Big 12 Campus Correspondent
When you think of equestrian, you might picture a Western rider out on the plains of the Oklahoma or Texas. Or you might think of an English rider completing jumps in the affluent neighborhoods of Chicago or on the East Coast.
But one place that you might not think about when equestrian comes to mind is the Pacific Northwest, but that is exactly where one of Kansas State's best riders - junior Sam Etsell -
Etsell made her way to Manhattan via Arlington, Wash., a town of approximately 17, 500 people, located 47 miles north of Seattle, where she was a highly-decorated junior rider during her prep years.
So even though the Wildcats currently have two riders from Oregon on their roster, the recruitment of Etsell was out of the ordinary, but it has worked out well for everyone involved.
"It is kind of a funny story, she sent in her video and she ended up committing to K-State without ever visiting, which is really interesting," said K-State head coach Casie Lisabeth. "She could not come for her visit until after the signing period but she came out in May and absolutely loved it. It has just been one of those lucky situations where she knew what she wanted and the website (kstatesports.com) sold her well enough."
While every school in the Pacific-12 and Mountain West Conference, with the exception of Fresno State, do not have equestrian programs, it still might seem strange how this Washington state native made her way almost 1,800 miles southeast to the Little Apple.
"I looked all the schools that had an equestrian team and a veterinary school," said Etsell. "From there, I heard back from Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Kansas State and I talked to all the coaches from those three schools."
"After I talked to Casie, it just seemed like the plan here worked best with what I wanted to do," said Etsell. "She and I were on the same page in terms of my riding skills. I came down and met all the girls and honestly (my future) teammates were what sold me. There was just a great family atmosphere and everyone got along so well. I just really liked the girls and they sold me on the program and got me to come to Kansas State."
Throughout this season, Etsell was one of the Wildcat's most successful riders, as she posted 12 wins to go along with one match MVP award. On top of her regular-season success, she ended the year by racking up a slew of awards, including honorable mention All-American honors by the National Collegiate Equestrian Association, a unanimous All-Big 12 selection in Reining and Most Outstanding Player recognition in Reining at the 2012 Big 12 Championships.
In addition to her numerous personal accolades, Etsell ended the year as one of K-State's hottest riders, as she tore through the 2012 Big 12 Championship and NCEA National Championships on a five-match winning streak and Lisabeth is quick to point out all of the reasons that Etsell just kept getting better and better throughout the season.
"She is just so coachable and self-motivated," said Lisabeth. "She is a totally different rider from a presentation standpoint than she was when she first got here. That is why she was so successful this year, because the judges saw how much she had improved in that aspect as well. She is just really honest with herself; she is the one to say ‘I could have done better', and she thinks of things to improve on before you have to say them to her."
Since the Evergreen State native came into the Wildcat program, Etsell has used the tutelage of Lisabeth, who was a highly-decorated Western rider during her time at Texas A&M, to her advantage.
Last season as a sophomore, Etsell captured a total of eight victories, with five of those coming in the 2011 postseason, as the K-State Western squad made an improbable run through the 2011 Varsity Equestrian National Championships that ended with a Reserve National Championship, with Etsell playing a major role in just her second year with the Wildcats.
With the success that she earned this season, Etsell understands how she transformed from a punchy, cow-horse rider into one of the country's elite Reining riders.
"I really have bought in to the program," said Etsell. "Casie has done an amazing job at transforming me into the rider that I am today. The main goal that I have had is to be coachable and to trust the process. Since I have done that, I have been able to turn myself into the cow-horse rider that I was, into the reining rider that I am now. It has definitely been a process; a lot of blood, sweat and tears have been put into it, but it has all been worth it because obviously it has been working."
So as Etsell enters her senior year with the K-State women's equestrian program, she looks to continue to improve, as she has done during her first three years in Manhattan, but in her final time around, she has more than a little motivation.
"I want to bring home a National Championship. I think not making that Finals round this year, like we did last year, definitely put a bad taste in our mouths," said Etsell. "I just want to stay on the same page and get all of us girls ready to bring home a Big 12 Championship and continue to compete hard at Nationals next year."