As Texas A&M continues its perpetual athletic facility makeover, the 11-time national champion Aggie equestrian team has moved in to the highly-touted Thomas G. Hildebrand DVM ’56 Equine Complex as the final touches are made on the multi-million dollar facility.
The project, intended to bolster the whole of the University’s equine culture, seeks to merge Texas A&M’s academic and athletic initiatives in a singularly unified location. Initially approved by the University Board of Regents in 2012, once fully completed the approximately $80 million complex will provide a home for equine science education, research, and outreach.
For now the first phase – the Aggie Equestrian team’s new home – is taking shape.
A monstrosity in its scope and size, the Hildebrand Equine Complex features state-of-the-art barns, arenas, training and exercise facilities, locker rooms, offices and meeting areas. Aggie equestrian’s new home brings an unparalleled student experience to the sport’s most competitive league.
The facility planning fell under the umbrella of the Texas A&M Equine Initiative, which brings together students, faculty, and equine industry leaders and provides a foundation for research discoveries and outreach initiatives dedicated to the welfare of the horse.
Since 2008, Texas A&M’s equestrian events were largely held at the Brazos County Expo Complex. The community facility was multi-purpose and, as such, was not necessarily specialized for the sport.
With a highly-specialized facility now in its possession, one major improvement the equestrian program has warmly embraced is new turf within the arena. This key addition, which can be tailored to individual events, allows for smoother riding and provides additional safety for the horses.
“There’s an entire science behind the arena dirt,” head coach Tana McKay said. “For the reining (competitions) it’s especially important because the horses are doing sliding stops. (The riders) are asking the horse to immediately plant on its back feet and the front feet keep going so they’ve got to have a surface to slide on. It must be kept at a certain depth and moisture level. We also have very specialized equipment to maintain it.”
Junior All-American reiner Laura Sumrall said the new surface has dramatically improved her practice and riding experience.
“I absolutely love our arena, the dirt-work is just perfect,” Sumrall said. “I could go on and on about it. It’s just so beneficial to the horses and their health. With our practices and training, the more work you get on good dirt, the better you’re going to be.”
In addition to a complete resurfacing, the horses now have more comfortably-spaced living areas. This is particularly beneficial for horses of the hunter seat discipline, which generally require more space because of their size.
“A standard stall size is 12-by-12 [feet] but sometimes when we do have to travel horses for our postseason meets, they can be as small as 10-by-10,” McKay said. “Our horses are lucky enough to have 14-by-14 stalls, which is a huge benefit for the horse’s needs.”
Within easy walking distance of the barn are all the accommodations a horse would need.
Adjacent to the stalls is a modern exercise facility with machinery designed to allow the horses to exercise without a rider. A designated vet area is installed nearby, allowing for quick and intensive care of each horse when needed. A specialized farrier area, the space designed for grooming of horses’ hooves, is also included.
For the student-athletes themselves, new locker rooms are a much-welcomed sight. Designed by the coaches, the team’s plush living conditions are a major upgrade from previous infrastructure when the team often had to change clothes out of its own vehicles.
McKay, who had her inputs before the equine center project began, said almost everything one could desire was included.
“We gave them our wish list and they asked, ‘If the sky was the limit, what would you want?’” McKay said. “This is very close. You never think you’re going to get your dream list. This facility definitely meets all the needs for our hard-working athletes as well as our horses.”
As a recruiting tool, showing the facility in all of its grandeur has already turned heads.
“I hosted a recruit but it was at the old facility--though we eventually came over here to do a tour,” said hunter seat specialist Hannah Williams. “I remember the parents being blown away. The girls were ecstatic, too. I remember the parents saying, ‘Wow, my daughter gets to do this. Look at the investment they’ve made.’ That was cool.”
For the coaches, vision had become reality.
“It’s phenomenal,” McKay said. “It’s above any of our wildest dreams.”