Equestrian wins first ever competition against No. 9 Delaware State

Equestrian wins first ever competition against No. 9 Delaware State

Photo Credits: JUSTIN HAN / AGGIE

Aggies top Hornets 10-5 in inaugural meet

UC Davis Equestrian took down No. 9 Delaware State 10-5 in its first ever National Collegiate Equestrian Association meet at the UC Davis Equestrian Center last Thursday. Two UC Davis riders also earned Most Outstanding Player awards for their performances.

The equestrian program has come a long way in a very short time. The UC Davis athletics department announced the addition of equestrian to its Division I offering last March.

“We’re ecstatic, I couldn’t have asked for a better day,” said Head Coach Jessie Weisinger.

It was no small feat for UC Davis to host an event of this caliber given the considerable preparation involved in NCEA competitions.  

“To host our first event and for it to go as smooth as it did, it’s just icing on the cake to walk away with the [win],” said Weisinger.

Assistant Coach Jill Humphrey, a 2004 UC Davis alumna, said it was exciting to see the program’s first meet on Thursday. She participated on the equestrian club team back when she was an undergraduate.

“I think it makes it extra special to be back at UC Davis and see all the constant improvements and developments,” Humphrey said.  

The UC Davis-hosted competition included three events: equitation over fences, equitation on the flat and horsemanship. Reining was not included but will be featured in UC Davis’ next home competition against Fresno State in March.

The host school provides the horses for the competition. This means that competitors from the visiting team are typically not familiar with these horses, giving the home team a slight edge in terms of familiarity with the animals.

Five horses are randomly assigned to a pair of riders, one from each team. Riders are allowed a warm up before their event starts to feel out the horse, then one rider from each school gets a chance to run the pattern with the horse.

In equitation over fences, senior hunter seat rider Lily Ulrich snagged one of the two UC Davis MOP awards with a score of 87.0, the highest of the 10 riders competing in the event. Riders are judged based on how smoothly they complete the course, including the consistency of the jumps. UC Davis took four of the available five points in this event.

For the horsemanship event, senior horsemanship riders Olivia Russell and Katrina Macalello secured two points for the Aggies. Horsemanship is one of two western events where the rider must maintain a flawless composure and strive for elegance within a preordained pattern. The more effortlessly the rider can execute the pattern, the higher the judges will score them. This is the only event that Delaware State edged out UC Davis, taking three points out of five.

Going into the equitation on the flat event, UC Davis led 6-4. Freshman hunter seat rider Keely Laughlin took the top spot and the second MOP award with a score of 85.0. This event requires that the rider guide the horse through a pattern, and the judges then determine how well the horse executed the pattern. UC Davis secured four of the available five points in this event.

“We tried our best, and I’m so happy because we are literally 20 people and I know a lot of teams are 60 people, so it’s pretty impressive,” Laughlin said. “I’ve showed for a long time so I wasn’t nervous, I focused and wanted to perform my best for the team.”

To the untrained eye, it could be difficult to distinguish casual riding from the nuances of collegiate equestrian. There are patterns and intricate moves that the rider must execute. Riders from each team are paired with a horse and both riders go head-to-head with each other. This format shows the judges what each rider has in her arsenal. Some riders could make certain mistakes in a pattern, while other riders execute that same pattern flawlessly, revealing skill gaps while also evening the playing field.

Russell explained how she competed that day in horsemanship.

“I drew a horse that I’ve ridden before, I got to watch the girl I went head-to-head with ride,” Russell said, noting that it could potentially be a disadvantage to draw the second ride because the horse might get tired of doing the same pattern.

“That’s something that Coach [Weisinger] tells us when we go in for our four minutes is to get the horse back on your side. If the rider behind you was doing spins or flying lead changes over and over again, just get the horse back on your side.”

The NCEA refers to horses as “living piece[s] of equipment.” While this is technically correct, it doesn’t fully explain the dynamics going on between a horse and its rider as well as the passion for horses that all riders share.

“In this sport we have a teammate with us at all times,” Russell said, referring to what it’s like to compete in a sport where another species has an equal role in success. “But this teammate has a mind of it’s own, we can’t talk, so we have to find a middle ground to talk to them.”

The victory over Delaware State has flushed away much of the building anxiety the Aggies had about entering the fray of Division I equestrian competition.

“We’re so fresh and we’re just the underdogs anywhere,” Russell said. “We all said, ‘we don’t want to be looked down on, we have to prove ourselves.’ We were able to prove that we’re here to make a statement.”

The Aggies will travel to Texas later this month for a three game road campaign against some premiere equestrian colleges.

“This month is going to be fast and furious,” said Weisinger.

The Aggies will take on No. 4 Texas A&M on Feb. 16, before going into a grueling two day stretch the week after, against No. 6 TCU and ending against No. 2 SMU.

Weisinger got her start in college equestrian at Texas A&M, her alma mater, where she was a student athlete and later began a four year stint as assistant horsemanship coach, “Obviously there’s a lot of emotions going back home, my family and friends will be there. But they’ll be wearing navy blue and gold and they’ll be cheering for the UC Davis Aggies.”

“It’ll be good to see everybody, all the A&M girls,” Weisinger said. “It’ll be tough, but it’ll be good.”

Written by: Bobby John — sports@theaggie.org