Equestrian Team Member Qualifies for IHSA National Championship
Sunday, March 18, marked the day that junior western equestrian team member Erin Mays made history, becoming Liberty University’s first western rider to qualify for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships. Mays did so by placing top two in her division at regionals to advance on to semifinals, where she made top four at the competition to be ranked top 12 in the nation, enabling her to qualify for the show that is IHSA Nationals.
Qualifying for nationals is the highest achievement in collegiate equestrian, and it has always been May’s goal. She said it was something she knew she was capable of achieving and that working toward it mentally was the hardest part.
“It’s more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge,” Mays said. “You definitely have to keep your head in the game, that’s the biggest thing.”
Keeping her head in the game has sometimes been easier said than done. She has been riding horses since she was 8 years old, and when she was 11, Mays suffered a riding accident that caused her to have a subdural brain hemorrhage and required brain surgery. Mays was out of the sport for three months.
“After that it came time to figure out if it was something I really wanted to do,” Mays said. “I had to either become really serious about it or quit. So, I got my own horse because my parents said I needed a really safe horse to continue.”
Mays said the accident did not hinder her riding ability because she does not have any recollection of the trauma. Rather, she actually welcomes the unpredictability of the sport.
Unlike in high school-level competition, collegiate equestrian requires the athletes to draw random horses for each competition, and scores are based on how strong a rider’s technique and ability to handle a hot or lazy horse is. At the semifinals in March, Mays drew the straw for the worst horse.
“Sometimes even if you get the worst straw it can actually turn into a really good thing,” Mays said. “Things started to go awry in the middle of the ring, but we got through it, and it obviously showed that I actually knew how to ride. I wasn’t just sitting pretty.”
Because the rider can never anticipate the outcome of a competition, Mays said her goal going into nationals is to keep her head in the right mindset, keep working hard and not stress about the end results. She scored 79 points at semifinals and said she is shooting to score 80 at the upcoming national competition.
“When we were at semifinals, I went into it thinking whatever happens, I’m going to do it for the glory of God,” Mays said. “Whether I move on or not, it’s going to be what is supposed to happen and I think I am just going to go in with that mindset again. That just calms the nerves and places everything in God’s hands.”
Mays has reached the height of collegiate competition and, having achieved it as a junior, has solidified her senior season in doing so.
“I actually qualified for postseason at the beginning of this year, so I already have a lot of points which are going to allow me to have a better shot to move on into postseason next year,” Mays said.
Look out for Mays and other possible Liberty equestrian team qualifiers in the IHSA National Championships which will be held May 3-6 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.