BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Southeastern Conference strengthened an already unprecedented commitment to creating opportunities for women through intercollegiate athletics this past June when it announced that it would begin to sponsor a championship in the sport of equestrian, making it the league's 21st sport.
Four SEC programs currently sponsor the sport of equestrian - Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M - and there are 23 Division I and Division II equestrian programs nationally. In 1998, equestrian was placed on the NCAA's list of "emerging sports." In order to attain full NCAA championship status, there must be 40 Division I and II schools that sponsor the sport.
"I think it is one more level of acknowledgement and endorsement, and broadens the pool of exposure to the best followed and most notable conference out there," Georgia head coach Meghan Boenig said. "I am so excited about the pool of people who will now be exposed to it, all of the fans and all the interaction. It makes all of the riders and the coaches extremely proud, especially because of all of the hard work and determination that these ladies have been putting forward. Hopefully adding SEC recognition behind it will add more legitimacy to it, which is something we are always striving for."
The National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) was created to advance the sport of equestrian from emerging to championship status with the NCAA by promoting the benefits of equestrian to potential institutions, riders, parents, horse industry professionals and sponsors while developing the rules and format of competition.
The NCEA Championships are currently held in Waco, Texas. Twelve hunter set and 12 western teams are invited to compete. The NCEA Selection Committee invites teams based on their win-loss record throughout the season. The event takes place over the course of four days and more than 200 student-athletes from across the country participate.
The four current members of the SEC are the only teams in the history of the sport to win NCEA Overall Team National Championships. Georgia has tallied a league-leading five overall national championships, including three consecutive from 2008-10. Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M each have two overall national titles to their credit.
"Having the support of the SEC is another major step for the sport of equestrian," Auburn head coach Greg Williams said. "I am proud to see a traditional sport that I have loved so much, embraced by the greatest athletic conference."
Collegiate equestrian teams compete in four events at each dual meet and championship competition: English Equitation Over Fences, English Equitation On The Flat, Western Horsemanship and Western Reining. There are two primary disciplines - Hunt Seat (Equitation Over Fences and Equitation On The Flat) and Western (Reining and Horsemanship).
The competitions are head-to-head where a rider from each team competes on the same horse. The rider earning the highest score on that particular horse wins the point for their team. At the end of the competition, the team with the most points wins the competition. The horse and rider match-up is determined by a random draw.
Fifteen scholarships are permitted per team for the sport of equestrian. The NCAA defines equestrian as an equivalency sport, allowing the scholarships to be divided amongst members of the team. According to the NCEA, teams range from 15 to 85 athletes with the average team having about 46 members.
The first SEC equestrian championship will take place in the 2012-13 school year and will be an on-campus championship with the date and site to be determined. This season's NCEA Championships are slated for April 18-20 in Waco, Texas.