In true equine parlance, the SEC equestrian championship came down to a neck-and-neck finish.
After much debate and a scoring review – including Georgia prematurely being declared champion – South Carolina edged Georgia for its second consecutive SEC equestrian crown on Saturday at One Wood Farm.
The Gamecocks, No. 1 in the nation, and the Bulldogs, No. 2, each won 10 points and the raw score decided the match in South Carolina’s favor by 3.5 points—4040.25-4036.75. South Carolina won each of the hunt seat competitions 3-2, while Georgia won both western events by the same score.
“We knew it was going to be close. In the history of these two teams, I’m sure if you did the math, we’re tied,” said South Carolina coach Boo Major.
Initially, the Gamecocks believed they had lost the match, as an error in reporting the unofficial scores in the western reining competition, resulted in the Bulldogs believing they had won the title.
South Carolina had won each of the hunt seat events 3-2, and Georgia had taken the western horsemanship competition 3-2.
With Johnna Letchworth scoring a point for South Carolina, Lauren Tieche winning one for Georgia, and the match-up between Claudia Spreng and Gamecock Sarah Bouchard reported as a tie, the overall score appeared to be 9-8 in South Carolina’s favor with two reining shows left. Georgia’s McKenzie Lantz seemed to bring the match to a tie with her 132-118.5 win on the penultimate ride.
Gamecocks junior Layla Choate’s show of Roy, a gelding from Texas A&M, would be the deciding factor. She needed to match Lauren Garmon’s 136.5 to tie the overall score, which would give the Gamecocks the win by raw score, or a 137 to win outright.
Choate delivered a confident and technically strong ride, but the Bulldogs erupted in celebration as her unofficial scores were displayed—68.5 and 67.5, a total of 136.
“When the other team is celebrating like that you know you’ve lost your point,” Major said. “It’s a pretty down in the dumps feeling.”
Within minutes she had emailed her riders, letting them know that she was proud of them, that they had had a great performance that day, done the best they could do despite the disappointing result.
But at the same time, match officials were reviewing the official scorecards from the judges, and discovered an error that led to a two-hour review of all of the scorecards.
“Our scoreboard operators use a manual scoreboard to let the audience know the score, and one of those people flipped the wrong score, so unofficially, Sarah Bouchard had tied her Georgia opponent, and that unofficially gave us a 10-9 final,” said media relations director. “Once we went through the scorecards, as we always do for the official results, we saw the error.”
Spreng’s result from one of the judges had been shown as 70.5, but was recorded on the scorecard as 67.5, meaning Bouchard had in fact won that match-up—a correction that put the overall score at 10-10.
“Once you realize that that correction changes the results of the whole match, you have to get a lot more people sign off on it,” Burkharth said.
Both of the event’s judges, the steward, Major and Georgia coach Meghan Boenig, and SEC representative Sean Cartell reviewed the scorecards and came to the same conclusion.
“The Georgia Coach conceded the match, she was very professional, very congenial about it and shook Boo’s hand,” Burkharth said.
Major said, “I told coach Boenig I wish we could have shared it.”
Instead, she headed back to the Gamecocks’ barn to share the odd, exciting news with her team.
“It’s obviously more fun to be on our end than to be on Georgia’s end,” Major said. “We’re just happy to have come out on top, thrilled to be here and to have done it on our own turf.”