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Playin' the Ponies - Part Deux

Wait - There's More (but then I move on to another Olympic sport)

Vince Caligiuri

Where did all these Horses Come From?

Have you wondered about this? Baylor has a herd of approximately 40 horses that are in active training with the Equestrian Team. They are all located at the Willis Family Equestrian Center. They get fed, doctored, and spiffed up regularly, and team members certainly do their part.

It’s logical to think that the team members own a horse at home, so they might bring it with them to school. That’s actually rare. Some team members own, or ride, highly trained beasts that are, frankly, a little too skilled to put into collegiate competition. So, Baylor has been truly blessed with a variety of donors and contributors who either give a trained horse to the team, or who loan a trained horse to the team for the competitive season. Baylor has a couple of horses that have been with the team since 2006, but there is some turnover – with new horses coming in, and other horses leaving. So, it’s a bit of a challenge to keep the herd ready to compete each year.

Where did all these Team Members Come From?

Short answer: Everywhere. The Equestrian team has had members from Alaska, and routinely attracts riders from the East Coast, from the West Coast (both of which are horse country), and from all points in between.  This year, one team member is from Nicaragua.

It might surprise you to know that the team has had a fairly stable (pun intended) head count of 70 members. That’s a lot of Title IX for you, but the bigger point is that there really are that many ladies who want to participate. There are 15 scholarships for the sport, and the scholarships can be split.

It might also surprise you to know that quite a few ladies have given up real opportunities in the horse world in order to attend Baylor and to have the college experience that is only available on our short stretch of the Brazos. There are pre-med majors, business majors, science, humanities and religion majors – just to mention a few. And, in the world of Baylor Athletics, the Equestrian Team carries the highest team GPA among all sports.

There is an active recruiting battle for the top college-bound riders. When you read on that the Equestrian Team has signed a recruit, there is a good chance that Baylor has beaten a number of high profile schools in getting that recruit to come here. Granted, we lose some because we don’t have a veterinary science program, but we get a whole lot more because of our great business, science and other programs.

So, is there any strategy or game-planning going on?

More than you’d think. New riders (freshmen and sophomores) are used early in the year because few of them will have ever competed in a head-to-head format. Whatever sport you played as a ute likely didn’t prepare you to use equipment handed to you 5 minutes before you took the field, nor did it force you to compete alone with the entire audience watching just you. More often than we’d like, the whole competition comes down to the last ride – who’ll get the point (us or them). An amazing number of times, a new rider has stepped up and won for us.

When you are at home, you get to select which horses will be used for competition.  You know which ones your team performs best with, but you also know which ones will give the other team fits.  Are you willing to put that difficult horse out there and risk losing the point because the other team figured the horse out?

When you’re away, you realize that some of your team has been to this venue before, and actually has some experience with the horses at, for example, Kansas State.  Do you go with a rider that has been performing well, or do you substitute one who has ridden the pony that is up for competition at the away venue?

For each competition, there are contingency plans in the event that the horse behaves in a completely unexpected manner through no fault of the rider.  The Judge is permitted to grant a re-ride – meaning that all scores for that horse are erased, and a new horse is brought out for both athletes to ride.  Before asking for a re-ride, and blaming the animal for your poor score, you’d have to think about whether the next horse up on the list is actually harder to ride than the one your team member just rode.

Waco is to Equestrian what Omaha is to Baseball

Waco - and Baylor - host the National Championship for Collegiate Equestrian. It has been the host for more than 7 years. What’s notable is that the college coaches VOTE on where to hold the championships, and they consistently vote for Waco / Baylor / ExtraCo Center. The championships are really well attended, but the last night – when champions are crowned - is loud and flashy. Worth seeing.