WACO, Texas- The Texas A&M equestrian team earned a second place overall finish for the second consecutive season at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships which finished up at the Heart O’ Texas Fair Complex on Saturday afternoon.
The University of Georgia won its first overall national title since 2004 thanks to a second place finish in western riding and a third place finish in hunter seat competition. Georgia out-pointed A&M, 49-38, for the top spot. Auburn finished an eyelash behind the Aggies for third with 37.5 points.
“We’re extremely happy with finishing as reserve national champions in the overall race for the second year in a row,” A&M head coach Tana Rawson said. “The quality and talent of the riders at this event has increased tenfold just in the past year. With the expansion of this sport, more and more talented riders are coming in and the coaching is just getting better and better. We are really thrilled at how much our hunter seat team has leaped forward just in the last year as well.”
Texas A&M sophomore Caroline Gunn (Greensburg, Ind.) capped a sensational year by earning the first-ever VENC individual horsemanship national title. Gunn got better every time she stepped into the ring on Saturday, scoring a championship record total of 152 in the fifth-place team match against South Carolina. She upped it to 152.5 in defeating Stephanie Sanders of Tennessee-Martin (142) in the individual semifinals.
In the championship match, Gunn laid out arguably the best run of her entire season scoring a 155, three-and-a-half points higher than any other rider all week long and setting a new championship record for the third time in one day. Gunn’s championship opponent, Laura Upton of Georgia, could only muster a score of 142 on the same horse to give Gunn her 12th consecutive, and historically most important, win of the season. Gunn ends the year with a sparkling horsemanship record of 15-2-1 and the VENC’s first ever national title in the discipline.
“Riding in the individual rounds in a way reminded me of showing on my own like we do when we’re not riding for our schools,” Gunn said. “I’m very happy with all of my rides and excited to have been able to represent the team and win this for them as well.”
The Aggie hunter team’s best run ever at a national championship show ended with a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Auburn. Auburn defeated A&M 3-1 on the flat and 2-1 over fences to earn its first ever hunter seat national championship.
Auburn jumped on the Aggies from the get-go on the flat, 3-0, however junior Christina Matz (McKinney) stemmed the orange and blue tide by throwing up the highest flat score of the championship round in the fourth and final match. Matz squeaked past talented Auburn freshman Alexandra Loprete, 155-154, to keep the Aggies’ team chances alive.
After Auburn scored a win in the first fences match, sophomore Kristi Waldal (Battle Ground, Wash.) cut Auburn’s lead to 4-2 with a 165-161 win over Tiger Anna Schierholz. The Tigers mathematically clinched the team win after junior Erin Ivy (Cypress) rode to a 157-157 tie with Auburn’s Dotty Grubb but also added a win in the final match-up to make the final score 5-2.
“It’s been an awesome year,” A&M hunter seat coach Linzy Woolf said. “Sure we would have loved to have won today but I still couldn’t be more proud of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a group and all the things we accomplished this year.”
A&M’s second place hunter finish is easily the highest in school history as this marked the first year the Aggies made it as far as the semifinal round.
The A&M western riders earned a 6-2 win over South Carolina in a fifth-place contest that matched up the two championship finalists from a season ago.
The Aggie reiners swept the Gamecocks for the second straight season on championship Saturday. Junior Genna Fishgold (Scottsdale, Ariz.) ended her season as the Aggies’ top reiner with a 10-6 record thanks to a 141-134.5 win over Kylie Thurlow.
Sophomore Maggie Gratny (Leveanworth, Kan.) won her reining match by an impressive 144.5-130.5 margin to close the season with an 8-7-1 mark. Fellow soph Maddi Williams (Valley View) squeaked out a 141-140 victory over to finish the season with eight victories as well. Freshman Randi Standley (Madisonville) also won her reining match by a 144-142 margin over Rebekah Roof.
In addition to Caroline Gunn’s 152-143.5 win over Katy Biffle in horsemanship, junior Sibyl Parsons (Combine) scored a 149-141.5 win over Biffle’s sister, Amy. Parsons ends the year with a stellar record of 9-4-2.
The A&M equestrian team’s second place overall finish equals its second best effort in the seven year history of the Varsity Equestrian National Championship.
Final Overall Standings
1. Georgia 49
2. Texas A&M 38
3. Auburn 37.5
4. TCU 36
5. Oklahoma State 30
6. Kansas State 27
7. South Carolina 16
8. Baylor 7.5
9. Fresno State 1.5
Final Hunter Seat Standings
2. Texas A&M
4. Oklahoma State
5. South Carolina
7/8. Fresno State
7/8. Kansas State
Final Western Standings
3. Kansas State
4. Oklahoma State
5. Texas A&M
6. South Carolina
Fences National Champion – Kristen Terebesi, South Carolina
Flat National Champion – Kristen Terebesi, South Carolina
Horsemanship National Champion – Caroline Gunn, Texas A&M
Reining National Champion – Kate Locker, Georgia