Tied 7-7 at last year’s National Collegiate Equestrian National Championship in Waco, Texas, the Georgia equestrian team sat and watched as Auburn rider Ashton Alexander defeated Maddy Darst 255-242.
Alexander won the final point of the season and gave the Tigers their sixth national championship, as they defeated the Bulldogs 8-7 to end Georgia’s 2018-2019 campaign.
The No. 2 Bulldogs now travel to No. 1 Auburn on Nov. 15 for the first time since their championship defeat to end the fall portion of the 2019-2020 season. Georgia has gone 4-1 overall and 1-1 in conference action so far.
“It’s probably the biggest meet of the season because it’s at Auburn,” senior Kate Kramer said. “They’re definitely our biggest competition.”
Georgia heads into the meet hoping to become the first team to defeat Auburn this season. The Tigers currently hold a 4-0 overall record and a 1-0 record in SEC competition. With a top seed in the national rankings at stake, the Bulldogs’ practices over the past week have been longer and more intense in preparation for the defending champions.
“It's difficult because I kind of feel the pressure, for sure, of the rematch, but I also wasn’t there to experience it, so I don’t totally understand it,” freshman Rachel McMullen said. “It’s interesting to see the mentality change from meet to meet, especially going into Auburn, how focused people are.”
The Bulldogs travel to Auburn every season, as well as the other SEC schools on the schedule. Consistently traveling to conference competition creates familiarity between visiting riders and hosts’ horses that Georgia has competed with in previous seasons.
For upperclassmen, they have used Auburn horses before and will look to give advice to younger riders from experiences on specific horses. However, even with familiarity between Georgia riders and Auburn horses, the challenge of riding on a live animal makes each meet different.
“When we go to Auburn, and we see the horses they’re using and who draws who, we’ll definitely try to give each other advice,” senior Ali Tritschler said. “We try to keep it very general because, unlike any other sport, it’s a live animal. So of course last year it could’ve felt one way or acted one way, but it’s been an entire year. Even day to day, horses can change.”
In addition to the unpredictability of horses, Auburn regularly receives new horses each year that will be used in competitions and are mixed in with horses the Bulldogs have ridden in years past.
“They get new horses all the time, which is not that great for us because we don’t know them all that great,” Kramer said. “Rumor has it, they’re going to be using new ones to psych us out, which is unfortunate, but if any of the ones that we know are in, we know them really well.”
The equestrian season will continue on Feb. 1. Georgia will then travel to No. 5 Texas A&M in hopes of kickstarting their way into the postseason, where they expect to face off against Auburn once again.
“They are going to be one of the top teams in postseason in second semester,” Kramer said. “I think going against them now, if we can beat them, it will transfer very nicely, and we’ll feel very confident heading into the second half of the season.”