending two decades coaching at Randolph-Macon Women’s College before retiring in 2011, and after nearly a decade coaching Southern Seminary (for Women) became the winningest hunt seat coach in its IHSA history. IHSA executive director Bob Cacchione has pledged a Zone 4 scholarship in the name of the former equestrian director, who will be remembered for coaching perhaps the most successful IHSA team of all time – Southern Seminary for Women in Buena Vista, VA, first as assistant to Russ Walther and later as head coach, taking ‘Sem’ to eight IHSA National Champion team titles in the 1980s, a streak that remains unmatched to this day. Tallon was a true fixture of the Virginia and college horse industries as a coach, trainer, course designer and judge. “Hunter courses are like Muzak in an elevator,” the posthumous recipient of the 2016 IHSA Pioneer Award once said. “You know it’s there but it should never call attention to itself.”

Cramer will become the 23rd recipient of the IHSA Lifetime Achievement Award, presented since 1993 to recognize the longstanding commitment of its coaches. Cramer is an IHSA alum of the University of Findlay who went on to coach Findlay to the IHSA Collegiate Cup team national title in 2001. Originally from New Jersey, she graduated from University of Findlay with an undergraduate degree in Business and Equine Studies and Master’s in Business Administration and later became director of English Equestrian Studies there, coaching the University of Findlay team during her four years there to the national title and two reserve national titles, as well as never finishing out of the Top Five. She coached the Ohio State IHSA hunt seat team to first in their Region and a rally at Zones; and served (for the first six years of her tenure) as head coach for the Miami Equestrian Team before currently serving as adviser to its coaches in addition to heading renovations and building projects at the stables. She is an IHSA Zone 6 Chair, sits on the USHJA Board of Directors and in December was recognized with the USHJA Presidents Distinguished Service Award.

House Mountain Horse Show provides spring warm-up

A week of perfect March weather led into the House Mountain Horse Show on March 12-13 at the Virginia Horse Center. On Sunday afternoon classes were full, if not overflowing, with entries. Here’s a slideshow of photos from Sunday afternoon in the horse center’s Coliseum where Intermediate and Academy Hunters were competing.

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Emily Jane Hilscher Memorial Show seeks sponsors/donations

Emily Jane Hilscher

Virginia Tech’s annual Emily Jane Hilscher Memorial Show has been scheduled for April 22-23 at the Alphin Stuart Arena in Blacksburg. The show is held in memory of Emily Jane Hilscher, a Virginia Tech equestrian team member and animal and poultry sciences freshman who was killed in the April 16, 2007, shootings at Virginia Tech.

The horse show is run using donations from local companies, alumni and friends. All the money collected at the horse show goes to a scholarship fund for Animal & Poultry Science majors who represent good academic standing, amazing character and a strong work ethic. The show is currently seeking sponsors/donations. Visit http://kburke08.wix.com/ejhmhs#!boarding-options/cxxj or email kburke08@vt.edu for more information.
The show is one of two 4-H qualifiers in the southwest Virginia area and is also SWVHJA sanctioned. Saturday’s classes include over fences in the morning and hunter and dressage classes in the afternoon. Sunday features Western classes including pleasure, horsemanship, ranch riding, racking, trail obstacle challenge and speed. Find the class schedule here.

Sweet Briar College equestrian competing in Germany at World Finals

Makayla Benjamin is a sophomore at Sweet Briar College.
Photo via Sweet Briar College

Makayla Benjamin, a member of the equestrian team at Sweet Briar College, won  the show jumping portion of the World University Equestrian Federation World Finals (AIEC-SRNC) in Marburg-Dagobertshausen, Germany. She was 3rd overall and Team USA was 5th overall.

Benjamin, a sophomore majoring in engineering from Leesburg, Virginia, is one of three riders representing the United States in Germany from Dec. 29 to Jan. 1. Fifteen countries are participating in the three-day competition.

The competition is broken into four stages, with the first stage having every rider competing in both dressage and show jumping. Then the field is cut down to 12 riders for another round of dressage and show jumping on different horses. The finals on New Years Eve consist of the top two riders competing on the same two horses.

“I am extremely proud of Makayla and thrilled that she has been given this opportunity,” said Sweet Briar Riding coach Mimi Wroten, director of riding at Sweet Briar. “Makayla is a dedicated, hard working, and talented rider whose focus, attention to detail, and determination will take her far in this competition.”

Selection for the team is based upon how well riders have done at previous competitions during the year. Benjamin traveled to Sweden during the summer for a competition in hopes that it would earn her a spot on Team USA for the world finals.

And thanks to connections she has made through the AIEC program, Benjamin is going to be spending two weeks working in Holland after the competition.”It’s just such a great community to be a part of and it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet so many people from around the world that all have a common goal,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin says that AIEC family is a very supportive group and she has felt welcome since her first competition. She is also very thankful for how supportive Sweet Briar has been in all her endeavors and pushing her to be better everyday.

Other media reports of this story:

GET YOUR HORSE FIX: Equestrian events this weekend near Roanoke, Va. (April 11-12)

We’ve got the Easter holiday behind us and Spring has taken hold in the region (thank goodness!). Now it’s time for the horse shows to really get into full swing. This weekend is headlined by a horse auction.


  • The Great American Trail Horse competition and horse sale is this weekend in Anderson Coliseum. The annual auction will be at noon on Saturday and is held for trail horses of all breeds and budgets.  Find a catalog here. Photos/Videos of many of the sale horses can be found here. The unique feature of this sale is the $2,000 added, trail horse competition starting at 7 p.m. on Friday. The competition is open only to the horses consigned in the sale. The top 10 horses will be selected to come back Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. for the finals. Friday will also include demonstrations. See a schedule here.
  • In the center’s East Complex, The Lee Jackson Classic (APHC) will be hosted by the Senandoah-Blue Ridge Appaloosa Association. Judges are Tony Burris, David Johnson, & Gayle Matson-Kozak. The Lee Jackson is the only regional Appaloosa show held in Virginia and offers classes for youth, non-pro, games, heritage, over fences and non-pro walk-trot and ranch pleasure. Find a class schedule here. 


The Franklin County Equestrian Club will host its Spring Fling Horse Show at 10 a.m. Saturday at Ginther Farm in Sontag. The show is Blue Ride Horse Force sanctioned. Get a class schedule here. Chuck Nifong will judge.


Sweet Briar equestrian director moving to Lynchburg College

Sweet Briar College may be closing in August, but it’s riding tradition will stay in central Virginia. Sweet Briar equestrian director Merrilee “Mimi” Wroten will join Lynchburg College as director of riding as the college works to expand its equestrian program. Wroten has been head of the acclaimed program at Sweet Briar since 2011 and before that served as associate director since 1999. She will remain at Sweet Briar until the school closes in August.

“It became apparent that a unique opportunity existed to enhance collegiate riding at a local college, provide continuity of instruction for Sweet Briar students and preserve many of the principles of excellence that the Sweet Briar riding tradition was founded upon,” Wroten said in a Lynchburg College news release on the changes.

Mimi is a USEF “R” judge and holds the ANRC top rider rating. She has judged shows from Georgia to New York. Wroten has coached several award-winning teams, including an individual national champion and national reserve champion in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association; multiple Old Dominion Athletic Conference champion and reserve champion teams; and several American National Riding Committee champion and reserve champion teams.

Lynchburg College is finalizing an agreement with Thistledown Farm to host its equestrian program.

See the news release here.

Wroten posted this message on Sweet Briar’s facebook page March 26.

“Dear Friends,
As we all process our way through the shock of the announcement about our beloved Sweet Briar and move toward addressing the uncertainty of the future, each of us has tried to find a path forward for the ideals and culture that have made Sweet Briar riding so special. It was this pursuit of a way forward that led me to take a call from Lynchburg College Athletics Director Jon Waters. During the call and throughout numerous follow up conversations as Jon shared the Lynchburg vision and hope for expansion of their existing riding program, it became apparent that a unique opportunity existed to enhance collegiate riding at a local college, provide continuity of instruction for Sweet Briar students and to preserve many of the principles of excellence that the Sweet Briar riding tradition has been founded upon. It is for these reasons that I have accepted the position as the Director of Riding at Lynchburg College. I will finish out the semester and my obligations with Sweet Briar College before stepping into my new role as the Director of Riding at Lynchburg College.

As you can imagine, this decision did not come without a tremendous amount of soul searching and research about the Lynchburg leadership and it’s commitment to excellence. As someone who has spent more than half my life in service to the students, horses and community of Sweet Briar, I fully understand how the program has impacted lives for generations. However, with the path that has been laid out for the college, the only prudent course at this time is to move forward with this new endeavor and attempt to maintain as much continuity with staff, horses and instruction as possible.

While many of the details of the Lynchburg College riding program future are still evolving, the program is very excited about the opportunity to work out of Thistledown Farm in Lynchburg, Virginia. We will work rapidly to develop this facility into a collegiate riding facility with 22 stalls, 4 large fields, 2 large paddocks, 1 small ring, and we will enlarge & cover a ring that will be approximately 120’ x 220’. Lynchburg College is working to acquire approximately 12-15 of the SBC horses to assure the standards of excellence that we have come to expect. Additional resources will be developed as demand dictates.

I am very confident that Jon Waters, Athletic Director and the institutional leadership at Lynchburg understand and respect how special the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center is to the equine world. In light of this, they have assured me that in the event that Sweet Briar College is open to students and operating a riding program in the Fall of 2015, I would be free to return to lead the Sweet Briar College program with the probability of Lynchburg riders becoming a part of the Rogers Riding Center community.

To my fellow alums and to all of those who have been touched by the greatness of the Sweet Briar riding program, I hope that you will see this as a unique opportunity to continue to serve the central Virginia area and the horse world with the same spirit and ideals that made our program so unique.

I appreciate all that you have done for the Sweet Briar College Riding Program and myself.

Mimi Wroten”

GET YOUR FIX: Horse events in the Roanoke area Jan. 17-18

We just had our first messy snowfall and the recent single-digit temperatures here in the Roanoke Valley may have you feeling a bit fuzzy, but that doesn’t mean the horse world has ground to a stop. And now when your own horse activities may have slowed down for the winter is when you just might need that horse fix the most. Here are this weekend’s activities, plus some things to look forward to.


  • The Stonewall Country Horse Show: This show is USEF “A” rated Hunter and Jumper horse show. This event is owned and operated by the VHCF and managed by Leslie Brown and will be held in the Anderson Coliseum and the East Complex arena. Judges are Phoebe Sheets and Downing Nyegard. Find a schedule of classes on the prize list. Note: Braiding is optional in all classes and divisions. The show will open Thursday at 7 a.m. with Working Hunter classes all day in the Coliseum. On Friday, Working Hunters will be in the Coliseum and Jumpers in the East Complex. Saturday will feature Children’s Hunters and Amateur Hunters in the Coliseum for the morning and afternoon with Open and Junior Working Hunters toward the end of the day. The East Complex will host pony hunters and short stirrup classes throughout the day with much the same schedule layout for Sunday as well. This show benefits the VHCF, an facility that has become incredibly important in the Virginia’s horse industry. This show will repeat on Jan. 30-Feb. 1 at the VHC.
  • Winter Schooling: If you are simply seeking for a great place to ride during the winter months, the Virginia Horse Center is open for schooling through March 1. Call the Stable Office at 540-464-2966 for reservations.


  • Maryland Horse World Expo: (4 hour drive from Roanoke) The Horse World Expo will return to the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, Maryland, this weekend. (4 hour trip from Roanoke) Daily admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children aged 6-12. Younger than 6 are free. The Expo includes seminars, clinics, demonstrations, stallion avenue and parade of breeds, and of course shopping. This year’s speakers include Roxanne Bowman on saddle fitting, Olympian (Eventing) Stephen Bradley, Dana Bright on Driving, Kenny Harlow on training and AQHA judge and auction manager Mike Jennings on Buying and Selling horses. For a full list of speakers visit www.horseworldexpo.com/MDbios.shtml.
  • Kentucky Hunter Jumper Association Clinic featuring Bernie Taurig at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky on Monday. (5 1/2 hours drive from Roanoke)
  • Dressage Clinic with Britta Johnston, Understanding, Starting and Perfecting the Flying Change: A lecture discussing the flying change will begin at 12:30 p.m., Saturday at Capriole Farms in Catlett, Va. (3 hours drive from Roanoke) Horses working on flying changes will follow. Rides: $90 for a 45 minute lesson $20 for day stall, limited number. Auditors: $10.



  •  Watch the 2015 George Morris Horsemaster Session on demand at USEFnetwork.com.