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Piper and Traci Brooks speak with Phillip Williamson, Director of Riding at the University of Lynchburg and Abby O’Mara, Associate Head Equestrian Coach of Texas A&M University about riding in college and their different IHSA and NCEA programs. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!
GUESTS AND LINKS EPISODE 314:
- Host: Piper Klemm, Publisher of The Plaid Horse and Traci Brooks
- Guest: Phillip Williamson became the University of Lynchburg’s Director of Riding in December of 2020 and leads Lynchburg in both National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) and Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) competition. Phillip brought the Hornets into the forefront of the NCEA conversation, culminating with the 2022 NCEA single-discipline Championship in 2022 and was awarded the Jumping Seat Coach of the Year honors. Lynchburg’s IHSA team also enjoyed a renaissance in his second season at the helm, finishing fourth in one of the nation’s most challenging regions and sending one rider to IHSA nationals. Phillip came to Lynchburg with a wealth of experience in the equestrian world, most recently as a riding instructor and assistant IHSA coach at Sweet Briar College. A Colorado native and 2016 Equine Studies graduate of Centenary College in Hackettstown, New Jersey, Phillip was an accomplished rider for the Centenary IHSA program in his own right, earning reserve high-point rider honors at the 2016 IHSA Zone 3 Region 3 championships and novice individual reserve champion accolades at the 2016 ANRC championships. Phillip also holds a Master’s Degree in coaching and sport leadership from Randolph College. Phillip has also taught and ridden professionally in both New Jersey and Colorado, holds a USEF “r” judge’s card and is a USHJA Certified Trainer.
- Guest: Abby O’Mara grew up riding horses in New Jersey and competed in Big Eq, Junior Hunters and Junior Jumpers. Abby went on to the University of Georgia and rode for their team from 2010 to 2014. In Abby’s senior year, the team won the national championship. Abby went on for two years of graduate school at the University of Georgia and completed an internship in the academic side of athletics at the University of South Florida for a year and then started coaching at Texas A&M in 2017. Abby was recently promoted to Associate Head Coach at Texas A&M and is in her sixth season of coaching the jumping seat squad. During this time, Abby has coached 10 NCEA All-American athletes and 10 SEC conference rider honors.
- Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
- Photo Credit: University of Lynchburg Athletic Department, Rachel Mahan/Texas A&M Athletics
- Subscribe To: The Plaid Horse Magazine
- Sponsors: Purina Animal Nutrition, Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association, America Cryo, American Stalls, LAURACEA, BoneKare, Show Strides Book Series, Online Equestrian College Courses, With Purpose: The Balmoral Standard, and American Equestrian School
This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.
Piper Klemm [00:00:34] This is the Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up on our December collegiate edition of the Plaidcast, we will speak with IHSA and NCEA Division three coach Philip Williamson of University of Lynchburg and NCAA Division one coach Abby O’Mara of Texas A&M. I’m joined today by my co-host, Traci Brooks of Balmoral Farm. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services. Welcome back to the Plaidcast, Traci.
Traci Brooks [00:01:06] Thanks, Piper. Happy to be here.
Piper Klemm [00:01:08] So it’s just that we are totally bowled over. I haven’t been able to get any other work done cause there have been so many orders for With Purpose the Balmoral Standard in Hardcover Limited Edition Print. We’re going to have paperbacks later in 2023. We also have Kindle, we have Audible, we have people doing all three of. It’s just been wild.
Traci Brooks [00:01:32] It’s With Purpose everywhere all the time. Who knew? Who knew people would would be into that. But we’re glad they are.
Piper Klemm [00:01:42] I knew. And so the book is it’s really all about thinking about things from a horse’s perspective and how to start to learn that intuition, that thought process and how to empathize with your horse and make that a routine and make your time at the barn very intentional, which means put down your phone.
Traci Brooks [00:02:03] Put down your phone and think of your horse and look at it through your horse’s eyes. And if you have more than one horse or you deal with more than one horse. Know that they’re not all the same. And know there’s a reason to do things. Not just because that’s the way you think you’re supposed to or that’s the way it’s always been done, or that’s what you were originally taught 20 years ago. Just have an open mind every day and ask yourself why and ask yourself if that’s productive and if it’s not- try something different. That’s really what the book is about. Just try things until you find something that works and don’t just think you have to stay in some sort of mold.
Piper Klemm [00:02:46] Absolutely. And you know, and there are environments that allow or don’t allow more try, you know, if if someone at your barn is telling you not to do something that has a lot more experience than you do, that’s probably because they’ve tried.
Traci Brooks [00:03:00] Exactly. And we’re not saying try something crazy or try something that’s unsafe. But if doing it a certain way isn’t working, tweak that and do it little bit at a time. Or just think outside of the box and don’t think that that’s that’s not okay. We want people to try things within reason.
Piper Klemm [00:03:22] One of the things that someone- a conversation I had with someone yesterday about the book which I thought was really interesting was that, you know, you and Carleton are a little bit known for some quirky horses over the years or horses that, you know, other people couldn’t make work, but that you had a lot of success with. But there’s kind of a difference between a quirky horse and an unbroke horse. And it’s a really fine line determining if your horse is behaving in a way because it’s quirky or because it’s kind of untrained. And I thought that was such an interesting point on the book. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Traci Brooks [00:03:56] Yes, definitely. And we’ve definitely had horses that were both. But I think quirky goes to a horse’s personality, whereas untrained goes to it’s experience and discipline. So I guess nature versus nurture a little bit. Quirky horses, need discipline as well, but you just have to do it a little bit on their terms. And again, that seeing things through their eyes, getting inside their mind, an untrained horse needs to do rudimentary things and go back and learn basics and also needs discipline. So but any horse can be both or a little bit of either. But I think definitely getting your horse trained in the basics and not skipping over those steps is important because we do get a lot of horses that we have to go back and try to make them understand what’s even being expected of them. And also, we’ve had horses, some of the best horses we’ve had, and I think you know about this from personal experience are quirky. And they say that that’s a line you hear a lot of times, oh, the good ones are always quirky, but quirky can mean a lot of different things. Quirky can mean spooky. Quirky can mean differences in it’s work ethic. It can mean a lot of different things. So I think, again, it’s just it’s deciphering which is which and knowing your horse and knowing what it needs and some horses need things to be their idea and they can’t think that they’re getting discipline or certain parameters and other horses really thrive on that. So it’s just kind of opening your mind to what that horse is and what it needs. But I think I think quirky. Quirky is definitely something they’re born with and also we can work around and unbroke is- unbroke. So I hope I hope that sort of got through it.
Piper Klemm [00:05:57] Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a conversation we’re going to need to have forever. And what you know, what some person’s perception of a horse’s, you know, it might might be someone else’s. And, you know, I, I think I say this all the time. I mean, Reuben is extremely well trained. He’s just a weirdo versus other horses that you know, might be equally weird, but but are not as well trained. And and I’ve said so many times, I mean, I have never met a horse that just has, like, such perfect barn manners, you know? Reuben is, you know, as as much as he can make us all make our heads spin about certain things. I mean that that bathing, grooming, like walking around, I mean, whoever instilled those, you know, those manners and those expectations on them, just that’s such an incredible job. And, you know, they all need really good foundations for training, whether they’re quirky or not.
Traci Brooks [00:07:04] Absolutely. And I think, again, it’s personality. They can be great on the ground or great in the barn, but when you get on them, maybe they’re a little funny about something. Maybe they’re funny at the mounting block because they had a bad experience, but not because they’re necessarily quirky. So it’s a little bit subjective too like to define quirky because is it something that happened in their past or is it something that just goes with them from birth? We don’t know. And I think it’s it’s like saying, my dog is cute, my baby’s cute. My horse is cute. Well, you might think it is, but other people might not. So I think everyone’s definition of quirky is different, just like everyone’s definition of a broke is different. Different.
Piper Klemm [00:07:44] Absolutely.
Traci Brooks [00:07:44] Yeah. It’s just they’re all they’re all. And it’s like people, you know, some people like broccoli and some people don’t. Does that make them quirky? I don’t know. I mean, everyone everyone just has different opinions about everything. So that’s sort of where we go with all of it is just know your horses likes and dislikes. Know it’s thresholds for certain things and work within those parameters.
Piper Klemm [00:08:10] Yeah. And never stop, you know, the continuous training process that your horse is going to be on their whole life. I mean, that’s it. You know, training is happening constantly- or not.
Traci Brooks [00:08:23] Yes! And don’t force it.
Piper Klemm [00:08:25] You can find With Purpose the Balmoral Standard at theplaidhorse.com/books and also on Amazon, Audible and Kindle. And we’re going to take a quick break here and come back with our collegiate coaches.
Piper Klemm [00:10:44] Philip Williamson became the University of Lynchburg Director of riding in December of 2020 and leads Lynchburg in both the National Collegiate Equestrian Association, NCEA and Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, IHSA competition. Lynchburg’s IHSA team finished fourth in one of the nation’s most challenging regions and sent one rider to IHSA Nationals during Williamson’s second season. Williamson came to Lynchburg with a wealth of experience in the equestrian world, most recently as a riding instructor and assistant IHSA coach at Sweet Briar College. A Colorado native, and 2016 Equine Studies graduate of Centenary College. Philip was an accomplished rider for the Centenary IHSA program in his own right earning reserve high point rider honors at the 2016 IHSA zone three region three championships and novice individual reserve champion accolades at the 2016 ANRC Championships. Philip also holds a master’s degree in Coaching and Sport Leadership from Randolph College. He has taught and ridden professionally in both New Jersey and Colorado. Holds his USEF small R Judge’s card and is a USHJA certified trainer. Welcome to the plaidcast, Philip.
Phillip Williamson [00:11:51] Thanks for having me.
Piper Klemm [00:11:52] The University of Lynchburg team hosts an IHSA and an NCEA team. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like coaching both teams and what that looks like at at your university?
Phillip Williamson [00:12:06] Absolutely. So we have the University of Lynchburg has done the IHSA for quite a while and then added the NCEA in the fall of 2019. I’ve been there just now two years, and so I’ve gotten to kind of experience that, doing both and coaching both. I actively work with both groups, which I think is a really valuable experience. I like it just from my end because I get to work with a whole range of riders. I get to work with kids that are really highly competitive and have been riding for for their whole lives. And I also get to work with riders that are either a little newer or haven’t maybe had the same access that other riders have. And I get to get to work with them in the college setting, which is really fun. I think doing both also gives each each team a chance to see something different because the formats are different. And so I think there’s value in that that they kind of get to see, see the two different formats and some kids jive really well with one and some kids jive really well with another. And so that kind of makes it a bit of fun to have both going on all the time. I think also, just from the standpoint of a college riding program, I mean, we we’ve seen different college programs come and go, especially recently, which was really unfortunate. And one of the things that I’ve seen it do is really strengthen our program in terms of of having more to offer more riders that are interested in continuing to ride in college.
Piper Klemm [00:13:36] So we’ve talked a little bit about that kind of format on the plaidcast. But can you talk about the different divisions that IHSA has versus the the NCAE and why they complement each other really well?
Phillip Williamson [00:13:48] Yeah, absolutely. So the IHSA, we’ve got riders of all levels. We’ve got eight different classes that range either flat or fences from intro, which is what we also call Walk Trot all the way up to open. And when we we do IHSA our riders, when they come into college, get placed into their level based on their prior show experience. So whatever they did in their junior years and when we’re in open, those are riders that have been doing the 3’3″, 3’6″ equitation or junior hunters or jumpers at a higher level. And then when we get all the way down, we’ve got Walk Trot, which is riders that have been riding for less than six months. So those are riders that start riding in college on a college team. So we have that whole range. NCEA is going to be the level that is similar to open. So basically our NCEA team is going to be a team made up of open riders, riders that have been doing that 3’3″, 3’6″ level. They complement each other really well, especially in our area, because within IHSA the horse show host always determines how many riders you can bring to the horse show. And so we might have one or two open riders that get to show from our team in an IHSA setting, but I can then have another five, six, seven, eight more riders of that level doing NCEA. And so we get to kind of like spread out those opportunities for upper level riders. And then we also with all those levels in the IHSA they get to have a lot of opportunity for different levels of experience and competitive opportunities for those kids in the IHSA as well.
Piper Klemm [00:15:29] Tell us a little bit about your background and how you decided that you wanted to pursue collegiate coaching.
Phillip Williamson [00:15:36] Yeah, so I am. I came through the college setting, so I, I rode when I was in high school. I grew up in Colorado, not a whole bunch of hunter jumper stuff going on. There’s more now than when I was in high school, in middle school. But I grew up there, knew I wanted to ride in college, and I got on the, IHSA website. And I looked at who are the top ten, IHSA teams the last however many years that had IHSA nationals. And I went and visited a few of those schools, and I ended up going to Centenary College when I was there, now St. Mary University in New Jersey. And I did, IHSA and the NRC and did an equine studies major. So I really kind of dove all the way into the college riding experience with the goal of becoming a professional. I didn’t necessarily plan to come back to college coaching, but when I graduated from Centenary, I stayed in the area and started teaching and riding for folks and then was teaching as an adjunct at Centenary just in that first year, teaching some riding classes and some other things. And I really enjoyed that. I went into the full professional world for a little bit and did circuit in Wellington and did that for for two years and enjoyed it. But very quickly realized that I appreciated the college setting, not just because it was I think it’s a valuable place to teach and to coach, but also because it gives some stability to your life outside of horses. When you’re not, you’re not traveling and showing in and on the road all the time. And so that was a really valuable thing for me. So I then took a job working back in the college setting at Sweet Briar College and I was an assistant coach there and taught in their riding program and then and then ended up at Lynchburg. So I’ve kind of gotten to move around and experienced three very different riding programs, different college settings, some that do some of the same format, some that don’t. And that’s been pretty valuable for me to be where I am now and have experienced all of that. But I really appreciate the college riding because I think it’s a little bit of an equalizer for our sport and that we take away who’s got the best horse and who’s got the the most experience going to big shows or not any experience going to big shows. And we just put people on horses and see who can ride better. And I really value that.
Piper Klemm [00:17:57] You also hold a master’s degree in coaching and sport leadership from Randolph College. I found interesting as an adult. Like, I don’t know. I feel like when I was a child in this sport, it wasn’t considered a sport. And so because we didn’t almost consider ourselves a sport, we didn’t think that like data from other sports applies at all.
Phillip Williamson [00:18:17] yeah.
Piper Klemm [00:18:18] So I’ve really enjoyed as an adult, now that we participate in a sport which we always have. So it’s just kind of funny, like learning about how other sports, now that I’m an athlete, learning about how other sports approach so many different things, coaching, leadership, mental skills and and how much stuff we don’t have to reinvent the wheel on. There’s a lot of data and there’s a lot of experience. Can you talk to us about what what made you pursue that master’s degree and then, you know, some of your take home and lessons you got from that?
Phillip Williamson [00:18:51] Absolutely. I mean, I think kind of like you said, equestrian lives in this like, is it a sport? Is it not a sport world, depending on who you talk to. Obviously, all of us that participate in it would say it’s absolutely a sport. How could you say otherwise? But I think my my initial motivation for doing that is just being in higher education. And, you know, this this it’s a lot about continuing education, right. That’s kind of one of the tenets of working in any side of academia or higher education is that you’re continuing to research and learn and grow. And so that was my initial motivation to do that. And the program at Randolph was unique and interesting to me because it was, it was not exercise studies. It it wasn’t something that was we’re going to go learn about what what protein you need to eat to recover better or whatnot. And I did some of that, but that wasn’t the focus of it. And I appreciated that, that it was really focused a lot on coach, on coaching methods, strategies and also leadership within that in a sport administration setting, in an athletic department, that kind of stuff. And like you said, there’s a lot of research and a lot of work that has been done in your traditional sports or in your field sports about coaching theory and coaching style and and how to deal with different issues that might come up within a team, specifically an athletic team in a college setting dealing with whether it’s just the norms of the group, whether it’s different personalities between kids on that team and just how to manage all of that. And that’s something that we don’t really ever spend time talking about in our industry, other than we’ve got the mental skills covered and that’s starting to be much more popular, which is really awesome. But from a becoming a trainer, when you’re 20 early twenties and you decide to go pro, you don’t sit there and take a test from your coaching organization or whatever. We we’ve got trainer certification that helps us with sort of our content specific to our industry, but not necessarily coaching theories. And so that was the really valuable thing for me was just to kind of sit in a space where I was learning from people that coached soccer or coached lacrosse or coached swimming or whatever it might be, and and how they organize their teams and what they do outside of what happens in the arena versus just worrying about what happens in the arena. And that was the biggest thing for me is changing how I approached everything about organizing a team that happens outside of the riding arena because the inside of the arena part, that’s that’s my comfort zone, right? But in a college athletics setting, a lot of their time together is outside of the arena. And so how do we manage that in the best way possible?
Piper Klemm [00:21:37] So this this is super interesting because I always say that to be exceptional at this sport, you need you need three you need three skills. And I will preface this by saying I have never met any human that is exceptional at all. All three of these things are one is the truly exceptional horse skills, speaking, horse teaching, riding, training, truly exceptional understanding of how the horse works. There’s the the truly exceptional client management dealing with the personalities, dealing with different people at the barn and then all of that stuff and managing expectations and all those things people really struggle with. And then there’s exceptional business, business practices, you know, making sure that everything is above board and doing all the details. And I kind of I believe that this is like a triathlon, like when you train for a triathlon, if you get better at biking, like your legs get bigger and you get worse at like running and swimming. That’s part of why it’s so interesting. And I think the better you get at the people skills, the worse you get at the horse skills at the highest levels. And so it’s it’s so interesting to think about this. And I will say with the caveat, I’m not trying to be negative here. I think the people with the top barns have found their person that such that two people have these three skills between them and they’re extremely successful. But I do think it’s it’s really leaning into something that’s outside your comfort zone. And and you can be good at all three of these things. I just I don’t believe that any one person can be truly exceptional at all three of these things. But you can become better and then be a push at the one that’s not. Every one of us has at least one of these. That’s not our comfort zone and like and push that learning higher to get better at doing this overall sport.
Phillip Williamson [00:23:29] Well and I think that I mean, there’s there’s I guess a broader metaphor, too there, too, that the thing I was going to say is that we in any setting, like you said, you create a team at the top level of the sport where there’s one person that’s really good at the business side and somebody else might be really good at the horse. You’ve got your groom, you’ve got your manager, you’ve got your rider like you have a group of people, a team that makes it work. That’s the same attitude towards college riding that we have to have is that I know that not every kid on my team is going to excel in every area that they’re working on. So you have to develop the group for us as coaches, that is my barn manager, that is my assistant coaches, that’s my graduate assistants. Like how do we build that team around us to make sure that the place where I know that I’m a little weak rather than, Oh, that’s my weakness, I’m just going to let myself be weak there. No, I have to go out of my way to seek out somebody that I can incorporate into my team that’s going to really be able to build that side of the program if that’s something that I’m not as comfortable with. And while that’s happening, how do I learn from them and how do I work with them so that I don’t just say, Oh, it’s yours, you’re good at it, I’m not going to worry about it, but it’s yours. You’re good at it. But help me understand how to be better. And I think that’s kind of a cool thing that I mean, we see it. That’s how things work best in our sport at the top levels competitively, but it’s the same thing within the college setting and within a team. On a if you’re of the student athletes on the team that everybody’s going to have a place where they excel and where they don’t, and how do we kind of make sure that we’re aware of that and we deal with that so that we can continue to be successful?
Piper Klemm [00:25:05] Yeah, that’s. That’s such an interesting take on it. And, you know, I also think that like so many people, like, gets like obviously everyone, you know, we we don’t have time to to truly get to know everything about someone. And so we’re we’re very we’re we all have to be, like, reductionist in our decision making of our opinions of people. And, you know, I see students all the time that are that are frustrated with where what place they’re in almost, or where you place them in the hierarchy or, you know, what role that they do play and contributing to the team and. I also want to say, too, that like you can you can get a little mad about that and put in the work and change where you fit in the team.
Phillip Williamson [00:25:54] Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think that is one of the hard things about that transition to college riding that I think some of our junior riders don’t don’t handle well. It’s trying to figure out where they fit into the team, where rather than just where am I? Because it’s always about just where am I, did I get my points for regionals, did I qualify for indoors, whereas we’re trying to say no, we as a group need to do this thing. And I think it can be a really good motivator, but I think it also can be a really good life skill and learning moment for kids to kind of say, okay, I don’t fit where I thought I was going to fit. Does that mean that I’m less valuable? Does that mean I need to change what my priorities are? Do I really want to make myself fit there? And so then I have to work that much harder to prove that to my coach that I can. But I think it’s I mean, it’s it’s something that happens kind of in all aspects of life that we kind of start in that college riding setting, which I think is why it can be so valuable for people in our sport. You’ve got kids that rode in college teams and rode in that college setting that are that are active in a lot of upper level competitive organizations, whether it’s private, showing private farms that are on the show circuit or it’s other college programs that are successful or whatever that might be. And I think that’s it’s a cool experience that being on a team can provide that for some of our our younger riders because they might not have gotten that unless they also played soccer in high school or something.
Piper Klemm [00:27:21] Philip, tell us a little bit more about Lynchburg. Like specifically what, you know, what is the…How far are you from campus? Like, how how does this all work at your university?
Phillip Williamson [00:27:32] Absolutely. So. University of Lynchburg is a small college in Lynchburg, Virginia. We get confused with Lynchburg, Tennessee sometimes. I even had a kid one time say, I’m coming for a visit, we fly into Tennessee this day. And I said, Oh dear, you’re going to the wrong Lynchburg. But we are a really nice little campus in Lynchburg, which is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our student population at the university is just around 2000 undergraduate and then about a thousand, 1500 graduate students. So it’s not tiny, but it’s not huge either, which is a really nice size. One of the cool things about Lynchburg, we’re a Division three NCAA program from an athletics standpoint, but of our student athletes are our student population excuse me, our student population. We have over 500 student athletes. So athletics, not just equestrian, but athletics as a whole at the university is a big part of the school, which is very cool and it’s unique to a Division three setting. We’ve got strength and conditioning and athletic training and all the programs that you kind of associate with a Division one or Division two athletic program. We have those at a high level for our Division three athletes, which is great. We have a farm, the college uses that’s just about 20 minutes from campus. We have it’s been a new project for us. So as I said, the school has had an equestrian program for a while, but only recently have we kind of upped the ante on that, if you will. So this summer we moved to this new facility where we’re building a covered arena. We’ve got 30 stalls currently, and we’re going to add about ten more. So we’ll have capacity for about 40 horses, three arenas, a nice trails to hack out and whatnot. And that’s where we hold all of our practices. That’s also where students can board their horses. So whether someone wants to come to college and do the team and and that’s their their level involvement or they want to come to college and and bring their horse with them and maybe still go to the U.S.EF horse show or go do something else like that. They’re able to. So student boarders and college owned horses live there. And as we’ve talked about already, we compete in the IHSA and the NCEA, our team right now, we have just over 30 riders on our team. And the make up there is we’ve got 14 of those riders that compete in the NCEA side in the jumping seats. And then we’ve got the balance of that group. About 18 riders that compete on our IHSA team.
Piper Klemm [00:30:06] Sounds great. Well, Philip, thank you so much for joining us on the Plaidcast.
Phillip Williamson [00:30:09] Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Piper Klemm [00:31:54] Abby O’Mara grew up riding horses in New Jersey and competed in the big Eq, junior hunters and junior jumpers. Abby went on to the University of Georgia and rode for their team from 2010 to 2014, in Abby’s senior year the team won the national championship. Abby went on for two years of graduate school at the University of Georgia and completed an internship in the academic side of athletics at the University of South Florida for a year and then started coaching at Texas A&M in 2017. Abby was recently promoted to associate head coach at Texas A&M and is in her sixth season coaching the Jumping seat squad. During this time, Abby has coached ten NCEA all-American athletes and ten SEC conference rider honors. Welcome to the plaidcast, Abby.
Abby O’Mara [00:32:39] Thank you so much for having me.
Piper Klemm [00:32:40] Can you tell us a little bit about your team at Texas A&M and what the last six years have been like?
Abby O’Mara [00:32:46] Sure. We have a really competitive team at Texas A&M. We have a roster size of around 52 and that’s total. So jumping seat and Western riders, we’ve got a little bit of a bigger Western squad. So we’ve got around 30. And then we for the jumping seat side, I have around 20. That kind of changes every year but averaged 20 to 23. So very competitive. We are in College Station, Texas, which is just north of Houston. I’m in my sixth season. It’s been so much fun. I’ve learned so much.
Piper Klemm [00:33:23] So with 20-23 on the hunt seat side of things that that’s, you know, five new students, basically a class year.
Abby O’Mara [00:33:33] Right? Yeah, it’s it’s it’s always I think that’s one of it’s fun and challenging every year kind of having that new, new squad because you obviously have your returners, your sophomores, juniors and seniors who were on the team last year. But the team is constantly changing because you have the new group coming in. So it’s fun but also challenging to to get to kind of just decide what what is our who are we going to be this year? Who’s our squad going to be? What’s our dynamic going to be like? Who’s going to be a leader on the squad? I think it’s you know, it is it’s fun. It’s a fun challenge. More of a challenge, I’d say, for the girls on the squad. But and the way we do it, we actually don’t have captains on our team. So we always are pushing for just anyone can be a leader, whether you’re a freshman, a senior, a fifth year, like whoever wants to just step up and and be that team leader, we empower them all to do that.
Piper Klemm [00:34:32] That’s an interesting take. And I do think it’s something that academia does really well, is by having, you know, students constantly leave, it almost creates like oxygen in the room for for young people to really find a foothold and and really make something of themselves. I feel like in our sport in general, you even like regionally or, you know, in the micro markets, you get someone who’s kind of a legend and it kind of sucks the oxygen out of the room for opportunity for the next group.
Abby O’Mara [00:34:59] 100%. Yeah. Like, you know, I think of being a junior and having that one competitor who, you know, just you always are competing against them and you’re like, geez, will they age out already. Like, they’re just. It’s a tough competition, but how we have, you know, that four or five year cycle that we work with in collegiate equestrian, it is it’s nice to create opportunities for, you know, the new freshmen group or just having. What I want to say. We have we have we do have a lot of opportunities because we have the five starting lineup positions for Fences and flat, which creates ten opportunities. But yes, so we the way that our NCEA format works is we are a head to head competition. So I’ll speak specifically for the jumping seat side. We have our equitation over fences event and then our equitation on the flat event. For each event there’s five starting slots. So Texas A&M gets to compete five riders over fences against, you know, whoever we’re competing against their five riders and then five riders on the flat. So you could have a, you know, ten, ten riders for each meet. It depends on the roster, the starting lineup, you know who because we do actually have some double starters, we call them if they compete fences in flat. So this year specifically, I have a couple of double starters, so I’m not always competing ten individual riders. Sometimes I might have seven or eight starters between fences and flat because we have some who dabble in both and we call those double starters, but lots of opportunities with that. We also offer demo rides, we call them so demonstration rides, and that’s actually mandatory for equitation on the flat. You have to provide two demo rides if you’re hosting the competition. And it’s really I think the point of the demo ride is for the judge to be able to sit there and watch the demo rides go first and kind of just make sure they have their bearings and that they’re judging, you know, and they’re comfortable judging and their scribe is following and just it’s kind of like a test run. We call it the demo ride. So that’s an opportunity, though, for an athlete who maybe isn’t in the lineup to get to be in front of the judge. And they get to be dressed out in their uniform and they get a score. And then we also have something called an exhibition ride, which is a head to head point matchups. So one rider from each team on the same horse, their points just don’t count for the overall team points. So it’s kind of like a scrimmage and it’s a little less pressure. I really like to use the exhibition ride, maybe for someone who’s never been in the starting lineup before, but you want to get them in front of the judge and just get them comfortable in that format. You can offer an exhibition ride.
Piper Klemm [00:37:56] So I think what we see in the NCAA is, is a lot of riders who have been successful prior having a lot of success in the NCEA. And and I think that has a lot to do with like a lot of skills and attributes of hard work and discipline and all these things. But kind of on the other side, what I’m seeing more, as is so many kids who aspire to ride in the NCEA, which is great on one level, but I think on another level it’s almost there’s, there’s like a lack of connection of like. The day to day versus like that overarching goal. And one of the things I’ve written about a lot this year on many topics in our sport is kind of this this concept of Goodhart’s law that when the measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. And so you have these like kids that want to ride NCAA at all costs, but it’s like kind of lacking the like what is a day to day look like that is actually the same or similar day to day to them being in the barn as juniors. So can you talk a little bit about what the day to day is like and what what aspects and attributes you’re expecting out of these students and you look for.
Abby O’Mara [00:39:07] Yeah, definitely. Day in the Life. I try to kind of generalize this because of our 52 athletes, they all have their own day and they’re all doing their own thing. But for the most part, they do follow somewhat of a similar schedule. So when we’re in season, it is we kind of compare it to having a full time job. You know, you’re obviously at a university, you’re taking classes, you are a student first, and an athlete second. We do preach that to our athletes. And without school, you know, you’ve got to have those academic standards. So you got to be passing your classes. You have to be in good academic standards to to be riding because it’s a privilege to be on this team. So they’re taking classes. I would say that’s really their their main priority, taking classes and being successful in their classes. So that’s going to take up a lot of their time. The nice thing is that. Since COVID, we have had a lot of the professors and classes being offered online, which does give them a little bit of flexibility, you know, and just being able to maybe go to practice at an earlier time or just works with their schedule better. So they’re taking full time classes. They are practicing our athletes are practicing 3 to 5 days a week. They are working out. Our team works out three days a week. So Monday, Wednesday, Friday, we have two workout groups in the mornings just to go ahead and knock that out of your day. And then they’re also in a lot of academic support. So we’ve got study hall, we’ve got tutoring. So many of our athletes, I’m seeing it more and more are are involved with our SAC organization. So they’re working with our administration and with other student athletes to make sure that our student athletes are getting all of the resources and all the support that they need. So and they take that upon themselves to join these organizations. I am always blown away every year that these athletes are making it a priority to be in these student organizations because the team is such a time commitment, but they still want to do more and be involved with the community and be involved with the athletics department. They’re- they are so impressive to me the the quality of just person that we are recruiting to be on our team. So it’s a lot on their plate. It’s a big time commitment. And I will always say if you’re interested in being on an NCAA team, it is not like a side gig. This is what you’re going to be focused on in college. Our girls are doing all of the work in the barn so we don’t have grooms. We do have a full time barn manager and she’s got 15 student workers. So they do the feeding of the horses, the cleaning of the stalls and the turning out. But when it comes to how the horses are presented and the the maintaining of the tack room and really just how our horses are prepped on meet day and how they’re able to compete, that is all the student athletes, they have such a well-oiled machine back in the barn. I am so impressed by their work ethic. Like they want our horses to look the best in the country. They want them to be the most prepared. They want the horses to be as successful on meet day as our student athletes. So it’s definitely a time commitment, but it’s so worth it. And I try to recruit the girls who I know want to be on a team but want to work really, really hard for the team.
Piper Klemm [00:42:45] Let’s talk a little bit about you coming up in the sport. You know, we always talk about these these equestrian dynasties of of family commitment. But but your family’s pretty interesting that it was like basically built in one generation.
Abby O’Mara [00:42:59] I will give credit to my older sister, Casey. She was the one who one day told my parents or asked, my parents know. I think we were driving through Colts Neck, New Jersey, and it’s all horses and farmland. And we you know, she just said it in the car one day like, mom, dad, can I take a horseback riding lesson? And they’re like, sure, you know, what’s the harm in that? That was just the start for the whole family. So Casey, Meg and I all started taking lessons together. I want to say we were like eight, six and four or something like that. And I remember vividly our lessons. We would be on these incredible lesson horses and they’d be we’d just be trotting, you know, just in a little line. Like we’d be nose to tail us three and we would just be trotting around the edge of the arena. And it was so much fun. I’ll never forget those those lessons that just brought us to where we are today. So thank you to Casey for asking for the riding lessons. T.J., I don’t think had any interest like he when he came along because he’s a couple of years younger than Meg. So it was us three girls for a while. And then T.J. joined the family and he didn’t have any interest in riding really. Like he’d come to the lessons, he’d come to the shows. He just was kind of dragged along and didn’t really want to be there, it seemed like. And he was doing a lot of other sports, like he was doing football. Baseball, not good at any of them. Eventually decided he would try what his sisters were doing. I will say T.J. was not very good in the beginning and I. Meg and I were not the nicest, oldest sisters. We would kind of make fun of him and tell him like TJ, stop wasting your time. You’re not good at this sport. I think that fueled his fire a little bit. And then he obviously just decided to show us that we were wrong. So it started with Casey’s just requesting, you know, a a horseback riding lesson. And I’m sure my parents maybe regret that.
Piper Klemm [00:45:05] Yeah, he did say what he was on the podcast that trying to beat you, and your sisters was a big motivator for him.
Abby O’Mara [00:45:13] But, yeah, so he’s welcome for that.
Piper Klemm [00:45:17] So then it comes. Okay, so. So you all have very successful junior careers, equitation careers. You’re doing the hunters and the jumpers and then it comes time for college and your parents – hard stop. Say that you’re all going to college.
Abby O’Mara [00:45:36] Yes. Yeah. So we all wanted to go to college, too. That was never something that they had to, like, twist our arm about. Casey was the oldest, so when she started looking at colleges, she was kind of looking all over at riding colleges, non riding colleges. So she was looking around 2007 because she started college in 2008 and there was NCEA college riding, but it definitely wasn’t booming like it is now. So I know my dad took her to visit some teams. She wasn’t as interested in riding in college as the rest of us. So she actually she did go to Auburn, but she did not ride on their team. And while she was at Auburn, I remember visiting her and hearing about the Auburn team, and then it was really my dad who took it upon himself. He was like, Hey, we got to check out these riding programs. Like these collegiate teams are no joke like they’re Division one. It’s really, really great. And he did more of the legwork to kind of figure out how to get the visits going. So I credit him a lot, but he was in touch with the coaches. I was communicating with them as well. He was the one who was like, you know, we are going to take these five official visits that you were offered. And on top of five official visits, we took unofficial visits as well. So I think we visited ten, maybe more NCEA college programs just to visit and really see what was the right place for me. And I definitely want to ride in college. So I really was only visiting those, those schools who had NCEA teams. And I remember my visits and it’s funny that now that I’m a coach because I’m hosting these official visits, but I look back on just how how far they’ve come. And I think about all my visits and the choice that I made to choose the University of Georgia, which is an amazing school, an amazing program. And I – no regrets in choosing to go to Georgia. It’s funny, I, I coach at Texas A&M now, which was my second choice to Georgia. I had a really hard time just deciding between the two, and Georgia ended up being the right choice for me. But that was kind of my process. And I think Meg, she – my parents might have actually had to convince her more that college was not an option. I think she was thinking she’d maybe just skip college and they were like, no, you’re you’re going to college. So she considered the NCEA route at first, but then she actually decided to not go that route. In the beginning, I ended up. Changing her mind and she transferred from, Rollins College or University, her first semester of freshman year to Georgia. I got her to join the team with me. It was awesome. And so we had one semester together on the team and at Georgia, and that was the semester that we won the national championship. So it was obviously a good choice by her, and I did a good job persuading her.
[00:48:39] That’s so special. I didn’t realize you were both on the team together when you won.
Abby O’Mara [00:48:42] Yeah, it was really cool.
Piper Klemm [00:48:46] So then you transfer from, you know, being a student athlete to to becoming a coach in your own right. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to be on the different side of everything- the visit weekends, the locker room, you know?
Abby O’Mara [00:49:04] Yeah. So I will say what I think prepared me. I was a graduate assistant at Georgia for my two graduate years after being on the team. So. And I really I’m so thankful that I had that opportunity because I got to see a lot of the behind the scenes action of how the team is run and a lot of the office work and a lot of the administration side. And that was extremely eye opening. And that was one of the main reasons that I was like, I want to do this. I think I could be good at this. I really enjoyed seeing that side. I, you know, I saw it as a student athlete. Now I’m kind of seeing it from the inside view and like I want to tackle this. So thanks to Morgan at Georgia for giving me that opportunity to be the graduate assistant, I think that’s really what got me excited about it. But being a young coach, I think I was nervous in the beginning. Like, How am I going to set these boundaries? Are they going to respect me? I’m only a couple of years older than them, but all of the girls were extremely respectful and I just would my first couple of years I would have those like honest conversations with them and just like, Hey guys, I know I’m not that much older than you, but I think it’s a blessing because I’m not that much older than you. And like, I was just in your shoes and I can relate to every single thing you guys are going through. So I’m not just a coach here telling you what to do in the arena, but like when it comes to life and personal things, I want you guys to come to me and use me as a resource because I was just there not too long ago. So I honestly think it brought me and my athletes so much closer. And even now, being a bit older, I can still say that to them. Like I was being recruited or I was on a team ten years ago when I was being recruited this long ago. Like, I know what it’s like to have to make these tough decisions and pick a school that’s right for you. And I just like to go at it from that point, like we are so similar. And just I want to help you guys in your riding career, but also your life.
Piper Klemm [00:51:00] Yeah. I found it. Really. I hit a gap teaching where it was like I went from definitely being, like, in charge but relatable to them. And then one year I was just old. Like, I was in charge and not relatable to them and I had to like reestablish finding that common ground to teach.
Abby O’Mara [00:51:25] Yeah. I think I’m like at that point now unfortunately where the freshmen, I’m like you guys are way younger than I am like it’s not even close anymore, but I try to stay relevant and follow up on TikTok to know, you know what everyone’s talking about, but you do what you can.
Piper Klemm [00:51:41] It was yeah, for me it was like right at like between 30 and 31, like and I had a place where I was like, what are they wearing? What is this fashion?
Abby O’Mara [00:51:51] Yeah, what are they wearing? What are they saying? I don’t know these words. Yeah.
Piper Klemm [00:51:58] But I think, you know, it’s something that and my husband, who is a professor, said to me, he’s like he’s like, it helps because you relate more to them when you’re young and you’re worse at your job. But by the time you can’t relate to them as much, you’re enough better at your job that you’re fine.
Abby O’Mara [00:52:15] Yes, 100%. I feel that right now.
Piper Klemm [00:52:17] So we talked a little bit about kind of common traits that that riders have on your team. You know, what are things that people can really be doing with their with their time and in middle school and high school to who have the NCEA goal to, you know, really hone and establish these habits of, you know, traits that you’re looking for.
Abby O’Mara [00:52:41] That’s a good question. When it comes to riding, I will always say catch riding is going to be the biggest thing that I look for in recruits. And that doesn’t mean you have to go out and find horses to catch ride at shows. It could just be riding your trainer’s horse at home or, you know, hopping on maybe a difficult horse that, you know, your trainers needing someone to get on a new horse in the barn and it’s green or it’s a little tricky, like taking those opportunities and riding as many different horses as possible. I think that’s the best way to prepare these riders for colegiate life, because ultimately we are catch riding on meet day, especially at an away competition. We are showing up with our riding gear, not knowing who we’re going to ride, what type of horse it is, not really knowing what to expect, but just having to trust our ability and our instincts as riders to be able to get on these horses and figure it figure it out in 4 minutes. So catch riding is my number one recommendation for anyone, any age, to prepare them. And then also just being hands on in the barn, because we are we are hands on, athletes are hands on every day in the barn. They’re expected to know how to prepare their horse, how to tack their horse up, how to put their horse on a lunge line, how to body clip, how to bathe the horse. Just all of the horsemanship skills that sometimes are looked over. I want to make sure that these recruits are really they have the hands on experience. So just, you know, getting dirty in the barn and and watching your trainer or watching your barn manager and learning those skills, but just being being a good horse woman at the end of the day.
Piper Klemm [00:54:24] And all those traits people can, can get by being good community members, I mean offering to to hack and ride extra horses or helping someone out who maybe has has young horses or more horses and they can handle like that, that’s being a good, solid citizen member of our community, helping with farm work, helping with grooming and bathing and and knowing your way around the barn so well that it’s second nature. I mean, that’s also being part of it, part of our community, part of being a solid citizen. And so that I really like that, that the things that you want people to work on also make our community better.
Abby O’Mara [00:55:02] Yeah. No, I agree. It reminds me of just Meg and I when we were juniors and we would just be on the golf cart with Don Stewart and he’d be like, Okay, you guys go hop on that horse. Like that horse needs to be ridden. Then he’d be driving us around the horse shows and just throwing us on horses, and we’d be we’re helping exercise horses or or doing whatever they needed us to do at the time. And I think that gave us a lot of the experience that made us successful in college.
Piper Klemm [00:55:26] And sometimes you’re probably kind of terrified.
Abby O’Mara [00:55:31] Oh. Most of the time. But, you know, we also knew we wouldn’t be put in too many dangerous situations. And at the end of the day, we learned so much from it.
Piper Klemm [00:55:42] Abby thank you so much for joining us on The Plaidcast.
Abby O’Mara [00:55:45] You’re so welcome. Thank you for having me.
Piper Klemm [00:57:36] 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!