SWEET BRIAR, Va. (Aug. 29, 2017) — Sweet Briar College's riding program announced today that it has joined the National Collegiate Equestrian Association. The College becomes the NCEA's first Division III member to compete in regular season play and be eligible for the post-season.
Sweet Briar's director of riding, Mimi Wroten '93, says membership fits with the program's traditional foundation while creating more opportunities for riders at the highest competitive level in college sports. It potentially clears the way to ride for national NCEA titles — and maybe one day, NCAA championships.
In 1998, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Committee on Women's Athletics identified equestrian as an emerging sport for women. The NCEA was formed as its governing body. Equestrian has surged in the past year with renewed focus on expansion, according to the NCEA website. A July 19 news release from the NCEA notes that it "is moving quickly toward NCAA championship status."
The format is head-to-head, with two riders showing against each other on the same randomly drawn horse.
Leah Fiorentino, executive director of the NCEA, says recent changes to its championship format allow student-athletes from all three NCAA divisions to participate.
"We have seen a great deal of interest in the head-to-head competition format from Division III schools recently," Fiorentino says. "We have been working with Division III athletics administrators to ensure that their student-athletes and equine-athletes have the very best experience over the next season. NCAA leadership has provided guidance regarding this process as we move into a new inclusive format."
Sweet Briar is also a member of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association and the American National Riding Commission, and participates in other U.S. Hunter Jumper Association-affiliated shows throughout the year. Wroten says there's a big difference between showing as an individual and as a team, so adding USHJA-affiliated team competitions at the collegiate level to the riding program's schedule is of great benefit to students.
The NCEA format adds another dimension.
"Two riders being judged against each other on the same mount is unlike traditional equitation classes, where groups of riders are compared to one another," Wroten said. "NCEA meets will not only test our riders, but will give them another team experience."
Wroten will lead Sweet Briar's NCEA team as head coach. She is a U.S. Equestrian Federation 'R' judge, an American National Riding Commission-recorded judge and holds the ANRC top-rider rating.
Her coaching résumé includes several ANRC champion and reserve champion teams, an individual national champion and national reserve champion in the IHSA, and three ODAC championships. She also was voted ODAC's Coach of the Year in each of those championship years, in 2012, 2015 and 2016. While at Sweet Briar, she has coached the fall field team and the hunter show team.
Sweet Briar faces Delaware State University, University of Tennessee at Martin, University of Minnesota Crookston and the University of Georgia on its inaugural schedule.
Joining the NCEA is a logical step, says Sweet Briar's president, Meredith Woo, but it reflects the College's spirit, too.
"We have a long history of competitive riding, attracting women from around the country who want simultaneously an excellent education and the chance to compete as equestrians at the highest level," Woo said. "Joining the ranks of the NCEA is a point of pride for Sweet Briar — especially as the first Division III school."
The NCEA is equally happy to bring a quality team into its fold, says Haley Schoolfield, president of the association.
"[We are] thrilled to welcome Sweet Briar College to the head-to-head format of collegiate competition," Schoolfield said. "SBC has a rich history in the collegiate equestrian world, and we are excited to begin competing with them this year."