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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

With the sport on the hot seat, Aggie equestrian heads to NCEA Championships

Valerie Gunchick

Senior Laura Sumrall scored a point in reining at the Western Equestrian Finals on March 28, 2015.

Twelve teams from across the country travel to Waco this weekend to take part in this year’s NCEA National Championship. No. 4 Texas A&M will enter competition as one of the most decorated teams with a roster stocked with six All-Americans and five All-SEC honorees.

Them teams are led by senior captains Haley Buchmiller and Laura Sumrall. Buchmiller was named to the first team All-American squad after leading the team in hunt seat victories (9) and most outstanding player honors (4). Sumrall earned her All-American spot in reining by leading the discipline and her team with 12 wins. Head equestrian coach Tana McKay said she credits the two captains for helping craft the team into a cohesive unit, something that is no small task in a sport that consists of a series of individual events.

“This team really buckled up and came together after not having a very good season last year,” McKay said. “They’ve pushed each other and challenged each other and they knew what they wanted to get accomplished. Just like in any other sport, you want to be doing your best at the end of the season.”

The upperclassman leadership on the team also gives the squad another inherent advantage experience. The NCEA Championships provides a setting different from what the athletes may have grown accustomed to during the regular season. The stage is bigger, the pressure is enormous and the riders have to perform on the backs of unfamiliar horses that are selected at random and assigned to teams.

“Our athletes have been riding horses since they were little, just like other girls grow up playing soccer,” McKay said. “But [at the NCEA nationals] we ask them to do something completely different than what they’re used to. In soccer, the ball and the goals are always the same size… Our sport is different. Experience really helps the team in knowing what they have to go through when they aren’t showing their own horse, when they’re on unfamiliar equipment, if you want to call it that.”

The Aggies are going to need every advantage they can to navigate through a tough bracket. The Aggies will most likely have to face conference rivals and equestrian leaders No. 1 Georgia and No. 5 Auburn on their road to the finals. But the biggest challenge to this team, and perhaps all of the teams in the bracket, looms outside of the arena.

In October of this year, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics made a recommendation to remove equestrian as a recognized collegiate sport. Since its inception in 2002, the NCAA has labeled collegiate equestrian an emerging sport. That title granted the sport a 10-year window to reach at least 40 schools. There are currently less than 20 schools with an equestrian program, and that is why the committee has requested that equestrian be removed.

So far, the recommendation remains just that and no further actions have been taking against equine athletics. In the meantime, the NCEA has hired an executive director to promote the sport to other universities address the sport’s biggest challenge, the general lack of understanding pervasive both in the public and collegiate administrations.

“The biggest problem is that most athletic directors don’t understand the sport,” said McKay. “They don’t know anything about horses and they think it’s too expensive. But the reality is that equestrian is one of the cheapest sports on campus, along with track.”
The Aggies will start their tournament play Friday. Having earned a first round bye, they are slated to face the winner of No. 5 seed Auburn and No. 12 seed Tennessee Martin. The match will begin at 8:30 a.m.

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