The NCEA Road: End of the Road

Kansas State’s Sam Etsell puts the determination she learned with her American Quarter Horse to good use in four years of collegiate competition.

By Sam Etsell
The American Quarter Horse Journal
May 21, 2013

Kansas State University's Sam Etsell competes at the 2013 National Collegiate Equestrian Association National Championships

Sam Etsell's final ride in collegiate equestrian was against Oklahoma State University during the western national championship round in Waco, Texas. (Journal photo) BELOW: Watch a recap of the 2013 NCEA Nationals, plus see who went home national champions.

Editor’s note: A longtime AQHA competitor, Sam Etsell wrapped up her senior year as a team captain and reiner on the Kansas State University women’s equestrian team.

It wouldn’t be the Kansas State University way if everything went smoothly down to the National Collegiate Equestrian Association National Championships. This year was no exception. Before the athletes had arrived, Coach Casie Maxwell and her husband experienced some technical difficulties with the truck that was towing three of our horses down there. Thankfully, they found a replacement to borrow to get our horses to Waco, Texas, for the championship event.

Not only that, as we set off in the dead of the night on our sleeper bus, us student-athletes had a bit of a surprise ourselves. Thinking we had a K-Tag that would allow us to breeze right through the tollbooth, our bus driver was sadly mistaken. Apparently our bus was from Nebraska, so we found ourselves backing up down I-70 to get in the correct lane, one where we wouldn’t run over a barrier.

But once we got to Waco, it was all business from there. The bits, saddles and brushes were unloaded and put in their respective tack rooms. Stalls were cleaned, aisleways swept. Once we had everything, we took out our horses to stretch their legs and get accustomed to the new arena.

As the days progressed, we schooled horses and went into opening ceremonies. After a good dinner and the inaugural singing of the Adequan song (if you haven’t heard this song, it’s really worth a listen. It’s quite catchy: www.youtube.com), it was time to kick off the competition.

Our western squad earned a bye in the first round from being the No. 2 seed, but our hunt-seat squad started off on the first day. That Thursday proved to be challenging, between having storms and the show starting late because all the paramedics, who are required to be on-site at the NCEA event, were working the explosion in West, Texas. Once the ball got rolling at nationals, our hunt-seat team unfortunately dropped in a tie to the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Looking for redemption for our teammates, our western squad went into the arena on Friday to sweep South Dakota State 8-0. The next day, we drew up against the University of Georgia, defeating them 5-2. This gave us the opportunity to compete for the western national championship. And we faced an all-too-familiar opponent: Oklahoma State University.

Before the finals, NCEA has another ceremony that introduces all the teams competing for the championship. Riders get to walk out in the dark with the spotlight on them and their opponent as fireworks go off around them. I’m not going to lie: It’s pretty cool. And yes, one of my teammates (not to throw her under the bus, but Savannah Smith) did walk over a cord and take out a light. It wouldn’t be the K-State way if we weren’t slightly destructive.

Our horsemanship squad took the arena first and unfortunately came out 0-4. For us reiners, we really had nothing to lose, so we laid it all out on the line. We lost to Oklahoma State 2-6, but came home reserve national champions. As well as that, my roommate and teammate of four years, Hannah Ribera, was named Most Outstanding Player in the horsemanship; she was more than deserving of it.

After four years, my graduating class and I are three-time reserve national champions. I must say, that is a pretty rewarding feeling. I know the younger girls will bring home the whole thing one of these days.

I want to thank all of my teammates and coaches who have helped throughout the last four years. We’ve all accomplished so much and couldn’t have done it if we really weren’t a team. I’m proud to say I am a Kansas State Wildcat through and through, and I will always bleed purple. GO STATE!

Did you read Sam’s first blog, The NCEA Road? In that first blog, Sam shares how AQHA competition and leadership opportunities prepared her for four years on a collegiate equestrian team. If you enjoyed these, be sure to read Sam’s blog regarding post-season activities on an NCEA team.