By Haylie Kerstetter
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
Horses were always a part of Alexis Zapalski’s life, but until she moved to Wellington, Florida, with her family in fifth grade, she never knew a career with horses could be possible. Now a junior at Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, Alexis is working towards a business major with a concentration in equine studies, rides on the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team, and hopes to one day work as a professional.
Alexis grew up riding with her mom, mainly Western and English pleasure. After moving to Wellington, Alexis delved into the hunter-jumper world and joined the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) team at Wall Street Farms. At Wall Street and through IEA, Alexis had the opportunity to ride and learn from a variety of horses, which has continued to help her throughout her riding career. While in IEA, she competed at zone finals at both the Novice and Intermediate levels. Outside of IEA, Alexis competed in the 15-17 equitation, the 1.0m jumpers and national hunter derbies, but she always had a passion for the equitation ring.
Alexis enjoys being able to ride nearly every day at Keiser, with IHSA practices twice a week and other riding opportunities for students outside of practice. She continues to ride and compete with Wall Street Farms, where she shows at ‘A’ and ‘AA’ rated shows such as WEF and Venice. She’s excited to continue riding as many different horses as possible during her remaining time at Keiser, and following her graduation she plans to develop her own training and sales program.
Alexis Zapalski with 401K, known as Sebastian, owned by Wall Street Farms.
How did you choose your major?
I’m going to school for business administration with a concentration in equine studies because I knew I wanted to go to school but didn’t want to be a vet, as that was too intense for me. I want to eventually have my own farm, so I thought business would be a good choice and Keiser also has the concentration of equine studies to go along with it.
What was appealing to you about Keiser?
Being able to stay in Palm Beach County was probably the biggest advantage of choosing Keiser. Since I grew up in Wellington, I didn’t want to go far when it came to going to college. Being able to get a college degree around horses was a huge bonus for me.
What’s your favorite thing about IHSA?
My favorite thing about IHSA is being able to get to ride so many different horses, because every horse has so much to teach you. It also really shows how well you’re able to ride by just getting on a horse and jumping around without any warm-up prior.
Alexis is working towards a business major with a concentration in equine studies at Keiser University.
How do you think IEA helped you to be successful in IHSA?
Doing IEA as a Junior really helped me be successful in IHSA because IEA is the same concept, where you draw a horse and have to show it, but in IEA, if you’re showing over fences you are allowed two warm-up jumps: one off the left lead and one off the right. It doesn’t sound like much of a warm-up, but you can learn so much about a horse in that short period of time.
What advice would you give other riders looking to do IHSA?
It’s important to ride as many different horses as you can. You also want to get comfortable riding in different saddles, because you don’t get to ride in your own saddle in IHSA. Also, when you’re showing a horse in the IEA or IHSA, you want to ride the horse you have, not the horse you want. You don’t want to be training the horse or trying to get them to look perfect in your class. You cannot fix a horse in three to five minutes; it’s just not possible. You want to show the judge that you’re able to ride that horse as well as any horse you ride at home.
What does your typical school day look like?
I currently go to school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. I have three classes those days, and in between those classes I try to get all my homework and studying done for the week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have one or two classes at the farm that are for the equine concentration. Also on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have our IHSA team practices, so after class we go into our team lessons. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I also normally go out to the farm to ride after class.
Alexis grew up riding with her mom, Lisa Birmingham.
What does a typical show day with the team look like?
We normally wake up and have breakfast at the hotel at 6 a.m., and try to leave the hotel by 6:30 to get to the show grounds. Once we get to the show, we pull out our tents and chairs and everything we need for the day before the captains go with our trainers to the coaches’ meeting. This is where the draw for the horses is done. We start the day with the open division and finish with the walk-trot. Throughout the day, we watch our horses go prior to us showing, so we can get an idea of what they might be like. We all watch each other show and support one another at the ring. When the day is over, we load the bus up with all of our stuff and then we either go back to the hotel to shower and have dinner or begin our drive home.
What’s your favorite class to show in outside of school?
Outside of showing in IHSA, I like to show in hunter derbies and equitation classes. I like the equitation because I like how they test you and really make you think about what you need to do every step of the way, and to see how smooth you can do the test or course. I like hunter derbies because they’re just fun to me. I love wearing my shadbelly, and the unique courses. The handy round has kind of the same test aspects as an equitation class, so it gives you the chance to really show off your horse and how smoothly they can complete it.
Alexis said her favorite thing about IHSA is riding so many different horses, because she learns something from every horse.
For more information, visit www.keiseruniversity.edu
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com