In true central Ohio entrepreneurial fashion, a core group of Columbus-area business leaders recognized an unmet need years ago and developed a creative response.

In true central Ohio entrepreneurial fashion, a core group of Columbus-area business leaders recognized an unmet need years ago and developed a creative response. Now they are celebrating 15 years of operating what has become the largest youth equestrian association in the nation.

As students across the country take up a variety of fall sports, youth served by the Ohio-based Interscholastic Equestrian Association are climbing into the saddle-both Western and hunt seat-for recognized athletic competition of their own. By participating in the IEA's 15th season, young equestrians can earn athletic letters and other recognition in their public and private schools, even if they don't own a horse.

One of the key tenets of the IEA is that riders never use their own horses in competition. A blind draw for every event ensures that each rider competes with an unfamiliar horse and supplied tack, making for an even playing field. Local stables donate lesson horses and equipment for competition.

Wayne Ackerer of Delaware, a retired horse trainer, founded IEA with Cleveland-area horsewoman Roxane Lawrence. They got the nonprofit started with support from two adult riders, Columbus business and marketing consultant Myron Leff and central Ohio attorney Timothy Boone. They were later joined by riding coach and judge Ollie Griffith, who runs Autumn Rose Farm in Plain City with his wife. The five comprise the IEA board.

IEA started with 250 riders in grades 6-12 in 2000; it now has 12,500 members.

A unifying principle of IEA is that young equestrians should have the same opportunities for recognition as other athletes in public and private schools. Costs to participate for a season range from $60 a rider to $150 a team, even less with early bird discounts, and financial assistance is available from the IEA Benevolent Fund.

As another successful equestrian initiative fires up later this month, the IEA will have an exhibit at the 19th Annual New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix & Family Day on Sept. 25.