The Fresno State equestrian team played half a season last year due to COVID-19. The riders did not expect their first season in the Big 12 conference to end abruptly in March 2020.
By the time the season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team was ranked No. 4 in the nation and won meets against Oklahoma State, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M, Texas Christian University (TCU) and Baylor, ending its season 5-6 overall. Fresno State recorded a program-best with seven All-Americans, including Hannah Buijs in horsemanship and Cecily Hayes earning an honorable mention for her performance in fences and flat.
With hopes of having a full season this time around, the ‘Dogs have qualified again for the Big 12 with new members on the team. This year’s team added 10 freshmen and has eight returning seniors going into their final season.
“We’re going to rely on a lot of our upperclassmen and their tutelage and their leadership,” head coach Eric Hubbard said. “For our sophomores, this is some of their first competing experience just because maybe they had opted out or our shortened year.”
Leading the team this season are team captains Hannah Buijs for horsemanship, Lexee Padrick for reining and Cecily Hayes for jumping seat. They all focus on assisting other members with training, feedback and any prep work before a meet.
Prior to being shut down, Buijs described her team’s trajectory as positive in an exciting and competitive season.
“It was definitely an exciting time to hear that we were all in the Big 12 and it’s kind of like a step up from where we were,” Buijs said. “We were competing with different schools and like high-ranked schools as well, and it was really exciting to hear that we were ranked No. 2 going into our postseason of our first year being in the Big 12.”
Buijs, a senior from Lisle, Ontario, said the transition from Canada to California was different than she originally expected.
“We know quite a bit in Canada about the U.S. but California. I mean the only thing in my head was like L.A. and the city. So it was kind of nice to come to an agricultural school,” Buijs said. “It’s definitely been a learning experience, but I feel like I’m better because of it and figuring out how everything’s different here like even management for horses.”
Last season, Buijs scored a season-high of 76.5 in a tie against Oklahoma State and went 6-4-1 in horsemanship.
Hayes, a senior from Brentwood, California, earned three Most Outstanding Player Honors (MOP) in her junior year and ended last year with a 6-5 record in the flat. After having her first visit to campus, she instantly knew the Fresno State equestrian team was for her.
“When I visited, I knew this is where I was going to go to school,” Hayes said. “ I meshed really well with the coaches immediately, and it felt instantly like a welcoming place where we really build a team to thrive and work together to push towards our goal.”
Hubbard said other veterans like Addison Welman, Kameron Thorn and Madisen Torigiani are silent leaders for the team. He expects them to continue to lead by example, adding points and experience to the group.
The Fresno State equestrian team kicked off the season with back-to-back wins against No. 9 South Carolina on Friday, Oct. 1, and No. 6 TCU on Saturday, Oct. 2.
With the riders ranked No. 7 in the NCEA, their previous conference, and qualifying for the Big 12 last season, Hubbard said they are the “underdogs” as newcomers in the conference.
The ‘Dogs beat South Carolina on Friday 10-9. In horsemanship, Thorn scored a 75.5, and Buijs added with a 76.5. In fences, Hayes scored an 80, and Grace Mathias scored an 82 – beating South Carolina’s score of 78 and 76.
After Friday’s victory, Fresno State continued its winning streak against No. 6 TCU with another 10-9 victory.
The ‘Dogs led the arena in all disciplines and led 5-4 at the half. Hayes took home another MOP honor in fences and flat, and Julianne Kelley received an MOP honor in reining
The Bulldogs travel to Alabama for their next matchup against Auburn University on Oct. 22.