The Fresno State Equestrian team will host powerhouse opponents during the 2016-2017 season.
Madison Robinson of Clovis and Taylor Dixon of Delaware along with 26 riders will represent the Bulldogs for the 2016-2017 season. They will team with Noodle, Fred, Lola, Dolly and other horses when Fresno State competes against Texas Christian University next week.
TCU, started the season ranked No. 3 in the nation. Fresno State was ranked No. 9.
During the season that extends into March, the Bulldogs will host four other highly-ranked teams: University of Georgia, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University and University of South Carolina.
The host school supplies horses for a meet, which gives it an advantage because its riders know the horses’ strengths and weaknesses.
How meets work are unknown to most people – some not even realizing that the sport involves horses.
They ask if equestrian is like swimming, Robinson said, a senior excited about her last year of competition.
Other people believe that equestrian team members are jockeys who race horses, said Dixon, a junior and one of three returning All-Americans.
“We give them a very simplified version of our competition, and then they go, ‘OK. Maybe I’ll come and watch,’” Dixon said.
Equestrian meets feature horses jumping, spinning, sliding and doing other maneuvers. Sliding is accomplished when horses push their back feet into the ground as their front feet keep pedaling forward.
Spectators will be treated to a Fresno State team that Coach Eric Hubbard expects to match up well against the strongest teams from the Southeast and Midwest.
Hubbard said the team has “new energy” — in part because of five freshmen, which illustrates that Fresno State draws riders from near and far.
Freshmen include three natives of California — Paige Barton from Oakdale, Shea Gilson from Sanger and Natalie Wendt from Santa Cruz — and two riders from the western states of Montana and Colorado.
The team also includes eight sophomores, eight juniors and seven seniors — hailing from Delaware, Washington, Indiana and Illinois.
Riders with local ties are Kelley Couch from Clovis and Taylor Brown from Strathmore.
The team won the conference title in the 2014-2015 season and made it to the quarter finals of the championship of the National Collegiate Equestrian Association. That’s the highest Fresno State has ever placed.
Equestrian competitions are comprised of four events:
▪ Equitation on the flat. Riders are judged on their ability to control their horse while maintaining the correct riding position and riding in a pattern.
▪ Equitation over fences. Riders are judged on position as they take their horse over a series of fences.
In both events, athletes ride English style. English-style riding is based on the tradition of the fox hunt in England. Riders wear a jacket, helmet, tall boots and britches.
The other two events are:
▪ Horsemanship. It’s similar to equitation on the flat, except that riders compete Western style. Judges look for how well riders communicate with and maneuver their horse. Western style riders wear spurs, chaps, button-down shirts and cowboy hats.
▪ Reining. Western style riders demonstrate a variety of stops, turns and figures at various speeds while following a pattern they must memorize.
Horsemanship is the specialty of Robinson, a 2013 graduate of Clovis High School.
“It’s the event where I feel the strongest — and you have a lot of partnership with your horse,” she said. “The maneuvers you do in horsemanship are something that a lot of people can’t do or underestimate.”
Robinson is encouraged by the start of the season. “There is a good energy this year,” she said.
One of seven seniors on the team, Robinson started riding when she was 9 and competing at 14. She gave up dancing, and track and field, to focus on equestrian competition.
“I knew I wasn’t going to dance forever, and I always want to have horses in my life,” Robinson said. She attended Fresno State equestrian meets while growing up, and she liked what she saw. “I knew going onto a team like this, you instantly get 30 friends who all like to do what you like to do. That’s really awesome.”
Majoring in kinesiology/exercise science, Robinson wants to become a physician’s assistant. She will be attending graduate school but doesn’t know where yet.
Dixon – who grew up on a farm near Dover, Del. – started riding ponies when she was 5. She came to Fresno State because it’s close to Paso Robles, where she keeps her personal horse (Junior) and works with a trainer who lives there.
“I’m very attached to my personal horse, and it made it a lot easier going to college in California,” Dixon said.
She competes in horsemanship and reining.
Dixon is majoring in kinesiology/sports administration and wants to become a lawyer.
She said the chemistry on this year’s team is good.
“We have a lot of different personalities and they all bring something unique to the table,” Dixon said. “Everyone works really hard. Everyone genuinely loves the horses, which is such a huge part of this and can easily be forgotten when things get tough. They are here for the right reason, and I think that’s a solid foundation for our team.”
To show that love for the horses, members of the equestrian team arrive at 7 a.m. four mornings a week to clean the animals’ stalls.
Roster for the 2016-2017 season
Assistant coaches: Kimberly Hewson-Budnik and McKenzie Lantz
SCHEDULE FOR THE 2016-2017 SEASON
Home meets are held at the Student Horse Center on Woodrow Avenue
11 a.m., Friday, Oct. 21 vs. Texas Christian University
11 a.m., Friday, Nov. 4 vs. University of South Carolina
10 a.m., Friday, Feb. 17 vs. Southern Methodist University
11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 18 vs. Baylor University
10 a.m., Friday, March 3 vs. University of Georgia
Honors for the Fresno State Equestrian Team for the 2015-2016 season
From the National Collegiate Equestrian Association:
▪ Taylor Brown - First Team All American in reining
▪ Sierra Swaffar - First Team All-American in equitation on the flat
▪ Taylor Dixon - Second Team All-American in horsemanship
From the United Equestrian Conference:
▪ Taylor Brown - Rider of the Year and First Team All-Conference in reining
▪ Taylor Dixon - Rider of the Year and First Team All-Conference in horsemanship
▪ Sierra Swaffar - Rider of the Year in equitation on the flat
▪ Taeya Harle - Freshman of the Year in horsemanship
▪ Sierra Swaffar and Kylina Chalack - First Team All-Conference in equitation on the flat
▪ Rachel Williams - First Team All-Conference in horsemanship