A moment of panic set in as soon as Larry Sanchez burst through the doors of the western arena. All his golf carts were gone.
Sanchez, OSU's equestrian coach, just watched the western portion of the 2022 NCEA Equestrian Championship end. Now, he needed to travel nearly a mile to the jumping seat arena to watch the championship’s epic conclusion. The problem is all the girls on his team had the same idea and got to the OSU-labeled golf carts first.
After a brief scramble, an NCEA staffer threw him a set of keys and Sanchez floored the small electric cart as fast as it would go. The championship his team won in the jumping seat arena is seared into his mind.
Twenty-four hours before Sanchez’s ride through the World Equestrian Center in Florida, Sydnie Ziegler opened the draw sheet in the team GroupMe. Normally, riders discover what order they compete the day of the event. But for the national championships, Ziegler had a whole day to think about drawing the final ride.
Ziegler couldn’t stop thinking about it. The next day, she forced herself in the bathroom to look in the mirror and compose herself. She spent time in a stall with her personal horse, who was being used in championships.
“When I was nervous in the day I’d just go in her stall and rub her,” Ziegler said. “It was almost like an emotional support animal. I’d try to calm down with her for a few minutes.”
It’s not rare an entire equestrian meet hinges on the result of the final ride. As coaches and teammates watched jumping results come in, they started to calculate the tiebreaker scenario. The only way OSU could win its first national championship if Ziegler outscored Texas A&M’s Kaitlyn Lovingfoss.
Ziegler’s nerves skyrocketed when she took a turn too tight, disrupting her horse’s stride. She turned in a good ride, but not perfect. But the standard wasn’t perfect, it was Lovingfoss’ score, which Ziegler beat by 1.5 points.
Ziegler remembers crying and celebrating with her teammates, but the details are fuzzy.
“That’s a year’s worth of work and being at workouts at 5:45 in the morning and practicing, taking care of the horses,” Sanchez said. “It’s a year of hard work and it paid off. And it only pays off for one team.”
Ziegler, a senior, thought she went out on top. That summer, she accepted an internship at a farm in Rockford, Illinois, to start the path on her professional career. Ziegler rode horses, trained them and went to horse shows. It was great, Ziegler said, but something was missing.
“It was a beautiful farm, they were super people,” Ziegler said. “It was hard coming from a team, a family, to being another rider.”
Sanchez, driving through the mountains of Colorado, hoped the call wouldn’t drop. Ziegler asked him if she could return to the team for her COVID year.
“Part of me was also like you can go ride professionally your whole life if you want to, but like you only have this one extra year of eligibility,” Ziegler said.
Fortunately, Sanchez hadn’t filled the spot yet. He cleared the move with administration and made the easy decision to bring back the reining First-Team All-American.
Ziegler’s accomplishments in the arena make her a leader on a team gearing up for the Big 12 Championship against Baylor on Friday. OSU returns 13 of 16 starters from last season and is poised for another chance at sending Ziegler out the right way, for her actual final ride.
“I think as long as we keep pushing, we have the talent,” Ziegler said.
Big 12 Semifinals: OSU vs Baylor
When: Friday at 10 a.m.
Where: Pedigo-Hull Equestrian center, Stillwater