BY AUBURN ELVIS
As COVID19 precautions became a daily reality in our 2020 world, most of the National College Equestrian Association opted out of Fall competition, focusing their attention instead on a Spring return to the sport. In spite of the sudden halt, fans of college equestrian were not left unsatisfied as the four NCEA teams within the Southeastern Conference announced a shortened, conference-only round-robin season to run from mid-October through the second week of November. The conference provided a framework of COVID19 safety guidelines and the four teams created an abbreviated schedule in which each team would host at least one meet and travel at least once.
The abbreviated season opened on October 16 in Blythewood, SC, as pre-season #3 South Carolina hosted pre-season #1 Auburn. Undefeated since April of 2018, Auburn looked to remain the dominant team in the sport. Starting a lineup stacked with a half-dozen returning NCEA first and second team All-Americans, the Tigers handily defeated the Gamecocks 14 to 5.
Week two saw Auburn return to the road to face archrival and preseason’s #4 ranked UGA in Bishop, GA. The Bulldogs proved a much tougher challenge for the reigning champions. In a tightly-contested meet in which the teams traded points back and forth all day, Auburn eventually emerged the winners by a two-point lead of 10 to 8.
Fellow conference member and preseason’s #7 ranked Texas A&M joined the field when they traveled to the Peach State for a showdown with Georgia on October 29. Georgia leapt to a commanding lead early on with a strong performance in the Horsemanship event. The Aggies would rally late to close the score gap, but the Bulldogs defended their home territory and were victorious 10 to 9 to take the competition.
Texas A&M traveled to nearby Auburn the next day to try their luck against the top-ranked Tigers but Auburn’s depth and home advantage was too much for the Aggie visitors and Auburn emerged the winner by a healthy score of 15 to 5.
A&M returned home to College Station and regrouped from their winless road trip as they met South Carolina on November 5. Bolstered by the home crowd, the Aggies turned in strong performance in Reining and Equitation on the Flat to build a sizable lead at the half. They maintained that lead over the visiting Gamecocks and took the day 13 to 7.
In the final meet of the Fall mini-season, Georgia traveled to South Carolina on November 13 to meet a ready-for-action Gamecock team. In this final home meet for South Carolina, the team remained even with Georgia at the halfway mark before taking enough remaining points to secure an 11 to 8 victory. Not only would the Gamecock riders head into the holidays with new momentum, but they also created a three-way logjam for second place in the conference standings behind Auburn’s perfect 3 and 0 record.
NCEA equestrian action will now pause until the end of January at which point most teams plan to resume riding. Fans of the sport, encouraged by this past month’s condensed schedule, should anticipate an exciting Spring season as an even wider selection of teams take to the saddle on a journey they each hope will lead to the NCEA National Championships in April 2021.
As a lifelong fan of SEC sports, Auburn Elvis usually can be found following Auburn athletics in person, or online through his Twitter account (@AuburnElvis). He first became interested in equestrian during Auburn’s 2018 NCEA National Championship campaign and now regularly offers his creative perspective on the sport through podcasts, articles, and guest appearances.