Overview: Fresno State is the West Coast's only Division 1 equestrian team sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. and they compete in the National Collegiate Equestrian Association or NCEA. The competition format is head-to-head, with a rider from each school performing on the same horse. The NCEA's four divisions are Equitation On The Flat (a modified dressage test), Equitation Over Fences, Horsemanship and Reining.
Fresno State's equestrian team members receive the same privileges as athletes on any other Bulldog sports team. Athletic scholarship opportunities, academic support, athletic training and all costs to ride on the team are covered, including show and work-out wear and travel expenses. One of the academic perks a student athlete at Fresno State receives is priority class registration. This is designed to accommodate practice and competition schedules, and it also increases the odds of graduating in four years—a significant plus at California's
"The main difference between an NCEA and an Intercollegiate Horse Show Assn. team is the format and opportunities each organization provides to different levels of riders," Coach Daye explains. The IHSA has several levels, from Walk Trot to Open with 3'6" fence heights and corresponding difficulty levels in the western events. NCEA has only one level: regardless of background or show experience our riders have to be competent with all of the dressage, or horsemanship movements, and with the reining maneuvers and over courses of 3"6".
NCAA Equestrian is a women's sport.
NCAA sanctioning comes with many rules that are strictly adhered to and require a good chunk of time to understand. Designed primarily for athletes in higher-profile sports, the rules govern recruiting practices and communication between coach and prospective student athlete, establishing and maintaining an applicant's amateur status, and other issues. One example is that prospective student athletes are welcome to leave a phone or e-mail message for Coach Daye, but unless it's after July 1 of their senior year, she cannot call them back – although she can respond to an e-mail.
See the "Student Athlete" section on www.ncaa.com for complete details.
Making The Team: Fresno State's NCAA Division 1 status means it recruits new riders during their senior year of high school, rather than only holding try-outs at the beginning of the school year. The coaches can use their discretion as to whether or not they want to hold open tryouts at the beginning of the year. The 2012-2013 squad had seven seniors, opening up that many slots for incoming riders for the 2013-2014 team.
Now entering her second year with the Bulldogs, Coach Daye has seen hundreds of applications for student equestrian athletes. She can "flag" the application of a particularly strong riding candidate, but even the very best riders need to meet certain academic criteria for the NCAA and be strong academic candidates for regular admissions to Fresno State.
Team Participation: Thirty-five riders comprise the team and are fairly evenly split between the english and western divisions. At competitions, the Bulldogs typically enter four or five riders in each of the four divisions and they are chosen by their ability to win. "That's an interesting dynamic because the equine industry is kind of a client-based scenario, in which those who choose to ride can," she says. "With a team, the student athlete who has the best chance of successfully beating her opponent rides, and that means for many equestrian student athletes they may have to sit on the bench for the first time in their lives. It's all part the team aspect of playing Division 1 sports in the NCAA."
The season runs late August through the NCEA Finals in mid-April, and the Bulldogs travel four times a season and can compete up to the limit of 15 shows.
Time Commitments: The NCAA caps athletically related activities to less than 20 hours a week. That's the maximum amount of time a school can schedule mandatory team activities. At Fresno, that translates to three non-riding work-outs, one team meeting and riding lessons three days a week.
Unique Attributes: "Fresno State has a very community-minded attitude and our student athletes run with that," Daye reports. The Bulldog riders volunteer in the area at least once a month, ranging from helping with a fundraiser for a therapeutic riding center to playing bingo with residents at the Veterans hospital. They also take part in purely fun local events like a recent "color run" and Fresno's Jingle Bell Run during
Qualities Sought: "The #1 priority always has to be the horse," Daye says. "Recognizing that we always have to go the extra mile for the horses. It's part of the whole horsemanship piece: knowing what each horse's edge is and how far they can push it. I want to know how well they can read
Candidates should also demonstrate that they are as good a hand around the barn as they are in the tack. "Whatever a rider's background, they have to have a good work ethic toward cleaning the stalls, caring for the horses, etc. The Pony
Club, Horsemanship 101 approach really comes into play."
Riding skills demonstrated in videos and resumes, and experience with catch riding, are important. No matter how talented the rider, however, every prospective student athlete has to go through the NCAA clearinghouse and submit an application to Fresno State before consideration. That means transcripts and grades that meet
both NCAA and Fresno State requirements
"Generally speaking, we want to look at student athlete's overall picture," Daye continues. "Even if you are a beautiful rider, if you have terrible grades, you are not what we are looking for."
Getting A Feel For the Team: "We host four or five shows a year and that is a great way to get a feel for the format and for the level of riding involved," Daye explains. She appreciates questions from prospective students who have first done their homework about how NCAA teams operate. "Doing your homework or visiting a show gives you a framework from which to ask questions of me that will generate more useful answers."
Performance: The Bulldogs' Western team went to the Varsity Nationals Championships, held in Waco, TX this past April. Junior Lauren Crivelli won both of her western points, against riders from Texas A&M, in what turned out to be a 5-2 loss to that school's Aggies in the first round.
"I am super thrilled with how we did," Daye says. "We rode against a really strong team, but we showed a lot of maturity and everybody put in 100 percent effort. I could not be prouder of our team."
There was good news in several riders receiving NCEA accolades. English rider Macy Wilson was honored at the NCEA annual championship banquet as an honorable mention NCEA All-American.
Fresno State had three riders named to the NCEA Academic First Team, the highest academic achievement one can currently receive in the NCEA. English riders Belle Calkin and Hillary West, along with Crivelli, were each one of 50 NCEA riders to make the First Team. There were three Bulldogs also named to the NCEA Academic Second Team, Lanie Madrazo, Kirsten McKillop and Shauna Woodward. Three more Bulldogs were named to the Honorable Mention academic team, Macy Wilson, Ciara Kozlowski and Sydney Coletti.
Facilities: The Bulldogs ride at the on-campus Student Horse Center. The 60-horse facility is currently undergoing some upgrades and it features two arenas, two round pens and spacious 12' by 24' stalls. Students can board their personal horses at the Center if they choose to and all students play their part in the Center's upkeep and caring for the horses.
Horses: The Bulldogs' mounts are a combination of donated and leased horses. The team works closely with the school's Agricultural Foundation and with the Department of Animal Science. As such, it's a natural destination for donors seeking a nice home for their horses, as well as owners who loan horses to the school and do other things with them during the summer.
Team Vibe: "These are amazing ladies on our team," Coach Daye concludes. "They are dedicated to the horses, the community and to each other. We have a wonderful working dynamic."