When Emma McNabb was a little girl, she got into horseback riding. The first horse she rode was named Ms. Texas. At the time, it was just the name of the horse, but now you could say it was an omen.
McNabb, who graduated from Heritage in 2021, will attend West Texas A&M University in the fall. From McNabb’s time riding horses as a young girl, she developed a love for it. That’s something she’ll carry into college as part of West Texas A&M’s equestrian team.
One question McNabb has gotten used to answering is “Why West Texas A&M?” It’s a question that’s come not only from Californians but also from people at West Texas A&M whom she talked to at orientation. Coming from California, and with no family in Texas, McNabb acknowledges that it could seem unexpected.
As she explains, she got into reining “late in the game,” and so there weren’t many schools with available spots on their equestrian teams. At that point, her recruiter suggested West Texas. From there, things fell into place, both in terms of equestrian and academics.
“She said it would be a great opportunity for me. It’s a great team with a lot of nice people, and the coach (Amanda) Ellis is amazing. I thought I should try for it,” McNabb said. “She (Ellis) invited me for tryouts. I went to tryouts and got accepted on the JV team.
“And then I went to school for a visit and tour,” McNabb added. “It’s just a beautiful campus with a lot of opportunities in animal science, which is what I’m planning on majoring in.”
McNabb also noted that she might eventually go into a pre-vet major, depending on how things work out.
For those unfamiliar with reining, McNabb compares it to figure skating.
“It’s a pattern that you have to memorize before you get into the show pen,” she said. “It’s like a five-minute pattern. You show what you and your horse know about sorting cows and working with farm animals: circles, stops, spins, backup, running fast, running slow, instant transition. It’s really fun. Really difficult, but fun.”
McNabb thanked her parents, Shantelle and Jeff, and her extended family for their support in helping her get onto a college equestrian team. She also thanked her trainer, Kristen Marrow, for her training in equestrianism, and also for helping McNabb with her mental game, teaching her to focus on what she did well in shows before being her own toughest critic and fixating on what didn’t go well.
Of course, equestrianism is not a solo sport. Every team is a person and a horse. McNabb expressed her gratitude for every horse she’s worked with, including Moseley, the first horse that she bought, and Montana (show name Shines Red Girl), McNabb’s current horse.
One comment McNabb has heard a lot is that horseback riding is “not a sport,” that the job of the human is to get on top of the horse and let the animal do all of the work. People who have that opinion would probably best keep it to themselves around McNabb, though, as it’s something she (understandably) takes exception to.
“I want to say to everyone that horseback riding is a sport,” McNabb said. “It takes a lot of sweat, tears and commitment. And a lot of consistency. A lot of people don’t understand it until they’re actually on the horse.
“People think you sit on a horse, pull the reins and a horse does the rest. It’s not that,” she added. “It’s so much a team effort. It’s the person and horse working together. That’s what horseback riding is. That’s what reining is. You can’t just tell a horse to go do circles, slow down and stop. The horse might not want to do it. It might want to go eat grass or hay. It takes a lot of hard work. I’ve been through it. My trainer has been through the ringer.”
There’s no set date yet, but McNabb expects to head to West Texas A&M sometime in late August. As is the case with anyone leaving home, she’s feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness.
The nervousness comes from the fact that McNabb’s family will still be in California. Currently, McNabb is not even sure if Montana will make the trip.
“I’m sad that I won’t be there as much, now that I’ll be in Texas,” McNabb said. “But I’m going to try to visit as much as I can and come back for the summer and fall shows.”
But excitement is also high. It comes from McNabb’s loves for the campus during her visit there, feeling welcomed and believing that it’s a place where she can make a lot of friends and feel comfortable.
“I’m happy with the path that I’ve been on and what I took. I don’t regret anything,” McNabb said. “I know I started late in the game with reining, and I’m pretty bummed about that because I could have done more. But I’m happy with West Texas A&M. They’re a great college. It’s a great equestrian team, and I feel like it’s going to be a great opportunity for me.”