Ten All-American equestrians? Look at Auburn.

This year’s SEC championship winner? Look at Auburn.

The 2016 national equestrian champions? Look at Auburn.

This year, the AU equestrian team jumped, trotted and galloped through the ranks to No. 1, winning nearly every meet this season, including the National Collegiate Equestrian Association championship—their fourth.

The team explained that they not only wanted their competitors to look at them, but to look out for them.

Winning breeds confidence, so as the team headed into Waco, Texas, for the championship competition in mid-April, they were confident they had what it takes, but they were careful not to take anything for granted.

“There’s definitely a huge target on their backs: people, teams, everyone trying to drag them down,” head coach Greg Williams said. “It’s not just that we’re good this year. We’re continuing to get better. To say it’s a target on their back is an understatement.”Hence, their motto for this season: “Look at Auburn.”

The team explained that they not only wanted their competitors to look at them, but to look out for them. They’d been training for the championship since the beginning of the season.

“We wanted to be that team that people are intimidated by and people want to chase and try to beat,” Alexa Rivard, a sophomore western rider, said.

For this team, the championship all boiled down to one irreplaceable element: preparation.

After falling to SEC rival and five-time national champion Georgia in last year’s semifinal round, the team knew it had to make adjustments coming into this year.

“We went out and did our best, but we just weren’t as prepared as we needed to be to win it,” Ashley Foster, a junior hunt seat rider, said. “So everything this year goes back to preparation. That’s what we need to work on, that’s what we need to focus on.”

Equestrian Team after 2016 National Championship win

“Every single one of us has to walk in and be confident. We have to walk in like we are the best,” Rivard said. “When we show them we’re even sweating a little bit, that’s when they can take it out from under us.”

Of course, in their practices they sweat a lot, training not only on their horses, but also in the gym. Practicing through the grit and grind is made easier, they said, when the girls consider their teammates and the effort every team member must contribute to win.

“I want to do it for our girls, but I also want to do it for the school. All the other athletes—softball is doing so well—and I want to do well,” Foster said. “I want to get a ring. I want to be on that field. I want everyone looking at us.”

Auburn’s equestrian riders all competed solo before they came to college. But joining a team of like-minded young women helped shift their focus from a one-woman win to a team-wide victory.

“It’s a different kind of pressure when you get to college. Instead of wanting to win my point for me, I don’t want to let them down,” freshman hunt seat rider Caitlin Boyle said.

This year’s championship strikes a different chord with the team for another reason, too. The last time the team won nationals was in 2013, when the current seniors were freshmen.

The underclassmen say working hard to win it this year for the seniors made them that much more motivated.

“The seniors this year are the best group of seniors, so of course they’re leaving. It’s heartbreaking, but we wanted to win it for them,” Rivard said. “They won it their freshman year and we wanted them to leave with the big national championship ring.”

The team—and the coaches—were always confident the girls had what it took. In fact, coach Williams said it was almost worrisome that this year’s team didn’t seem to have an Achilles’ heel.

“One thing that’s been quite amazing has been the lack of challenges. Right off the bat, they developed the team, the leadership and the buy-in from the young ones, which removed a lot of the challenges,” Williams said. “Usually when you don’t have a distinct problem area, you’re thinking, ‘What’s coming, what’s coming?’ But they just trucked right through it.”

They trucked all the way through Waco, too, and won the ultimate title.

“If our biggest dream was to have the greatest team experience of anywhere in the country and to empower women,” Williams said, “our mission was accomplished.”

Look at Auburn.

Sarah Russell