SPURS & FEATHERS: Gamecock Equestrian enters season with talent and added confidence
Aug. 22, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – After a long offseason, the South Carolina equestrian team officially started practice on Monday, Aug. 22. Coming off a year that was uncharacteristic for the Gamecocks, head coach Boo Major is excited to see what kind of riding shape her team comes back in, as well as how impressive the freshmen look.
A large group of 11 freshmen arrived on campus, and they join a Gamecock squad that returned most of the experience from last season, which featured plenty of growing pains after South Carolina faced a lot of turnover on the team prior to last year. The result was a sub-.500 year just one season after winning the National Championship.
That won’t be the case in 2016-17 as the young riders who cut their teeth last season now have an entire year of competition under their belt.
“We didn’t know how last year was going to go,” Major said. “It ended up being a very disappointing year for us. However, it was a very good team as far as how they melded together and everyone got along, and so we’re just looking to improve upon their actual competition experience. They are going to have a little bit more confidence and really be ready to go in and be extremely competitive.”
The freshmen class will also come in and provide quality competition for the returners. While it’s extremely difficult for a freshman to immediately break into the riding rotation, Major said those that show the poise and control needed will be rewarded.
“We have to wait and see how they adapt to riding strange horses, competing in college and things like that, but we’ve got several on the hunt seat side and several on the western side that we think are going to have an immediate impact,” Major said. “We’ll have a better idea after probably the first two weeks of practice if we think they’re going to be able to slip in and take the place of someone or we had some seniors graduate, maybe they’re going to come in and take the place of those guys.”
The Gamecocks have just under a month to prepare for their exhibition against Alabama on Sept. 16 to start the season, so it’s vitally important that the team comes back from the summer ready to jump right back into things.
There are plenty of equestrian competitions around the area during the summer, and Major said it will be readily apparent who didn’t take advantage of the riding opportunities.
“If they’re not going out there and competing and working on the nerves and working on their ability to be accurate in what they’re doing, then they’re just going to be rusty and they’re going to get behind the eight ball,” Major said. “When you look at these freshmen that are coming in, those girls have been going 100 miles per hour because they’re still known as juniors or youths. We always tell our upperclassmen, ‘if you’re not out there doing it, then someone out there is going to come in and take your spot.'”
Despite not winning an SEC meet last year, the Gamecocks were able to pick up an upset win over Texas A&M in the SEC Championships. That was part of an end of the season stretch where South Carolina played much better overall as the team started to gel. With plenty of experience back, Major is expecting the team to click much sooner.
“I’m very confident in our western team,” Major noted. “I think (associate head coach/western coach) coach (Ruth) Sorrel has them very well prepared and the new ones coming in should be able to help. I think what we’re looking at a lot with these hunt seat girls is the ones that got the experience last year combined with the freshmen, and maybe a couple of girls who are already a member of the team that have done a lot of improving over the summer.”