To the University of Georgia equestrian team, the thought of losing the 2004 national championship to archrival Auburn University (Ala.) just wouldn’t do. They rode their hearts out to win the third annual Varsity Equitation Championship by 11 points, their second national championship in two years.
The championship, held April 23-24 at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Ga., site of the 1996 Olympic Games, culminated the season for the newly formed sport of Varsity Equestrian. The VEC attracted 12 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I and II teams from as far away as Connecticut (Sacred Heart University) and Massachusetts (Stonehill College) to California (Fresno State) and Texas (Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M, West Texas A&M).
The first day of competition featured equitation on the flat for both the English and Western divisions. The second day was equitation over fences and reining classes.
“The compulsories are typically where we do best, but we were frustrated after yesterday,” UGA Head Coach Meghan Boenig said of the first day’s competition, which left Auburn in the lead. The traditional rivalry between the two universities, located in neighboring states, has expanded from the football field and basketball court to the riding arena.
“We knew Auburn was ahead, but it wasn’t going to stay that way,” Boenig said. “It gave us a lot of determination and focus. I’ve never seen some of these riders so focused. If it had been anybody else leading but Auburn, well, we had to do something about this.”
After trailing Auburn by 14 points in the compulsories, Georgia pulled ahead on the second day to gallop off with the top score of 60 points. The Georgia Bulldogs, with a season record of 9-3, were first in the equitation over fences and second in the reining classes to lock in the win. Auburn edged Oklahoma State to finish second with 49 points. Oklahoma State, which won the Western reining division, had a final of 47 points.
“What a great day,” Boenig said as the jubilant Bulldogs broke into the UGA fight song, spooking a horse from the University of South Carolina. “To be able to do this on our home turf–and a repeat [of the national title].”
In addition, thanks to their outstanding performance at VEC, two of Georgia’s Western riders, Sarah Meier and Morgan Strauss, have been selected to compete in the National Reining Horse Association Derby, May 17-23 in Oklahoma City. Meier is a sophomore from Ohio, and Strauss is a junior from Florida. They will face 14 other collegiate riders nominated for the derby.
A hallmark of Varsity Equestrian is that both English and Western riders are paired with unfamiliar horses in a draw. They then have only 2