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The bond between rider and horse will be put to the test next week as the New Mexico State Equestrian team heads to Waco, Texas for the Varsity Equestrian National Championships (VECN), April 14-16.
So what is varsity equestrian? According to NM State equestrian head coach Audrey Van Eman, it is a fairly new NCAA sport, overseen by a governing body.
"It's an emerging sport," Van Eman said. "So as a governing body it's made up of coaches and administrators. Once we have more schools that take on equestrian within their athletic departments, we'll be considered a championship sport, not an emerging sport."
Based on wins and losses, and certain statistics, a selection committee chooses the top 12 schools to compete at Nationals. This year NM State is seeded ninth in the western category, and twelfth in the hunt seat category.
"We've developed and gotten better over the year," Van Eman said. "This is the final test of showing how far they've gone."
Going to Nationals and demonstrating confidence will be important for the NM State equestrian team, according to Van Eman.
Junior Chelsae Keyes was named an All-American selection last week by the Varsity Equestrian Selection Committee. The Massachusetts native earned her first All-America honor in Equitation on the Flat. The All-American awards will be presented at the VECN opening ceremonies next week in Waco.
For the Nationals competition there is more memorization involved, and, of course, more hard work leading up to it.
"For Nationals there are four rounds," Keyes said. "We have a lot more to practice for. We really need to be on our best game."
When it comes to preparing for this kind of competition, coach Van Eman doesn't want to put too much extra significance on it. She treats it like almost any other competition.
"If we treat it any differently, other than going out and just trying to do our best, I think it puts undue pressure," Van Eman said. "We take every single competition seriously. I wouldn't change anything about that."
What makes the sport of equestrian different, of course, is the horses. The rider must be completely comfortable, and know the horse she is riding.
"Every horse is completely different," Van Eman said. "They're just like people. Each one of these athletes gets on a horse, and they have to figure out their personality, their athleticism, everything about them."
"When I grew up, it was just me and my horse," Keyes said. "And you get such a strong bond. And then putting a team aspect on it, you have the bond of the horses and the teammates. It's really cool. Really fun."
The Varsity Equestrian National Championships take place April 14-16, 2011 in Waco, Texas. This is the fifth straight season NM State will participate in the VECN. Follow NM State's equestrian team at www.NMStateSports.com.
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