WACO, Texas - The unknown.
Ask anyone in the UC Davis equestrian program about the process of getting off the ground for Thursday's inaugural competition against Delaware State and similar threads appear in their responses.
Only coach Jessie Weisinger has experience in NCEA competition. For everyone else, this is new, and no amount of practice will fully prepare the Aggies for what’s coming. It’s that mix of nervousness and excitement that is keeping everyone on edge but focused.
“I’m really excited to get back into showing reining horses, but this is a completely different format,” Western rider Laurel Jackson said. “When I normally show, you’ve been working with the horse for months, you become a team with the horse. This competition format is catch riding and you don’t know the horse for more than four minutes. It’s just a completely different ball game with NCEA.”
What has come together quickly is a first-year program eager to find its way. Because of UC Davis’ academic calendar, the Aggies weren’t able to hold tryouts until the end of the October. Weisinger had only planned to carry about 15 riders on the roster, but ended up taking 17 from tryouts and adding two transfers later. While a majority of the student-athletes had experience in showing, none had previously done the NCEA format. In addition, Weisinger was able to get 12 total horses via donations and leases that are being kept at the school’s on-campus equestrian center.
While other programs around the country were in the midst of competition, UC Davis was holding its first practice in early November. Then, the California wildfires put everything on hold as the school shut down for several days to keep everyone safe.
The Aggies got five weeks of practice before the holiday break and returned to work when class resumed in January. A recent intersquad hunt seat scrimmage gave riders a taste of what NCEA competition is going to be like over the next few months.
“It was very eye-opening for everybody to kind of go through the process. Even my assistant coach has been in the industry but it’s completely different than what we do (in NCEA),” Weisinger said. “It was good for everybody to get that underneath their belts and see how it all works.”
Now, they’re eager to give the real thing a go.
Thanks to team building events outside of practice, the Aggies have quickly come together. They understand that while it’s an individual ride that scores points, everything affects how the team performs.
That bond is being counted on as the foundation of things to come. After hosting Delaware State, the Aggies hit the road for three February events in Texas against Texas A&M, TCU and SMU, before closing out the regular season with two March competitions against Fresno State.
But first, the Hornets are coming to town. At around 10 a.m. on Jan. 31, UC Davis equestrian will officially begin. Nerves, excitement, new experiences – the Aggies can’t wait for it all.
“We’re definitely all nervous because only Jessie is the one who knows how this whole format works and the rest of us are just winging it,” senior hunter seat rider Lilly Ulrich said with a laugh. “At the end of the day, hopefully we can all look back and know we did the best we could. It’s our first time so we’re just hoping everything falls into place on that day.”