March Madness comes to Ocala… in April

SMU riders with the winning trophy in April 2023. [Keagan Phillips]

Home » Sports
Posted April 10, 2024 | By Tom O’mara
Special to the Ocala Gazette

What NCAA sport now holds its National Championship in Ocala?  Equestrian.

Where else should it be but here in the Horse Capital of the World. This will be the third year that the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) National Championships are held at the World Equestrian Center (WEC) with competition next week beginning Thursday, April 18 and ending on Saturday, April 20. Get ready to learn about it here, and come out and watch (admission is free, parking, too) as this is the best of NCAA equestrians battling it out for the title of National Champion right here in Ocala. The excitement and crowd enthusiasm during the Thursday quarterfinals and Friday semifinal rounds is palpable, but there is nothing like the enthusiasm on display from the jam-packed crowds in WEC Arena’s 3 (Jumping Seat) and 5 (Western) for the finals on Saturday, April 20.  It’s exciting and if you love horse sport, you’ll want to see this as the level of competition and the format are not your usual horse show.

Quick background: NCAA Equestrian is designated as an emerging sport, which is a mechanism the NCAA set up in the 1990’s to help create more opportunities for women in collegiate athletics.  The NCEA, which is the coach’s organization that oversees the day-to-day operations of NCAA equestrian while it’s emerging, runs the National Championship. NCAA Equestrian is one of the few sports that competes nearly the entire year, starting in September and running into the spring semester and culminating in the National Championship here in Ocala. Many of the country’s former top junior western and hunter/jumper riders, often having honed their expertise training in Ocala during their junior careers, have gone on to earn athletic scholarships and ride for these NCAA teams. There will be many former junior national and world champions in the arena next week vying for the coveted NCEA National Championship.

Auburn University acts as the host school, and Head Equestrian Coach Jessica Braswell works diligently with her staff as well as all the NCEA head coaches to make this championship happen. “Auburn University is excited to team up with the NCEA, World Equestrian Center and Marion County in hosting the National Championship for NCAA Equestrian in Ocala,’’ she said. “The atmosphere that Ocala brings for our student-athletes is unmatched. Ocala and the World Equestrian Center provide a championship experience for these collegiate equestrians that they can’t get anywhere else. Come out and see some incredible riding in a collegiate athletics environment next week in Ocala!”

What is the format? There are really two competitions going on based on the size of an NCAA equestrian schools’ program, a dual-discipline championship and a single-discipline championship, both being decided on Saturday. It’s a bracketed format where only the winning team in head-to-head competition moves on. It’s win and stay in !!

About the competition: 

  • An NCEA National Championship for Dual Discipline schools
    • Dual means they have both a Jumping Seat (english) and a Western squad.
  • Top eight teams in the country are invited – seeded in order 1 through 8
    • Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, Auburn University, Texas A&M University, the University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University, the University of South Carolina, and the University of California-Davis
  • Two events in Jumping Seat – Fences and Flat
  • Two events in Western – Reining and Horsemanship
  • Four riders in each event
  • It is a head-to-head format, meaning a random horse from the championship herd will be drawn, and a rider from each school will ride that same horse on the same course. Whoever scores highest wins a point for their school.
  • Total of 16 points are up for grabs in the dual-discipline competitions.
  • Whichever school earns the most points wins the competition and moves on in the bracket.

  • An NCEA National Championship for Single Discipline schools
    • These schools only have a Jumping Seat squad.
  • Top four teams in the country are invited – seeded in order 1 through 4
    • The University of Lynchburg, Sweet Briar College, Dartmouth College, and Sewanee: The University of the South.
  • Two events in Jumping Seat – Fences and Flat
  • Four riders in each event
  • Head-to-head competition, same as in dual-discipline: Same horse, highest score gets the point for their school.
  • Total of eight points are up for grabs in the single-discipline competitions
  • Whichever school gets the most points wins the competition and moves on in the bracket.

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