The sun sets on K-State equestrian

Teammates cheer on other riders during the K-State Equestrian Purple vs. White Scrimmage on Sept. 20, 2015 at Timbercreek Stables. (File Photo by Nathan Jones | The Collegian)

A purple Powercat is painted on the side of a weathered barn, facing the sunset. It’s an iconic symbol of Timbercreek Stables, home to the K-State equestrian program.

Timbercreek has been home to a program that has seen three reserve national championships and had five riders take individual national championships in its 16-year history.

If you’ve ever attended an equestrian meet here, you’ve witnessed something special. The spectators are loud, cheering on the student-athletes as they work with horses they very well could be riding for the first time. The final score comes down to the opinion of the judges. The louder the crowd, the more confidence the student-athlete has in her performance.

“All that energy and all that enthusiasm and that momentum just really builds together and really helps motivate you,” head coach Casie Maxwell said.

Two back-to-back undefeated seasons at home highlight K-State equestrian’s time competing at Timbercreek Stables. In those seasons, Maxwell said one win just spiraled into another.

“You get kind of in defensive mode when you’re at home and you really want to defend your home arena,” Maxwell said.

But the competition is only a small sampling of the amount of work the equestrian team and coaches put in. The student-athletes practice for three to four hours per week. Unlike other Division I sports, the “equipment” is a living animal. The horses must be cared for before and after practice in rain, snow or shine. The care of the horses falls completely upon the student-athletes.

That all goes on top of 15-18 credit hours in the classroom and volunteer hours.

“We make it a part of our team to volunteer and give back to our community,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell experienced three reserve national championships during her coaching career at K-State. All three, she said, were unique. The most exciting part of the equestrian national championships is making it into the semifinals and being one of the last four teams standing. Maxwell said once you reach the championship match, the hard work is over.

“To be able to do it with a different group of people each time was really neat because they all accomplished it a different way throughout the season and had different ups and downs,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said her path to the head of the equestrian program happened sooner than she expected.

“That’s just being in the right place at the right time with the person who was in front of me moving on to something different,” she said.

From there, Maxwell started to build the program in her own way. Her goal with recruits was to let them fall in love with K-State, Manhattan and the team by themselves without a sales pitch from her. Mainly, she would let the student-athletes sell the program to recruits.

This way, the feedback is honest and the questions aren’t censored.

Maxwell said she believes this method has correlated with the program’s success.

“I think it definitely speaks for the kind of team we have,” Maxwell said. “If the girls get a feeling that someone’s not going to fit in here or not follow the values of the program, then they’ll speak up about that.”

After a recommendation from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, K-State announced it would be discontinuing the equestrian program in October 2014. The team had a choice to make. As student-athletes, they could either dwell on the fact that the program would be coming to an end, or they could make the most of their opportunities.

“They’ve accepted it and moved on to building relationships and appreciating great experiences,” Maxwell said. “We’ve had our mourning period.”

The 2015-16 season marked the last for K-State equestrian. The team fell in the NCEA National Championship quarterfinals to No. 1 ranked Auburn, finishing the season out at 5-11.

The team is holding on to the memories, the connections and the experience.

“They’ve had a ton of success over the entire 16 years there’s been a program, especially since I’ve been here,” Maxwell said. “That’s a lot of hard work. I hope they’re remembered as being really hardworking. It’s been a great experience.”

The sun sets on the barn with the Powercat painted on it. Timbercreek Stables is quiet now, as this chapter in K-State Athletics’ history comes to a close. The memories made here will last for a lifetime.