Texas A&M University Takes the NCEA National Title

Texas A&M finishes the NCEA National Championships with its first combined-format win.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Texas A&M University took the NCEA national title. (Journal photo)


The road to the national championship was far from certain for No. 5 Texas A&M University on the final day of competition at the 2017 NCEA National Championships.

After a wide margin of victory on the prior day, on April 15, the Aggies were slated to compete against the formidable Texas Christian University in the semifinal round at the NCEA National Championships in Waco, Texas.

NCEA is classified as an emerging NCAA sport. Colleges field four riders in each of four disciplines: horsemanship, reining, equitation on the flat and equitation over fences. Riders compete in head-to-head duels on the same horse, with the top scorer earning a point for her team. Sixteen points are up for grabs.

TCU claimed the 2016 reserve championship, had knocked out No. 1 Baylor the previous day and looked strong going into the final day.

The battle began in the horsemanship and fence arenas, where Texas A&M showed its strength early on. Making a clean sweep of the events, Texas A&M finished 16-0.

The Aggies appeared confident and relaxed heading into the championship round against No. 2 Georgia. Georgia narrowly defeated No.3 Auburn in the morning’s semifinal round after an intense face off in all four disciplines.

“These girls were riding so consistently, and as a coach, that’s all you can ask,” said Texas A&M head coach Tana McKay. “These girls have been working so hard. We didn’t have the best second half of the season, and they put in a lot of hours in practice and it paid off at the right time. We had a lot of momentum going into the national championship after our first day. It was a team effort in and out of the arena.”

In the finals, Texas A&M started off strong with a 3-1 score in equitation on the flat, with a high score of 186 coming from sophomore Rebekah Chanelle against Georgia senior Meg O’Mara. The momentum continued into the horsemanship where the Aggies picked up another three points. Stand-out performances included Avery Ellis’ 155, earning her the NCEA Horsemanship Most Outstanding Player award. Once again in reining, Texas A&M earned three points, effectively clinching the win. The team finished strong with two more points in fences to finish on a score of 11-5.

“I don’t know that anyone has gone into the fourth event knowing they had it clinched,” Tana said. “It’s an extremely comforting feeling. But I was excited our girls still went out there and performed. It was just the consistency across the board that was the name of the game for the entire championships.”

Texas A&M has won the national championship 11 times before in the split format. This year’s win was the team’s first combined-format national title.

Horses of the Year

There’s no competition without horses. The National Collegiate Equestrian Association recognized two American Quarter Horses from Oklahoma State University as the top horses in reining and horsemanship.

“We’re very proud of them and take a lot of pride in our horses,” says OSU head coach Larry Sanchez. “We’re not only shooting to win a team championship but to get horse of the year, too. When recruits come to watch the national championships, they not only need to see the quality of our riders but also the quality of our horses.”

Gimme A Chilly Willy, aka “Chili,” was the top horsemanship mount for the meet. The 2006 bay gelding by Willy Be Invited is out of Miss Zippo Win by Zippon Pine Bar. He was bred by Robin Anne Davis-Williams of New Castle, Pennsylvania.

“Chili has been in program probably six years now,” Larry says. “He was more green in horsemanship than most horses we get. He’s a very nice horse and has just progressed over the years to become a top mount. Last year, he was a finals horse and then this year again he was recognized.”

Whizs Bronze Star was the top reining mount for the meet. The 2003 bay gelding by West Coast Whiz and out of The Bronze Star by Rollin With The Flow was bred by Eddy and Linda Hinson of Gordon, Alabama.

“Bueno” has earned more than $58,500 in National Reining Horse Association competition. He has been a finalist at the AQHA World Championship Show in junior and senior reining.

“Pete Kyle showed him in freestyle before we got him,” Larry says. “He’s been in the program now for five or six years. He continues to be a top collegiate reining horse in country and has been at nationals every year since he was donated. We’re proud of him and the caliber of horse he is year in and year out.”

AQHA-NCEA All-Championship Team

Equitation on the Flat
Rebekah Chenelle, Texas A&M
Alex Desiderio, Texas A&M
Meg O’Mara, Georgia
Anna Rea, Texas A&M

Equitation Over Fences
Rebekah Chenelle, Texas A&M
Liza Finsness, Georgia
Rachael Hake, Texas A&M
Haley Webster, Texas A&M

Bailey Anderson, Georgia
Avery Ellis, Texas A&M
Kaci Fisher, Texas A&M
Sarah Orsak, Texas A&M

Madison Bohman, Texas A&M
Lindsey Cheek, Georgia
Haley Franc, Texas A&M
Sarah McIntire, Texas A&M