Caitlyn, that we have followed in her run at the national equitation finals, her various trips to visit colleges and pursuit of her lofty goals, has made a decision about her college future. She signed her letter of intent with University of Tennessee-Martin and their NCAA Equestrian Team.
In the end, while Cate had visited and appreciated many of the NCAA Equestrian team colleges, including Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M (whom I am sure would have all been happy to have her on board) made the decision to go UT-Martin. I understand she liked the smaller size of school, the opportunities the coach was presenting her in terms of riding time and location of the school near the heart of the big equestrian center in Lexington, KY (where she might be able to meet up with her current trainer for some extra shows during the year).
I am very proud to know Caitlyn and to have been a small part of her journey. I talked yesterday of perspective. Although part of family that always had horses, I did not even know that there was such a thing as NCAA Equestrian sports before I moved to Texas. Then I started to do a little research and found out more about college equestrian sports.
Actually it was only in 1998, that Equestrian was first classified as an NCAA emerging sport. Originally, there were only six participating teams (Auburn, Fresno State, Georgia, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and Texas A&M). Currently, there are 23 colleges and universities offering Equestrian as a varsity sport, with more adding the program each year.
It is not at all like any regular horse show I have ever attended. In most horse shows, from breed shows like AQHA or APHA to rated national events, the rider buys, trains and rides their own horse. I have often felt like it can be the story of who can afford the best horse wins, not necessarily who is the best rider. In NCAA competitions that is all removed. No one brings their own horse. Each team has team horses. And not unlike Bronc Riding in the rodeo, the riders draw for what horse they ride. If you are the home team, you probably know the horse you are riding, but it is not “your” horse. If you are the away team, you have a few minutes to warm-up (literally) and off you go into the ring. I feel that evens the playing field as each team will have an equal number of home and away competitions.
Here are the details– The competition format is head-to-head, where a rider from each team competes on the same horse. The rider earning the highest score on that particular horse wins the point for their team. At the end of the competition, the team with the most points wins the competition. The horse and rider match-up is determined by a random draw. Prior to their competition ride each competitor is given a four-minute warm-up (five-minute for Reining) to familiarize themselves with the horse and prepare for their competition ride.
Considering most of us work for weeks, months or years to prepare a horse for one show, it is unfathomable to me to jump on a horse, take four minutes and head into the ring. Man, these riders must be good. It is important to be able to quickly evaluate, understand and motivate this brand new horse, then go in the ring and win on him. Unbelievable really. This format of competition was developed to level the playing field between riders and to allow each rider the same opportunity on the same horse. There is only one elite level of competition for the four events.
Teams compete in various facets of riding including reining, horsemanship, equitation on the flat and equitation over fences. The top national young equestrians from both western and English disciplines are found on these NCAA teams.
Caitlyn with just a few days left of high school will soon be headed off to a new elite world. She will be representing her school with other top college riders. Not unlike the baseball, basketball, and football players that have dreamed of one day playing college ball, Cate’s dream of riding and representing her college will come true for her as well. How great is that for a little girl who grew up loving horses? Ride on, Caitlyn! Ride on!