Megan Southam had thought about the prospect of coaching while in college, but it wasn't serious at the time. Why would it be? She was still a college student wrapped up in riding and academics. Then, shortly after graduating from the University of Georgia, a coaching opportunity opened up, and she took it.
It was much of the same scenario with McKenzie Lantz. After finishing up four years at the University of Georgia, she came back to do a fifth year and after graduating in December, she decided to stay on and be a volunteer coach for the Bulldogs equestrian team. It wasn't until then that Lantz realized how much she enjoyed coaching.
Caroline Postoak was the prototypical college student. Midway through school, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do after graduating. But as a junior and then senior when she was thinking about the future, her thoughts always came back to her love - riding horses. Postoak greatly enjoyed collegiate equestrian and the NCEA, so it eventually became a no-brainer for her to continue to stay in the industry as a coach.
Amber Henter's path is different from the three mentioned above, but it still has the common thread of having an uncertain future. After graduating from the University of South Carolina, Henter didn't have much of a plan, but one of her previous trainers called and asked if she wanted to come up to New York and help out her business. She immensely enjoyed the experience, and soon thereafter became a professional rider.
The three coaches and professional rider also have another thing in common, one that is very exciting if you are a fan of the sport of equestrian. All four are recent college graduates who are now making a living in the equine industry.
Having young talent in any profession bodes well for the future, and it's no different in the equestrian world.
"It's exciting," said Henter, who was a three-time team captain at South Carolina, which captured SEC titles in 2013 and 2014 and the NCEA National Championship in 2015. "It's nice to know that people are following their passion, whether it's with coaching or continuing to ride. It's just nice to see that people still care and want to do it, and I think the team aspect of riding in college helped all of us."
The chance to participate in collegiate equestrian was pivotal in preparing all four young stars for their respective careers after college. Southam enjoyed a very successful riding career at Georgia where she was also an NCEA Academic All-American, and while she wasn't exactly sure what she wanted after college, Southam had a good base to start with. It allowed her to get to where she is now as an assistant coach for SMU, which recently reached its highest ranking ever in program history.
"It helped tremendously," Southam said of being an equestrian student-athlete. "It's so different than the normal (equestrian) industry, so it was really beneficial for me to know the ins and outs of the format for college riding. I started coaching soon after graduating so I still know a lot of the horses at the other schools, so it's easy for me to talk to the girls on the team about how the horses go from having a personal experience."
Aside from that familiarity, the young assistant coaches are also able to relate to the girls on their respective teams very well. After all, they were in their shoes just a few short years ago.
"Whether it comes to their classwork or they're stressed about a test or having problems at their dorm room all the way to their four-minute warmup, I've been there," said Lantz, a former first-team All-American at Georgia and current assistant at Fresno State. "I've gone through that, I've worked through that not only as a team member, but as a captain having to help girls through different situations. I think that it's really benefited me having been right there doing the exact same thing that they are. I know how much I can ask of them."
Postoak, a former star at the University of Tennessee at Martin who racked up 20 Most Outstanding Player awards, is now an assistant coach for Texas A&M. After starting out as a volunteer coach, Postoak has quickly risen through the ranks.
It took a lot of hard work to get to where she is, but if she were talking to a current equestrian student-athlete who wanted to go into coaching, Postoak would make sure that student understood that hard work is a necessity.
"The biggest thing is to stick to your guns and keep working hard," Postoak said. "That's definitely what got me here is just working hard, even when people aren't watching. Make sure that you're taking every opportunity."
For Henter, her move to the professional ranks is starting to pay off. She was recently named champion of the WCHR World Developing Pro Challenge class at the 2016 Capital Challenge, a huge event in the professional world.
Henter didn't know what would come out of it when she first made the move, but with the success she is having now, it shows that absolutely anything is possible.
"Just keep working hard and find an 'in' with someone, anyone, and just pursue that goal because it's attainable," Henter said. "Get through college and then just get your foot in the door."
The mindset that Henter, Postoak, Lantz and Southam all have bodes well for the future of collegiate equestrian. There are so many different things that current equestrian student-athletes can do after college, and the success of that foursome is living proof of what can happen.
All four were highly successful at their respective schools, and they will do everything they can to support the NCEA and equestrian as a whole for many years to come.
"I think longterm, I would love to see this sport continue to grow," Postoak said. "Maybe one day, far in the future, I definitely have a lot to learn, but one day being able to take over a program and be a head coach."