Women’s Equestrian begins season next week
For UC Davis Equestrian Head Coach Jessie Weisinger, her love for horses started at the age of four. The South Texas native recalled the day that she formed her love for horses. She went to the barn with her mother and a horse veterinarian, where she found a note reading: “For Jessie” taped onto a stall. In that stall was Junior.
“My first little pony, so that started it all,” Weisinger recalled.
Next Thursday will be UC Davis’ first official Division I meet against Delaware State. Weisinger admits getting the equestrian program up to speed has been hectic.
“It’s very exciting, it’s been crazy busy with starting a new team from scratch,” Weisinger said. “When we got here in August, we didn’t even own a brush, so to see how far we’ve come in less than six months is pretty awesome.”
Forming a team, organizing practices, finding equipment and finding the horses the team needs sounds like a daunting task for even the most highly-funded athletics programs. But this isn’t unfamiliar territory for Weisinger.
Weisinger started giving horseback riding lessons as a high school student, noting that there was quite a high demand in her community.
“In South Texas, you had to drive about four hours to your trainers for quality instruction, that was the Houston area,” Weisinger said. “There were a ton of kids that wanted instruction.”
Weisinger and a friend saw the opportunity to coach riders and get some more experience under their belts.
“We just started giving riding lessons at the barn,” Weisinger said. “Then we actually had high school teachers that were like ‘we want to start taking lessons’, and then we started giving lessons to our high school teachers.”
After this, others began to ask them to work with new horses and their list of clients grew. They both stayed in Corpus Christi for junior college.
After Weisinger graduated from Texas A&M, where she rode under Head Coach Tana McKay from 1999 to 2002, she worked for various rodeos in Texas. She then moved to Colorado in 2011 for the opportunity to work as an assistant coach for the Guynn Training Center under Mark Guynn.
Weisinger gained insight into how the management aspect works, rekindling her passion for riding and teaching.
Guynn recalled a conversation he and Weisinger had after noticing that a form of riding, called ranch riding, was gaining popularity on the East Coast.
After Weisinger suggested starting a team, Guynn made her head coach of the Rocky Mountain Wranglers, a team that competed in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association.
“Our team really grew under Jessie’s help, she’s a great individual,” Guynn said.
When an assistant coaching opportunity at the collegiate level presented itself at Texas A&M, Weisinger took it.
The format for the National Collegiate Equestrian Association is different from other formats, such as the IEA, which Weisinger taught to the Rocky Mountain Wranglers. Competitors in NCEA do not get to use their own horses for matches, the horses are selected for the meet and riders go head-to-head with each other on the same horse. Weisinger rode this format while competing at Texas A&M.
This particular format is often difficult for some riders to get accustomed to, but Weisinger excelled in the mental aspect.
“She did a really good job of prepping these kids in a high pressure situation,” McKay said. “On our team, we have 55 girls standing at the end gate watching with that pressure of ‘we need this point and we’re all counting on you.’”
Weisinger coached one of A&M’s top riders, Avery Ellis. Ellis won the AQHA Collegiate Horseman Challenge Championship in 2016 and 2018, a competition in which competitors are selected based on their riding statistics, among many other notable athletic achievements.
The relationship between Weisinger and Ellis goes back to when Ellis was five years old. While an undergrad competing at A&M, Weisinger gave riding lessons to Ellis when Ellis was five years old. Ellis kept Weisinger’s horse, and this was the only connection the two maintained until Ellis committed to A&M for college.
“A lot of the times she was really goofy and silly but definitely got stuff done, and there was going to be no excuses,” Ellis said of Weisinger’s coaching style at A&M.
In Ellis’ estimation, she can be a tough coach but is understanding.
“It was a good balance, she’d have the radio playing in the middle of the arena and making jokes, but when it’s time to be serious, we were serious,” Ellis added.
Texas A&M’s equestrian program was the NCEA Reining Champions in the 2017-18 season and NCEA National Champions in the 2016-17 season. Under McKay’s leadership, the program has also produced many coaches for the sport, which McKay notes is still growing. The head coaches of South Dakota State, TCU, UGA and all of Baylor’s coaches are A&M alumni. And now, UC Davis.
“I think being under [McKay’s] leadership and guidance really helped me grow as a person and grow as a coach,” Weisinger said.
As for the UC Davis riders, they’re excited to get things going next Thursday.
Junior horsemanship rider Bobbie Piddock transferred from University of Tennessee, Martin to be closer to home. But without the addition of equestrian, Piddock said she probably wouldn’t have transferred to UC Davis.
For senior rider Hayley Fredericks, this season presents one last opportunity for her to fulfill her goal of riding for a Division I team.
“I’ve learned so much while being part of this team with Jessie,” Fredericks said.
It’s apparent that Weisinger brings a wealth of knowledge to one of UC Davis’ newest programs and will likely continue to impact the sport at the collegiate level for years to come.
Ellis is now a student assistant coach at A&M and says that Weisinger was a big part of that decision.
With a growing sport like equestrian, McKay thinks other colleges looking to add it to their Division I lineup will use UC Davis as a model.
“[Weisinger] will be really good for our sport as a whole to be the one who has started that program and help future schools in the challenges she had in starting the program,” McKay said. “I know she was excited to take on this new challenge.”
Written by: Bobby John — email@example.com