For the Oklahoma State equestrian team, the drive for a championship has as much horsepower as every past season.
After falling short of winning a national championship last season, the defending Big 12 Champion Cowgirls will open their season on the road against No. 3 Texas A&M at 11 a.m. Friday at the Hildebrand Equine Complex in College Station, Texas.
OSU has won four straight season openers and has a chance to earn back-to back victories against Texas A&M for the first time since 2012. The Cowgirls won the last meeting 10-8.
“The first meet is going to tell us a lot,” said OSU coach Larry Sanchez. “We’re going to take care of one competition at a time and hopefully come away with a lot of victories this year.”
Despite losing key contributors to graduation, the Cowgirls have no shortage of talent. OSU has four All-Americans returning from last year in Harley Huff, Hannah Mitchell, Abigail Brayman and Stephanie Helsen.
Freshmen Hannah Lovrien and Kinsey Jones have already set a tone because of their summer at the American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Championship, in which Lovrien was a reserve champion.
“We’ve got a lot of talented riders that can step up,” Sanchez said. “When you have dominant performers like the ones we graduated in May, it’s always exciting to see who is going to step up. Sometimes, it’s someone you didn’t even expect.”
Sanchez is entering his 20th season as OSU’s coach. Since he took over the program in 1999, the Cowgirls have won five national championships and six Big 12 titles.
“Honestly, I can’t believe that it’s been 20 years,” Sanchez said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. I’ve got an excellent staff right now. They’re extremely talented and are helping me continue to keep this program compete at a high level.”
Sanchez pointed out that though the Cowgirls follow a system, adjustments are made to ensure the long-term success of the program.
“We don’t change what works, but we always keep an open mind to make everything better,” Sanchez said. “I think we are willing to try new things even if we are not familiar with them. It’s always about keeping that open mind of continually improving who we are as a team by keeping some things the same and be willing to change other things that can help.”
Although OSU lost two All-Americans because they graduated, there are high expectations that the Cowgirls will generate similar results with different faces at the helm.
“Every year is different,” Sanchez said. “Every new year seems to take on its own personality. That’s what I think is one of the fun parts of my job, figuring out what this new team is going to be. All I know is that we have a lot of talent right now and we are very excited to get things going.”