Reflections From the NCEA Championship

AQHA’s Cailin Caldwell looks back at her first trip to the National Collegiate Equestrian Association Championship and the sport’s impressive student-athletes.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

NCEA competition creates bonds and reminds us that we are all here for one thing – the love of the horse. (Credit: Journal)

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a proud sponsor of the National Collegiate Equestrian Association, AQHA staff assist with the NCEA Championship every April in Waco, Texas. This year’s show was Cailin Caldwell’s first trip to a collegiate equestrian championship and she’s still talking about the team spirit and sportsmanship she observed. 

In the equine industry, we often define ourselves by our discipline: We are western all-around riders, reiners, recreational trail riders or hunt seat riders. We have different events, programs and awards. So often, we stay within our chosen sector of the industry and live and breathe the discipline we have chosen. While this focused passion breeds greatness, it is easy to forget what unites us all. We all ride with a love of the horse.

The National Collegiate Equestrian Association transcends these traditional boundaries and brings young horsewomen together.

No moment better sums this up than when the University of South Carolina Gamecocks waited for the 2015 NCEA Championship awards ceremony, celebrating their 2015 NCEA championship win. There was no segregation by discipline – girls in hunt coats and breeches tearfully hugged their cowboy-hat-and-chap-wearing counterparts. The team of riders had been unified by a love of the sport and an appreciation for the horse. AQHA world champions, United States Equestrian Federation medal winners and National Reining Horse Association champions stood shoulder to shoulder – holding each other’s hands for support and sharing their victory as a team.

In a sport that so often focuses on the things that don’t matter, like the color of your tack or the latest training trend, the NCAA emerging sport of women’s equestrian is a powerful reminder about sportsmanship, teamwork and horsemanship.

The NCEA competition format continues to legitimize our sport. The student-athletes train with their respective athletic trainers multiple days a week, and that training is both in the arena and in the weight room (for the humans, that is). They ride, train and take care of their four-legged teammates with the mind of an elite athlete.

The sport of collegiate equestrian is a platform for the student-athletes to begin their careers as professional riders and horsewomen, or to launch into traditional professions as doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, accountants, military officers, teachers – you name it. The humility, sportsmanship and discipline learned from collegiate sports equip them to serve their universities, communities and begin their careers.

The NCEA model is one the whole industry can follow: It promotes camaraderie, dedication and an appreciation for the horses and people that make this industry possible. NCEA competition creates inter-disciplinary bonds and reminds us that we are all here for one thing – the love of the horse.

Last week, as I watched the teams support each other and their horses, I was reminded of why I ride and why I am forever and always #AQHAProud.