Piper and Cira Pace Malta speak with college equestrian coaches Jen Smith of Goucher College and Grace Bridges of Baylor University about their teams and what to expect if you want to ride in college. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!
GUESTS AND LINKS EPISODE 313:
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Piper Klemm [00:00:34] This is the Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up on today’s show, episode 313, this collegiate themed episode will feature equestrian coaches Jen Smith and Grace Bridges talking about their teams. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services.
Piper Klemm [00:00:58] Welcome back to the podcast, Cira.
Cira Pace Malta [00:01:00] Thanks for having me.
Piper Klemm [00:01:02] So it’s been a pretty exciting fall with lots of great guests on the podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the stuff that we have planned for for next year?
Cira Pace Malta [00:01:11] Sure. Well, I want to talk about this coming month, December. We decided to do some podcast episodes that are related to education, which ties to our education issue, of the magazine that comes out this same month. Tonya started us off talking to two college coaches, which I thought was a great episode. And then we have, I think we’re talking to four different coaches. If I’m not mistaken, this coming month. So I think it’s really great for people to hear about riding in college. Any younger listeners, high schoolers that are thinking about maybe riding in college, that hopefully these coaches can give them some insight and advice. I rode in college, so I really value that. Those four years that I had being an IHSA rider, I really feel like it really changed my riding world because it’s so different than everything that I had done growing up on the A circuit. And I just think my college experience would have been so different if I hadn’t have done it. So I think this is a great platform to kind of get more information out there for kids that are interested or maybe listeners that are trying to find their way. Maybe they don’t want to be a trainer. Maybe they want to think about coaching in college instead.
Piper Klemm [00:02:44] Yeah. And I think, you know, so many of these same things come up so much in the sport. And, you know, I think a big thing for me right now is is being humble and being coachable. And it’s so easy to say and so hard to do. And and really just not. Not getting defensive. I think we hear so much of, ‘I am. I’m trying. I didn’t mean to.’ You know, I think learning environments are really places where everyone knows that that everyone is putting in 100% and everyone is is trying. And it’s it’s about organizing and tweaking things and being really open to criticism and open to owning making mistakes and open to owning performances. And I think we really have this. Circumstance, I’ll call it a circumstance, culture and say, oh, you know, that he was spooking at the this or that or the car alarm went off or, you know. The weed whacker started or something like that at the show. And it’s like, Oh, we would have won, but x. And I think I struggle with this. I mean, I think we all do. It’s so easy to say, Oh, I could have had it if this didn’t happen and we have to identify those things. That’s how we fix these things. But I think we should only so much as to identify them, as to fix them. And I think this is something that that judging the local shows has really helped me, you know, form my own opinion about like so much matters when you’re at the ingate and you see every little thing you see, every dog you see, every everything and. You know, when you’re at the age, when you’re sitting in the box, all you see is a performance. I mean, you’re so lightning focused. And I want I want to bring that more to the ingate for myself and hope that we can bring that to the ingate for other people.
Cira Pace Malta [00:04:43] Yeah. So I think that the sport, you know, is is so difficult on so many levels. And no matter how you participate in the sport, I think most of us are very competitive. And I think that’s because the sport just requires so much of our attention, so much of our emotion. So when things don’t go perfectly, I think it is I mean, it’s the easy way out to blame, to blame things, right? To blame the weed whacker, to blame the footing, to blame the judging. But you know that this the sport is really hard. And if you want to, you know, if you want to keep getting better, like you said, you have to be teachable. You have to be open to criticism. And yeah, I mean, the sport is very unique and it takes 100% of your mind and body and bank account. And we all we can do is just keep getting better and and keep owning our mistakes. And, you know, I, I think back to one of the podcasts we had, I believe it was last month when we talked to Tom. Wright. And whenever I’m listening to our podcast, I always kind of like keep a mental note of of some things that really hit home. And he had said, you know, he has customers that are very, very top in our sport and they win all the time. So it seems, you know, from an outside view. But he had said, you know, he finds that the key to being at the top of the sport is to be okay. You have to be okay with losing. And I think once you let go of this thought that like you have to be perfect all the time, then it all kind of falls into place because you’re not you’re maybe not so defensive. You’re maybe not, you know, spending all of your energy thinking about the one thing that you have to do or your boogie man, you know, single long ride to an oxer. Or you just have to be you have to get to a place where you’re open to being in the moment and, you know, following the plan that you and your team has set into place.
Piper Klemm [00:06:57] We’re going to take a quick break here. And on today’s episode, which, as Cira says correlates with the education issue, the December issue. You can find that at theplaidhorse.com or you can subscribe at theplaidhorse.com/subscribe. We have one NCEA coach and one, IHSA coach on today’s episode to talk with us about some of the different options for riding in college. And there are about 10,000, IHSA, riders in college right now. And as of last time I checked, there are just under a thousand NCEA riders. So we have a lot of people riding in college, a lot of options, a lot of choices, a lot of schools, and there’s no right answer. It’s all about making the right fit for you.
Piper Klemm [00:09:41] Jen Smith has been the director of the equestrian program at Goucher College in Townsend, Maryland, since 2013. Jen graduated from Lynchburg College in 2005 with a B.A. in communications and has been with Goucher since 2007. Since that time, Jen has guided the Goucher equestrian program to ten consecutive regional championship titles and five national championships. And is the IHSA zone four Region One President. Welcome to the plaidcast, Jen.
Jen Smith [00:10:06] Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Piper Klemm [00:10:09] Before we jump in, can you tell us a little bit about the IHSA format and how it’s really inclusive and, you know, what kind of students get to ride in college through the IHSA program?
Jen Smith [00:10:21] Yeah, I would be happy to. So the IHSA program is the biggest collegiate competing venue. It’s like the one that has the most riders and teams and it has, I’ll try to take this to a pretty basic level, but the it has a bunch of different riding experience levels in it. So you as the coach are trying to put together a team that has the best riders at every level going all the way from like the Maclay level equitation rider all the way down to a student that has had less than 24 weeks of riding lessons and everything in between. And the cool thing about it, I think, is that not only is it inclusive of riders that haven’t had even the opportunity to be around horses, but it’s also inclusive of riders that haven’t had a lot of show experience but skill level wise are really talented, hard workers. And then when you go to the horse show, you know, it’s just as important that the open level rider win their class as it is that the walk trot rider win their class, and everybody is invested in other people’s success on their team in a way that you don’t see know really any other riding horse showing experience except maybe IEA. So, yeah, I mean, that that’s what. You know, that’s what I fell in love with when I was doing it in college and why I wanted to, you know, try to be a coach.
Jen Smith [00:11:59] So, Jen, let’s let’s back up and talk about how you started riding horses and then how and then talk about your college riding, which we got to ride together. Yeah. Yeah. So kind of talk to us about, like, your journey before college riding wise and then what your experience was in college that kind of led you to wanting to be a coach after. Yeah. So I, I was one of those people that didn’t really have the opportunity to do a lot of rated horse showing. I did a lot of fox hunting. I did a lot of I did eventing, I did horse showing, but more at a local level. You know, I worked in the barn and I worked off everything that I did and I was scrappy, but I wouldn’t say that I was refined. And when I got to college, I was really lucky to find J.T. Talon, who was amazing, and Kate Worsham, who was equally as amazing. And, you know, they helped me with some of that stuff that I hadn’t really gotten a chance to do. And it’s so funny because when I. Decided after I graduated that I wanted to try to work at a college and a riding program. Patte Zumbrun, who was the director here, told me that it was the blend of the two things that made her bring me in for an interview like this person has seen a variety, has had a variety of backgrounds, has seen a bunch of different types of riders and also like done the college showing thing, I did some more of the rated showing thing when I was in college and. You know, the vast experience, the different kind of experience was what she was what drew her to my application.
Cira Pace Malta [00:14:04] Yeah. And I, I also think too like the beauty of IHSA because I, I mean, I was in the same boat as you, but for a different reason. So I started showing on the A circuit when I was little. thanks to my mom being the trainer, I was probably like six, but I only ever did Pony Hunters as a junior, so I hadn’t shown over three feet. That’s right. So that I was able to be eligible for not the highest division, but the division lower, is it still the same for that type of thing?
Jen Smith [00:14:38] Yeah. Yeah, it’s it’s three basically like a certain number of ribbons at three foot or higher puts you into intermediate. And then if you want a certain number of ribbons at three six, that’s what puts you in the open. Okay. So it’s similar.
Cira Pace Malta [00:14:59] And I and I think that, you know, you know, obviously you get a lot of skills by showing up on the A circuit and all of that. And but I think showing, IHSA, is not at all relative to if you’ve shown on the A circuit or not, it is riding horses, you don’t know. It is just getting on and going. It’s kind of like catch riding. [Jen: Totally]. Yeah. I love that part of IHSA that it’s not just, you know, you’re the best because this is what you did growing up.
Jen Smith [00:15:32] Yeah, 100%. And it brings in, like, you know, all kinds of skills, mental and physical that, you know, uh, you know, challenges like, you know, you saw the horse go before you with a different rider and it misbehaved. And now you have to ride it and you have to figure out how you’re going to cope with that or. Yeah. It’s you’re riding something that is a type of horse that, you know, you’re not very good on, but you’ve been working on it. So yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of really interesting and unique things about it.
Cira Pace Malta [00:16:10] Yeah, for sure. I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t changed that much because I know we graduated in 2005 and it was basically just IHSA and that was it. And now there’s all these other different formats that I myself don’t know that much about, but I, I think I’m just very biased. I just say because of that format, it made sense to me and I’m sure the other ones make sense too. But this the way that they have it set up was just I don’t know, I just feel like it brings out the best in, in all kinds of riders. I mean, like we said, our walk trot rider when we were in college was just as important as she if she won a blue ribbon as one of us in open like I think that makes IHSA so incredible it it really does it really does. And it, it, it brings the team together in a really cool way, too, because, you know, the students that have had a ton of experience really take the others under their wing. And, you know, it becomes, it really does feel like a team that like rely on one another. Yeah. Which is really cool and unusual in a sport that’s sort of lonely at times, like for absolutely. You know. So yeah, that’s what I loved about it.
Cira Pace Malta [00:17:31] Yeah. So what is what is what would you say is your favorite part of coaching? We kind of just touch on that, your favorite part of coaching. And then what’s the hardest part as now being a coach on the other side? Mm. I think my favorite part is when. And this is sort of not not independent to IHSA at all, but it is when they are struggling with something. And it’s it’s been a hard struggle, like it’s something that they’ve been working on for quite a while. And then something happens and they get it like they’re on a specific horse that helps them to figure it out. Or I say a certain word that helps them to get it, or something happens and it clicks and they feel so much pride and excitement and that is really fun to be a part of. I would say that that’s my favorite part, apart from just like being around horses all the time, which is just like a dream life to live. The hardest part. I mean, it’s always hard. Like coping with failure is always hard, especially. And this is sort of like the flipside of what I just described. But, you know, my students and I, I can only speak to mine, I guess, but they they’re very hard on themselves. They’re very competitive. They work really hard. They really care about the team. They care about each other and. You know, sometimes they fail and it’s hard. It’s hard. They they feel more pressure because they’re part of a team. They don’t want to let each other down. They don’t want to let me down. But the reality is that you won’t you know, you can’t really make progress without failure. So it happens. But sometimes that can be hard to watch because. You know, I know how hard they work and I know how much they care about it and. You know, if they have a goal, they don’t meet or something. Sometimes that can be that can be hard.
Cira Pace Malta [00:19:47] Yeah, for sure. I remember that when we were in college, like on the team together and I feel like we took a lot of that on like the teamwork aspect of our team. We took it on for ourselves and we started videoing our practices and doing dinners and just spending more and more time together as a team to build that kind of team, team bond that none of us had had till we got to college. Is do you take that on as a coach or do you let your do you have captains? Do you let them kind of manage that side of like building your team to get everybody all on the same page? .
Jen Smith [00:20:25] Yeah, we do it together. We usually do a few team bonding activities like with us. Like for example, in the fall we went to, we did like a ropes course. So that was really fun, you know, because they don’t practice together. So they’re really the only time they’re all together is when they’re with the strength and conditioning coach. But their lessons, obviously, they’re split up so they don’t get to spend that much time all together. So we try to do a couple a couple of things with us or we’ll do a dinner or whatever. Sometimes we’ll do like an in-house scrimmage because that’s an opportunity for them all to be together. And then the captains also do other things, like they’ll do a dinner with just the first years, they’ll do dinners with everybody. They’ll do they do like, you know, movie night, cookie baking, that kind of stuff when recruits come to visit. So they do a decent amount of stuff together, which is really, really good. You know, we’re aware of the fact that they don’t practice all together, so we try to do a little extra, you know, to keep everybody feeling like they know everyone and connected.
Jen Smith [00:21:36] That sounds amazing. And it’s fun. It is. It’s it should be fun. I mean, look, like you’re one of my closest friends from college. My other closest friends from college rode on the team, too. I just think you make like these life lifetime bonds with these girls. Absolutely. and Boys too in IHSA I guess. But, yeah, it’s it’s quite an experience, that’s for sure. Let’s talk about your program specifically. Do you does your athletic department offer anything for your your team? Yeah. Yeah, they do a lot, actually. The equestrian program at Goucher is a varsity sport. So what that means is that the school pays for basically everything. The riders pay- the riders on the team pay for their lesson. So they pay like a fee depending on how many lessons a week they do. And then the athletic department pays for workouts, your pays for everything else. So like their entries, their travel, their food, all that stuff, Goucher pays for it. We also have a regular riding program here, so we have the varsity team. They’re the ones that are out competing and stuff. And then we have a regular riding program for any student at Goucher. So we have all levels and then we also have the equine studies minor. So the athletic department obviously only pays for the competing of the varsity riders. But yeah, they’re very supportive. We also have. You know, full time athletic training staff. So we have, you know, multiple athletic trainers, which I think is really cool because I don’t I mean, how many riders do you know that just like ride in pain all the time because they don’t have access to that kind of stuff. But like my my students will like stop at the training room on the way down to the barn and, and like, you know, get taped or get heat or get ice or after they’ll do that. So that’s really nice, too. And then we also have a strength and conditioning coach that they work out with once a week.
Cira Pace Malta [00:23:54] I’m totally jealous we didn’t have any of those guys.
Jen Smith [00:23:57] I know haha I know, it’s really nice that our strength and conditioning coach is amazing. He was the one of the assistants at Alabama for the football team so he like really really good but he’s been very invested in like you know, working with me to figure out like what kinds of things would be good for riders to do and what kind of things wouldn’t be good for riders to do. So that’s that’s cool, too.
Cira Pace Malta [00:24:21] Let’s talk about what high schoolers who want to ride in college should expect. Kids that are listening right now that are thinking that they want to ride in college, what what advice do you have for them in terms of, you know, the recruitment process? How do they get coaches attention and then what they can expect as a as a student athlete in college? It’s definitely not the same as being an athlete when you’re in high school, commitment wise, etc..
Jen Smith [00:24:52] Yeah, definitely piece of advice. I would say in terms of recruitment, pretty much every school that has like a competitive riding team now is going to recruit somewhat similarly, which is like they’ll have an online experience form, that they’ll have you fill out and then at least for an IHSA team, and then they’ll be a field where you can submit a video clip. The best I have the best advice I have for that is don’t make it long and don’t make it far away. Close up and short, brief little bit of flatting, ideally on multiple horses, a little bit of jumping. Most coaches will not watch for very long. So you want you want to make sure that it’s brief because they get, you know, hundreds upon hundreds of these and then just contact contact the coach, like reach out to them. I. I am always surprised at how many don’t reach out to me directly. And then I meet them and I’m like, e-mail me. Like, Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask what they’re looking for. As far as what they can expect or what it would be like when you got there. I mean, I think just be coachable. That’s the biggest thing. Like, be willing to learn. Be willing to listen. Be watching each other. Be open to learning new things. And and you can have a lot of fun with it. And. Yeah. I think that’s basically it. Sounds great. Coachable. All about being coachable.
Cira Pace Malta [00:26:35] Yeah, for sure. Any aspect of the sport, right? Yeah.
Jen Smith [00:26:40] Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Cira Pace Malta [00:26:43] Well, Jen, thank you so much for joining us today and good luck with your team for the rest of this year.
Piper Klemm [00:28:43] Grace Bridges is in the midst of her second season as a Baylor University equestrian assistant jumping seat coach after being hired in July 2021 and the 2021 to 2022 season, Grace helped the Baylor team to a number six final national ranking and an NCAA quarterfinals appearance. Grace assisted in Baylor’ 7-8 overall record and third place finish in the Big 12 after Baylor went one one at the 2022 Big 12 championship. In her first 18 months. Grace has coached her athletes to multiple Big 12 and NCAA rider of the Month Awards and multiple All-Big 12 and NCAA all-American selections. Grace was a standout student athlete at the University of Georgia, graduating with honors in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with concentrations in management and sports management, as well as Earning Excellence and Management Awards from the Terry College of Business. Grace was also a two time All-Sec first team selection and a two time NCAA all-American selection in flat. Grace compiled five most outstanding performer rides. And was part of two SEC championship squads during her time in Georgia. Additionally, Grace holds the NCAA record for the individual flat score in a single meet with a 99. In between her undergraduate career and beginning of her coaching career, Grace was a working student for Kat Mulkey, at Four Seasons farm, and Carly Anthony of Carly Anthony showjumping and then ventured into a professional riding job for at Beaver River Farm. Welcome to the plaidcast, Grace.
Grace Bridges [00:30:15] Hi, Piper. Thank you for having me.
Piper Klemm [00:30:17] So you’re in your second year coaching at Baylor. Can you tell us a little bit about your college riding journey?
Grace Bridges [00:30:24] Yeah, absolutely. So I graduated high school in 2016, didn’t really have the super big Eq career I had a hunter most of my junior career. So a little tricky, a little worried about getting on a team at one point. My whole family, I’m born and raised just south of Athens, Athens, Georgia. My whole family’s Georgia grads, just big fans growing up. So I kind of knew from the bat that was where I wanted to be. I actually accepted a preferred walk on spot at Georgia. I wasn’t super highly recruited, got there and sort of. Was was thrown into any and every role that you can have on a team from being a warm up rider to a barn manager. And then by my sophomore into my freshman year, sophomore year, earning a competition spot which are hard to come by sometimes in in this college format. So I had a fantastic experience riding for Georgia. I learned so much about all the different horses and and the college format and was really, really, really grateful to have coaches who took a chance on me, a kid that, you know, didn’t necessarily have the big name or the big equitation career coming in to college. So I was able to compete for Georgia for four, four years and graduated and got to take home some pretty cool honors with me, which was which was awesome. I was very grateful for all of it and then took a year of professional riding and had a back injury. And I’m a full believer and everything happens for a reason because as I was going through that rehab period was when the Baylor job opened up and it was actually my my head coach at Georgia that called me about the Baylor job. So and lo and behold, a few months later, I was in Waco.
Piper Klemm [00:32:19] NCEA riding has just absolutely exploded over the last couple of years. And and with all things that that get big, I think there’s a lot of kind of the glamor, the misconception, the the perception of what it is versus, you know, a little bit what it actually is. And I think there are still a lot of, you know, talented riders who who maybe the Big eq or the Time to Shine wasn’t wasn’t then for them that that they come on and get skills and. Appreciation, for lack of a better term, of of like lifelong experience in the sport. Can you talk about what some of the the skills and learning things and different parts of college riding that might not be the the in the ring or the stuff that we’re seeing on social media?
Grace Bridges [00:33:09] Yeah, absolutely. What a lot of people don’t know is, is until they, you know, come to a clinic or they’re really at a meet and see how how things work, is that every single piece of running a whole meet, of running a practice, of setting anything and everything up is is done in-house by the team for the most part. I’m 90% sure that’s how most teams run. So anywhere from lunging horses, braiding horses every day in and out, taking care of horses on the backside, they have horse care assignments, whether it’s you know, it’s the week of a meet and they’re clipping their legs and their ears and pulling their manes, getting them ready for for show week. It really all is in-house. So, so many valuable things you learn. Maybe you do come from a super high level, full service barn and then you jump into the college riding. And I’ve seen so many of my former teammates and now my student athletes learn so much and dive in headfirst in terms of horse care and horse prep. And I mean, they doctor the horses on the backside. They they learn how to do some treatment of wounds and medicating and different things. So and then on top of that, their schedules are just insane. The the schedule of a student athlete is not in any sport, is not for the faint of heart. But, you know, there’s some sports where it really is, okay, you have 2 hours of practice that day and you’re cut off at that 2 hours with ours You may spend an hour in the arena, but you may have an hour or so or more than that, depending on the day, on the front and back side, taking care of horses and helping set up for meet day, whether it’s setting jumps or setting the flat ring. So their days are just hectic when it comes to classes and workouts and practice and tutoring. So, so many responsibilities go into it and you really have to be just all in fully committed and jump in headfirst if you’re going to be successful in the in the college riding World.
Piper Klemm [00:35:12] I get to do different things pretty much every weekend. This weekend I was judging and also helping out with some of the courses that are at a horse show. And it’s amazing how you forget how heavy those boxes and those rails and those standards are.
Grace Bridges [00:35:26] Absolutely. Like I said, we have one of the biggest rosters here at Baylor and the NCEA. We’ve got 61 athletes this year and we like try to make our our meet week course setting time, a time where everyone can come because otherwise that is a task and a half. So we we try to reach out for all the help we can get when it comes to setting that show course for sure.
Piper Klemm [00:35:52] So 61 riders. So that’s split between English and Western. Can you talk a little bit about kind of some of the things that the riders learned from each other, learn from working together? I think many people in the Hunter Jumper community and every equestrian community are very siloed in their own community. And so I imagine being around the the other riders is really good for everyone.
Grace Bridges [00:36:18] Absolutely. It’s such a cool experience. And I experienced it, you know, as a student athlete and some of my best friends and ended up being Western riders. But then also now as a coach. Everyone else in our office of staff down to our director of ops is, is from the Western world. So I’ve learned so much and it’s such a cool experience to. Really, truly, like you said, open our worldview a little bit outside of our hunter/jumper world to to the whole other half of equestrian. I mean, they are just as committed and just as all in as we are. You know, we talk about you come to indoor season and your warmup time may be midnight or four in the morning in terms of schooling. And I’ve seen that happen the same thing. You know, I had we had student athletes, our coach. No, I was my my warm up time for trail at the world show was 3 a.m., you know. So it’s it’s just cool to see it be just as competitive. But, but they all bring different things into the team. So like even things in the barn with tips and tricks like clipping or all those things, it’s it’s cool. And when you have 61 athletes and 52 horses, I believe we have on the property right now. And two completely different worlds. It is important that we as a staff really try to streamline our care for the horses and kind of our systems throughout the barn. So it it’s very valuable to get in here. We do a barn orientation with the girls at the beginning of the year and it’s like, look, we understand you have so much valuable horse care and barn operation experience, but we have to streamline it for one program. So seeing, you know, ideas and concepts come from my side as well as my other coaches, the western side and really pushing it into one. I feel like we do get kind of the best of both worlds in care and we all learn tips and tricks from each other, which is cool. I’ll tell you what they can. They know they know how to teach manners. And so this quarter, horses and some of our horses really benefit from spending some time with the Western coaches and student athletes.
Piper Klemm [00:38:31] That’s so funny. I always. Yeah. It’s like, oh. around hunter jumper people. They’re like, oh, he doesn’t like this. He doesn’t like that, and the western people are just like.
Grace Bridges [00:38:42] It drives them nuts sometimes my coaches are like, No, I’m not bringing that horse in, he’s too rude. Like, That’s all on you, you know?
Piper Klemm [00:38:54] You talked a little bit about scheduling. You know, what does that look like on like meet weeks and like. You know, I think. I think many people are astonished by the true commitment. It’s not just like being a college student with classes. That’s such a delicate balancing act.
Grace Bridges [00:39:12] Right? So usually what a normal meet week would look like. You know, say you are one of my starting five competitors in one event or the other that week. So our team works out three days a week, early in the morning, around 5:45 a.m. So typically that’s this semester it was Monday, Wednesday, Thursday. They usually are in class anywhere from eight or 9:00 until noon, 1:00, just kind of that midday or early afternoon time. And then we run into starting practices. And if, you know, if you are one of those people in one of those competitor spots for that week, you’re going to be say, we compete on Saturday, you will practice Monday through Friday, make sure you’re in the saddle every day. And then two especially on the backside of those days, it’s it’s bathing horses. It’s laying out show tack, it’s clipping horses, anything like that. But, you know, depending on your role really depends on the amount of practices, the amount of time you’re kind of committing to the barn that week. If you’re one of my warmup riders or demo exhibition, anything like that, like I still try to keep you at 2 to 3 practices a week. There are there will be a few people bumped down to one practice per week if maybe they’re in our video or scribe roles or something like that. But regardless, like usually the night before the meet, we have a team dinner, make sure all the tack rooms are set up. The course is set. We we feed the girls and get together. And kind of one of our student athletes is a very good photographer and videographer, has their own business and usually makes us a hype video and different things like that. So we take that time to come together but all and then meet day is a full usually seven 7:30 a.m. to four or 5:00 pm commitment just depending on the start time. But again, getting here and having all of that jumping seat and western horses to lunge or or bathe or clean up and and braid and track and then on the backside again, unbraid and, you know, bathe and take care of and clean all the time. Just everything on the backside, too. So it’s it’s just a lot more of a commitment. Student athlete, I think. I’m not undermining any other sport. I know they spend just as much time and it’s just as much of a commitment. But you’re not just committing to taking care of yourself as a student athlete. You know, the other half of our sport, our equipment, our horses. So you’re committing to to taking the best care of them and everything in the barn too.
Piper Klemm [00:41:48] I know again there there’s a lot of over dramatization but with with people what. What does the university actually provide for student athletes? What resources do you have? And and can you explain to us a little bit about just generally how scholarships work in the NCAA and what some of these what what you’re actually signing up for again versus. Yeah, you know, absolutely. There’s a game of telephone, a little of it for people.
Grace Bridges [00:42:17] Right. Right. Totally understandable. I think every school is a little different, but for the most part, athletic departments do offer definitely sort of the same list of resources for student athletes. In terms of school especially, we have dedicated academic coaches that keep them that, you know, go through all their syllabi and keep them on target to graduate, register them for all their classes, make sure, you know, eligibility wise, they’re in enough hours and, you know, if they need to. Okay, well, you can lighten your load this semester and take something over the summer. So we have a full staff of academic coaches as well as tutors, tutors for any class, any major, not only on campus. There’s a regular tutoring service on campus, but we have some that are just dedicated to student athletes and just work in our Athletics Center for Excellence here at Baylor. So tutors available for you to request and sign up for. And we also have mentors that again, just, you know, if if the student athlete needs a mentor in the same office or just like, again, study habits and time management and different things like that, we’ve got a wonderful mental health services team. We have team doctors, athletic training staff, we have a nutritionist, a registered dietitian that’s assigned to our team. Just any of their goals or if they’re struggling with finding time in the day to get a good meal in and what kind of snacks are best of fuel, then for practice, whatever it may be. So a team dietician, I mean, it is it’s kind of unlimited in terms of the resources student athletes have. We have a character formation team is what we call it at Baylor that helps them put together resumes and they do interview workshops and career fairs and they do a leadership institute. So it really there’s no part that we’re missing out on in terms of setting you up for success in college. And something that’s really important to us here at Baylor and our athletic department is setting you up for success after college as well. So, I mean, all of these people are here sort of holding your hand through it all. So it seems like an overwhelming schedule. But at the same time, we give you all of the support and all of the people to help you through that and make sure you’re able to do it successfully.
Piper Klemm [00:44:41] Now I know a number of riders have been able to balance their studies such that in their their four years of eligibility for the NCEA, some of them are able to earn a masters degree or another advanced degree in that time. Can you talk a little bit about different types of academic options?
Grace Bridges [00:45:02] Yeah. And everyone’s everyone’s path is different a little bit throughout college. We see some people do just the four years we’ve seen in the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of that that fifth year option with graduate degrees, master master’s programs. And that was because of the COVID fifth year that was given over the past few years to anyone who lost half a season in 2020 and 2021 to to the whole COVID outbreak. There has been like a free COVID fifth year of eligibility, I believe that ends in 2024. But so we’ve seen a lot more of those master’s programs getting graduate degrees to have that cohort this year. But even in the four year, if people come in with credits from high school or they take lots of classes over the summer, there are definitely options. And every school has a little different options with with what they offer in terms of graduate programs like Baylor has a couple of unique graduate programs that are one year and you start mixing and graduate classes within undergrad classes when you’re a senior. So they’re able to finish. It’s still in the four years and get that done. And then different schools are a little different. Or if they have a fifth year of eligibility and they want to stay for two more years, they might join a different graduate program that stretched out a bit more. It just totally depends on that student athlete path and and what that school offers in their major for those graduate programs. But the the support system remains the same from from athletics.
Piper Klemm [00:46:40] So let’s talk about coaching a little bit more. You’re taking all these riders who have had all these trainers who essentially worked as individuals for the last eighteen years of their life. You’re putting them on a team together. I’m sure there’s a lot of personalities. There’s a lot of just like, you know, very much like riders have a lot of autonomy to choose a coach that fits their learning style the best outside. And then, you know, they they think you’re a good fit. They probably visited maybe they went to a camp. But like, you know, at the end of the day, you don’t really know if a trainer is a good fit until you jump right in. And so they’re jumping right in your new you’re different. And also they have all these teammates and all these personalities. And and then on top of that, there’s a lot of competition to be a meet rider and a lot of work to do. You know, how do you balance all of this and how do you manage all these expectations with these young student athletes coming in?
Grace Bridges [00:47:36] Right. Um, I, I find that, like you said, most we, you know, and we at Baylor and everyone has a little different strategy, but we at Baylor, we won’t commit anyone to a spot on the team without having met them in person and have that conversation. However, that meeting looked like whether it was a visit or out of show or out of camp, whatever it is. But I think balancing that is, is just being adaptable as a coach to obviously we all have our different coaching styles and we have different things that we look for in riders and, and in teammates. But being adaptable as a coach is huge. My philosophy and you can ask any one of my athletes, I say it and I say it to them all the time is like I was not hired here to teach you how to ride this. These athletes come from amazing backgrounds with amazing trainers, and they’ve spent so long developing their riding style and their technique that it’s not my job to change how they ride. It’s my job to improve the little things, really coach them into the college format, you know, keep improving their adaptability on the different kinds of horses they’re going to be able to ride, prepare them for my day and really just build their confidence. That’s that’s number one for me because the more confidence you have and the more secure you feel going into the ring on anything you get on that day, the better that the outcome will be in their college riding career. That’s what I felt like personally for me, was the more sure of myself and confident I was, and the more I was able to just trust myself and and my riding ability, the better I was in the competition arena. So that’s that’s kind of my philosophy in terms of coaching. So I do I try to be really adaptable. I try to find out what they need from me as a coach. Some of them need a pretty good pep. Talk two minutes before. They go in the ring. And some of them need to be alone and they need to be quiet and they need some space and for it to be nice and quiet and just to focus before they go in. So it’s a lot to juggle, but it’s it’s our job and that’s that’s what I believe in in terms of the atmosphere know and it is it’s it’s hard. That is the hardest adjustment sometimes for freshmen when they come into teams is is shifting from such an individual. Me and my horse to okay now I’m representing not only an equestrian program but a university and an organization from NCEA. You can take it as far as that, too. So it’s it’s a lot and it’s a big shift when they get here and there’s maybe, you know, maybe they were the best at their barn. But it’s a big class of kids with all the same level of experience or or talent. So just being able to shift your mindset and understand that it’s bigger than yourself now it’s it’s a support system of 60 people all working all working toward the same goal. And it’s cool. I would say that’s the hardest part about the transition, but for me that’s my favorite part about the college format in college riding is seeing it shift from such an individual cutthroat, competitive sport sometimes and jumping into this like, okay, now you have a new family of people who all want the same thing and all are coming together because we love horses and we love the sport. But really being able to put a university’s logo and colors on your back and and feel like you’re a college athlete and feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself in that team atmosphere.
Piper Klemm [00:51:11] Yeah, I think I didn’t even think, you know, that’s you’re there representing the whole NCEA. And I don’t I don’t think many of us feel at the show like we’re representing. USEF or the sport or something, and maybe we should. That’s kind of a really interesting point.
Grace Bridges [00:51:29] Yeah.
Grace Bridges [00:51:30] But but I love that, you know, it’s they’ve spent all this time developing their own craft and clearly it’s worked for them. They’ve gotten on the team. And so changing that is is is not really the goal of all of this. Right. That’s a really that’s a really good take. Can you tell us a little bit more about kind of the camps and and the recruiting process there? I know pretty much every school offers offers a camp nowadays. Like what what are those look like? What are the schedules like? What can people expect when they when they sign up for a camp at Baylor or any other school?
Grace Bridges [00:52:09] Yeah, absolutely. It’s crazy that, you know, almost every school has camps now because I feel like back when I was in high school, camps just weren’t such a thing. And, you know, there were like maybe two schools that were running camps. It’s it’s overall just regardless of where you choose to go to your camp, it’s a great experience. Just feeling like a you get to learn the coach’s style a little bit. You do get some riding sessions and get to be coached up by that coach. That’s a great opportunity to see that. But B, you get to ride college horses. If you’ve never done a college flat pattern, you get to be right in and sort of get a taste of that. The camp schedule and the format in the way it’s run is does vary school to school. Some some schools will do a week long camp or three or four days, you know, in the summer. Most of them are more like either one day or two day camps. Usually here at Baylor, we run two day camps. And the way we set it up is they comprise of three riding sessions. So kind of like two lessons and and those lessons are about 2 hours long. Each you’ll get to Flatt and jump in both lessons and then we finish the camp out with a scrimmage. It puts you in the college format, get a draw. You don’t know who you’re riding and you’re on a horse you haven’t ridden and really kind of and we score them and give them their scorecards back. Like, really like it would be a meet day. But aside from the riding piece too, you know, when you come to camp, you’re in the barn, you’re, you’re catching horses, you’re tacking your horse up. It really we use it as a tool to to really show them what it feels like to come out and prep for practice on a normal day at Baylor. Like what our day to day looks like in the barn and in the arena. And then too, we always have some a couple of student athletes work the camp for us. I have a couple of mine help and usually do to student athletes help coach and help in the barn and we give them the lunch break on the full day to just really pick their brain about what it’s like on this team and at the school, what the atmosphere is like. We let them sit down, door closed with the student athletes and really, really ask the people who are in it in that moment going through everything right now what this team and this school is like. So it’s just a great experience. It’s a way, you know, you can go see campus on your own and maybe some schools work a campus tour into their camps, but get a taste of that coaching style in the moment. Jump into the format if you never have, and then, you know, get a feel for a couple of different college courses while you’re there, too.
Piper Klemm [00:54:47] Grace, thank you so much for joining us on the plaidcast.
Grace Bridges [00:54:50] Absolutely.
Piper Klemm [00:56:56] To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit theplaidhorse.com. You can find show notes at theplaidhorse.com/Listen, follow the plaid horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse magazine at theplaidhorse.com/subscribe. Please write and review the plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode, please share it with your friends, I will see you at the ring.
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