Coach Bridges breathes new life into Baylor riding

Grace Bridges, new head coach at Baylor Show Jumping Seat, brought new energy to the team that the athletes appreciated. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Kamri Alexandre | Journalist

Baylor Equestrian hosted a new assistant show jumping trainer, Grace Bridges, passionate about what she does. Bridges is a decorated equestrian athlete who recently graduated from the University of Georgia in May 2020. Bridges had a successful academic career on their equestrian team in which she helped lead Georgia to their 2017 and 2018 SEC Championships, including three finalists at the NCEA National Championship.

Although this is Bridges’ first job as a college coach, she said coaching at the college level was a dream come true for her. But despite the perfect opportunity for her to train for Baylor, there were still nerves about taking on a position leading women close to her.

“I was just nervous about working because of the lack of an age gap, said Bridges. “What really helped me get this team on board is how close I am to this sport. I think I’m still really relatable and been through all of these things [the athletes] go through and it’s still fresh in my mind. And the passion that I have for the sport is really so fresh.

For Bridges and the athletes on the team, his ability to be approachable benefits the team well. Having recently been on the other side of things as an athlete, Bridges is able to better understand athletes and help them grow. Bridges said she has come to easily love the team, not just as athletes, but as people.

Show jumping junior Savannah Hemby said she enjoys being under Bridges’ leadership. Hemby had the experience of being under the former Baylor equestrian show jumping coach, Marlena beckham, and I watched Bridges roll over. She said Bridges was easy to catch up with.

“With every new coach coming in, nerves come with it, but as soon as Coach Bridges came along, all of those nerves totally dissipated,” Hemby said. “She just made some new changes that were exciting and we love her so far.”

Hemby also said it means a lot to the team to know that one of their coaches knows what it’s like to have been in their shoes recently. Bridges was recently a student athlete, as were the team members, juggling classes while striving to compete at the highest level, so she is able to empathize with them.

“It helps because she has been in our shoes and through all the phases that we went through in college and she understands. Whether it’s having to study for a test or training to be tough, she gets it right, ”Hemby said. “She’s not just a coach for us. We can go see her with things and she is ready to help in any way.

When searching for a candidate to fill the position, head coach Casie Maxwell said she was looking for someone who would blend in with the chemistry of the current coaching staff, while also uplifting the team. Maxwell said Bridges was an easy choice because she was drawn to Bridges’ energy and passion for sports.

“[Assistant coach Abbi Demel and I] I love what we do and wanted someone who feels exactly the same about their experiences and wants to share the same with our athletes, ”said Maxwell. “[Bridges] just brings this great energy to our team. It kept bringing me back to her.

Bridges has proven that it has more to offer than energy. Her work ethic and diligence towards the team has helped her stand out. Maxwell said one of the things that impressed her the most was how quickly Bridges immersed herself in Baylor culture and got to know the athletes.

“[Bridges] just has a great work ethic, and that goes hand in hand with his passion for the sport. As soon as she feels that we have more work, she will cringe and she will push [the athletes]”Said Maxwell.” She just got into work and gave it her all and I love that about her. “

Leading half of the entire team, however, was no small task for Bridges. Being the only member of the jump seat staff gave him some freedom, but Bridges didn’t hesitate to lean on Maxwell and Demel for support. Bridges said it has been an honor to work with and learn from them, as together the three have become a united coaching team.

“It was really easy for me to be taken care of by a [coaching staff] it was so consistent. I was just lucky to find like-minded staff, and we work really hard to be united and work together on everything, ”said Bridges. “Being the only staff member on the jump seat side gave me some independence on some things, but I fall back on them for whatever I need, and they’re always there.”

Bridges learns as she goes and uses the knowledge she has gained as an athlete to help develop the Baylor equestrian team. She said she believed the sky was the limit for them and that there was no end to what they could accomplish together.

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