The South Carolina equestrian team was on familiar ground at One Wood Farm in Friday’s SEC semifinals against Texas A&M, and despite being on unfamiliar horses, the Gamecocks won three of the four events to win 12-7 and advance to the SEC tournament final.
“We kind of made some uncharacteristic mistakes, which I honestly think had a lot to do with the fact that we weren’t riding our own horses at our own facility,” USC coach Boo Major said. “I’m glad we were able to come out with a win. I wish it had been a bigger margin, but a win is a win, and it was good to get that one under our belts.”
Junior Katherine Schmidt led the No. 1-seeded Gamecocks’ dominating hunt seat performance with top scores in equitation on the flat and equitation over fences.
“When we woke up this morning, we felt that we needed to ride our personal bests and try to win every single point,” said Schmidt. “We got a really good lead, and we just wanted to try to maintain it through both events.”
Schmidt got the Gamecocks off to a strong start as she guided the gelding Calvin through nine maneuvers to earn a score of 162/200. When Aggie rider Haley Buchmiller scored a 140 on the same horse, Schmidt notched the first point for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks went on to win equitation on the flat 4-1, and followed with a 3-1 win in the jumps. Schmidt also led there, posting a 164-161 win over A&M’s Kimmy Saul for the point. Samantha Kraus and Amber Henter also picked up points for the Gamecocks with their 10-jump shows.
In the western seat competition, Texas A&M scored big in the reining shows, dropping one of five points to the Gamecocks. Layla Choate aboard Garth was USC’s only point in the event.
“It was a little heartbreaking I guess to come out and be raring to go and get shutdown a little bit, but after that, we rallied a little bit for the horsemanship, so that was kind of cool to come back,” said redshirt senior Johnna Letchworth, who was outscored 138-135.5 in that event.
South Carolina’s horsemanship sealed the win as Katie Kopf and Sam Chiodo’s slim victories got the Gamecocks back on track. Letchworth posted the event’s high score of 151 – besting Aggie Caroline Ammons by 5.5 points – and was named the horsemanship MVP.
Schmidt, the MVP in both equitation disciplines, said the key to winning the Gamecocks’ second SEC championship will be better chemistry with the horses for Saturday’s championship. Major said much of Friday evening would be devoted to that task.
The Gamecocks, ranked No. 1 in the nation, will be tested by No. 2 Georgia in the final.
The two squads had a 9-9 draw in their first meeting, and the Gamecocks won the rematch 10-9 at Georgia on Feb. 8.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” Major said. “I’m glad it’s Georgia. I hope that both teams ride mistake free, and then we see who comes out on top. We want to ride mistake-free, we believe Georgia is going to do the same thing, and we’ll see which is the best team tomorrow.”
Admission is free to Saturday’s competitions.