Journal on the Road

A Bittersweet and Anxious Day

April 18, 2010

Tara Christiansen shares her feelings during the finals of the 2010 Varsity Equestrian National Championships.

By Tara Christiansen

Sitting on our bus, driving back to good ol’ Aggieland, it’s great to know that our Texas A&M riders gave the Varsity Equestrian National Championships everything they had. I’m sitting on this bus as one proud teammate. A lot of our girls competed at nationals for the first time this year, and every single one of the 16 competing riders brought their A-game.

Not only was Saturday a day of Cinderella stories, such as the No. 6 seed Kansas State University taking the reserve western national championship and No. 12 Texas Christian University finishing sixth in the English division, but it was a day of epic proportions.

And if the competition wasn’t impressive enough, Waco saw one of its biggest thunderstorms that it has seen in a long time. The thunder was rolling when the horsemanship championships started, and the tornado sirens were ringing later on in the evening.

The English squad started the day off playing for third place. Unfortunately, our girls would lose to the University of South Carolina. Even though we had lost, we were still in contention for an overall national championship. However, the University of Georgia was in a similar situation.

Georgia’s western squad would lose to the South Carolina for third place. The Georgia English team would go on to win the hunt seat national championship against Auburn University.

When we started the horsemanship championship rounds, the thunder was rolling and the heavens were unleashing a ruthless rainstorm on the Heart of Texas Coliseum.

We played our good friends K-State for the western national championship. The battle actually featured a sister-sister rivalry between our sophomore horsemanship rider, Katie Lisabeth, and Kansas State head coach, Casie Lisabeth, who graduated from and also rode for Texas A&M.

Right from the start of the horsemanship rounds, my teammates and I were riding the edge of our seats for all that we were worth, but we had nothing to fear. Our girls would go on to leave the Wildcats in the dust with a clean sweep. That left our reining girls needing to only score one point to take the national championship.

Our individual horsemanship riders, freshman Carey Nowacek and senior Caroline Gunn, faced off for the individual horsemanship championship.

When the dust settled, both Carey and Caroline had laid down impressive individual patterns. We knew it would be close, but we didn’t know how close. Turns out that it was close enough for a tie. The officials had never been faced with such a situation, so they were unsure with how to proceed. It was determined that the two would compete in a re-ride. Caroline would prevail as the three-time national champion.

Just as a little back story, this was the third year of the individual championships, meaning that Caroline has been the only horsemanship rider to win the title.

Sophomores Courtney Dawe and Abigail Grabein went on to win their reining rides, as did junior Randi Standley. Even though senior Maggie Gratny lost her point for the team, she championed as the individual reining rider in a finals ride against New Mexico State University rider Rebecca McReynolds.

With the completion of the western and hunter seat finals brackets, it was evident that Texas A&M and Georgia were in a deadlock for the overall national championship. Georgia had won the overall in the three previous years, and we had also taken home reserve in those three years.

The remedy to the tie was a new format of competition: sudden death. In the sudden-death round, both schools chose their top rider from each of the four disciplines and the riders would face off in a head-to-head match up.

Riding for Texas A&M was Elizabeth Solch, equitation on the flat; Caroline Gunn, horsemanship; Lindsay Smith, equitation over fences; and Maggie Gratny, reining.

Our English athletes fought hard against the Georgia Bulldogs, and the western riders busted out two phenomenal runs. The matches ended in a draw, two western wins and two English losses for us. After this, there was much nail biting as the officials tallied the raw scores. I think that a few of us might need to see the doctor for potential ulcers.

In the end, what hurt us was our large point spread losses on the hunt seat side. We reluctantly handed over the overall national championship to the University of Georgia for the fourth straight year.

The loss was bittersweet. I know that our hunt seat girls would have loved nothing better than to pull out a win over such an English powerhouse as Georgia, but truth be told, they went in there and gave it their all.

Even though Georgia took home the overall title, we took back to Aggieland two individual championships, a reserve individual national championship, a fourth-place hunt seat finish, a western national championship and a reserve overall national championship. Topping that would have been nice, but we try not to be too greedy.

I’ve got to say it: I’m pretty sure we gigged ‘em.