For the first time in 2019, the No. 3 Georgia equestrian team will leave the UGA Equestrian Complex and compete on the road. The Bulldogs travel to Fresno State for the first time since 2017, competing against No. 6 Fresno State on Nov. 8 and as No. 9 Baylor on Nov. 9.
In addition to traveling cross country, Georgia faces the challenge of competing with unfamiliar horses as the Bulldogs will use horses provided by Fresno State.
“From our film from several years ago when we did compete there in 2017, not too many of those horses are still being used there from what we can see,” head coach Meghan Boenig said.
Unfamiliar horses force Boenig to deviate from normal practice structure. Boenig designs training sessions to prepare her riders for uncomfortable situations, often letting a rider spend the allotted four-minute warmup time on one horse only to switch before entering the show pen.
“Tuesday, we had horsemanship practice, and she threw a total curveball on us,” freshman Caitlin Lyons said. “We got on our horse, we warmed them up, we did our four minutes and then she was like ‘Okay, switch horses, and now you’re going to do the pattern.’”
Riders are given four minutes to warm up with the horse they are drawn. When at home, Georgia riders know their horses more than anyone from practicing on them week in and week out.
As well as the warmup time with the horses, the team will watch a separate rider warm up the horse, giving Georgia riders an opportunity to see specifics about the horse they are given.
And at Fresno State, the riders will be drawn and watch a horse that they have never ridden on, making the warmup time vital to observe the horse to make an initial connection.
“You’re going to have some horses that are stronger in some maneuvers than other horses and some horses you kind of have to fake a maneuver on a little,” senior Ali Tritschler said. “So watching the warmup rider and really seeing the horse's strengths and weaknesses, then planning your four minutes out according to that.”
New horses make riders stick to the basics of what they know, not taking any assumptions about the specific horse they are riding. Although being on a new horse can set up to be a massive disadvantage, Boenig believes that it can be used to help her team against Fresno State.
“I think an advantage is sometimes is you don’t know what to assume about the horse,” Boenig said. “I think we have to make sure we’re really riding off of feel and what is happening in the moment rather than assuming anything or making an assumption based on a rumor about the horse.”
Georgia is coming off four straight meets at home where the team defeated three of their four opponents. But as the season takes the Bulldogs on the road for the first time, they will have to perform their best in an unusual environment against two nationally-ranked opponents.
“A lot of times when you get in a new atmosphere at a different school, nerves might be a little higher for people who don’t usually get so nervous," Tritschler said. "You feel a little out of place, but we just try to stick to what we know. Just take it step-by-step and do your absolute best, and that’s the best that anyone can do for sure, especially at an away meet.”