AQHA COLLEGIATE HORSEMANSHIP CHALLENGE
Texas A&M University’s Carey Nowacek rides off with the inaugural collegiate title.
By Tara Christiansen, The American Quarter Horse Journal
Nostalgic for some, overpowering for all, the Gateway of Champions loomed over the nation’s top four collegiate horsemanship riders. As they walked through the dark tunnel, the weight of their university’s good name rode on their shoulders; the chance to be called ‘the very first’ was right within reach. Then, they emerged in the Jim Norick Arena, where nothing but two cones, a wide open pen and a worthy adversary stood between them and the AQHA Collegiate Horsemanship Challenge championship.
The nation’s top-four collegiate horsemanship riders showed their mettle aboard unfamiliar horses November 15 in the very first AQHA Collegiate Horsemanship Challenge. Held in conjunction with the 2012 AQHA World Championship Show in Oklahoma City, the challenge kicked off at 7 p.m., sandwiching the senior western riding finals and concluding before the start of the junior western pleasure finals.
The final four were narrowed down from 16 riders invited to the inaugural event – eight from the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and eight from the National Collegiate Equestrian Association. Rounds 1 and 2 were November 14 in the Performance Arena.
Round 3 on November 15 saw Texas A&M University’s Carey Nowacek, the No. 1 seed, face off with University of Findlay’s Jarrod Bush, the No. 4 seed.
Riding first, Jarrod marked a 137.5 on Invitemeforchocolate. Owned by Lauren Love of College Station, Texas, Invitemeforchocolate is a 6-year-old bay gelding by Invitation Only and out of Bettiluvchocolate by Zips Chocolate Chip; the bay gelding was bred by David James of Wayne, Oklahoma. After a four-minute warm-up, Carey also had her chance to pilot Invitemeforchocolate through the pattern; her efforts were worth 141.5 points and a trip to Round 4.
“I was definitely honored to be here, I think it’s a great opportunity for collegiate riding, getting people knowing what we do in IHSA and NCEA,” Jarrod told the Journal after his ride.
Second in the draw, University of Georgia’s Megan Hawkins, the No. 2 seed, duked it out against Fresno State University’s Lauren Crivelli, the No. 3 seed. Aboard Zippos Gold N Sonnet, Megan rode first, marking an astounding 152.5. Owned by Ashley Sioco of San Antonio, Texas, Zippos Gold N Sonnet is a 12-year-old bay mare by Zippos Old Gold and out of Sunny Melody by Son of Sun; the bay mare was bred by Winridge Farm of Cleburne, Texas. Mounted second, Lauren posted a score of 144 – a great effort, but not enough to win her match against the Georgia Bulldog.
For the final round, Megan and Carey were remounted, this time testing their skills aboard RA Undisputed, owned by Diana Davidson of Franktown, Colorado. Bred by Joe and Suzy Jeane of Valley View, Texas, RA Undisputed is a 6-year-old sorrel gelding by Chips Hot Chocolate and out of the Zippo Pine Bar daughter Are You Zipped. Neither rider was unfamiliar with the new pattern at hand. In fact, it wasn’t all that new of a pattern at all – it was the same pattern called for in the 2012 NCEA National Championship final round.
Megan rode first, marking a 137.5.
“It started out great – I had my extended lope, lead changes, all that,” the Ocala, Florida, native recalls. “I overspun just a little, and then just came down and loped. I had an extra lead change, unfortunately, but what can you do? Things happen.”
Up next, Carey moseyed into the pen, laying down a pattern worthy of 149.5 points.
“I felt like I really got to build a good pace,” Carey said. “After my changes, I slowed way down, and you’re supposed to change slow and then do a counter-canter corner – I thought that was great. I had some fast turns and loped right out – he was really good.”
Beth Bass, the Texas A&M University women’s equestrian team horsemanship coach, weighed in on the ride.
“I thought she looked great,” said Bass, who has helped coached the Aggies to four NCEA western national championships in the past five years. “She had a little bobble in her first pattern, and all of her mental toughness came back. She went out there to win it, and she did it.”
This isn’t Carey’s first big achievement – the summer after her freshman year at Texas A&M, she won the 2010 Built Ford Tough AQHYA horsemanship world championship aboard Certify This Chex.
“It’s just a little bit different riding for something bigger than myself,” the San Antonio horsewoman said, comparing her November 15 ride to the world championship trip in the Jim Norick. She added, “I’ve always loved (RA Undisputed), and seen him, but I’d never really thought about riding him. So it was definitely different going in there, not knowing what he was going to do in the show pen.”
AQHA Professional Horsemen and AQHA members are to thank for the world-caliber horses provided for the inaugural event. Pro Horsemen who rounded up donor horses include: Jim Searles, Jill Newcomb, Terry Cross, Gretchen Mathes, Butch and Patti Campbell, Chad Evans, Tommy Sheets, Joni Nelson, Robin Frid, Nancy Alto-Renfro, Gary and Kelly Roberts, Michael Colvin, Blake Weis, Leslie Lange, Bruce Walquist, Eugene Spagnola, Jeff Mellott, Bill Bormes, Brent Clark, and Brad Jewett.
“I got to ride Invitemeforchocolate, Fantastic Invitation and Zippos Gold N Sonnet,” said Lauren Crivelli of Visalia, California. “They were all fantastic – it was so much fun, they were so talented.”
“I thank the horse owners and trainers; the AQHA Professional Horsemen who donated horses were very generous,” added Jarrod of Millersport, Ohio. “We had some high quality horses to compete on and show our skills off (this week).”
While the 2012 AQHA World Show is winding down and crowning the last of this year’s world champions, these collegiate riders are already headed back to studies, training and competition.
Carey and Coach Beth Bass are catching a flight back to College Station, Texas, on November 16 – the Aggies have a match that same day against the University of South Carolina. Since USC rider Johnna Letchworth also competed in the challenge, she and USC Associate Head Coach Ruth Sorrel will share a flight with Carey and Beth.
They aren’t the only folks who will be in the air tomorrow.
“I’ll go back to work; I fly out tomorrow morning, and we have a horse show in a couple of weeks, and I’ll go get ready for that,” said Jarrod, who works for AQHA Professional Horseman Brent Tincher of Oxford, Ohio.
Megan also has her eye on a return to competition. She watched her father, Mike Hawkins, pilot Radical Yet Fancy to seventh place and first place Intermediate in senior western riding before she made her final go. Thinking back to Round 2, Megan said she got that itch to show AQHA yet again.
“They got down to the bottom two in the second round and it was just such an amazing feeling just standing out there in the ring – the only two. I’ve never been the last two standing in the ring, so it was a great feeling.
“It’s my last year doing equestrian, so I’ll be back with my show horses next year.” She added, “Doing the equestrian team and being in athletics all the time, I just don’t have time to show as much as I would like to and put my full effort into it.
“I’ll be back next year,” she promised with a smile.
For full results from the inaugural AQHA Collegiate Horsemanship Challenge, visit www.aqha.com/collegiatechallenge.