By Kamri Alexander | Reporter
Baylor equestrian has welcomed a new assistant jumping seat coach, Grace Bridges, who’s 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 collegiate career on their equestrian team in which she helped lead Georgia to its 2017 and 2018 SEC Championships, including three runner-up finishes at the NCEA National Championship.
While this is Bridges’ first job as a collegiate coach, she said that college-level coaching is a dream come true for her. But despite the dream opportunity for her to coach for Baylor, there were still nerves of stepping into a job leading women close in age to herself.
“I was just nervous coming into the job with the lack of an age gap,” Bridges said. “What’s helped me a lot to get the buy-in from this team is how close I am to this sport. I think I’m still really relatable and have been through all these things [the athletes] are going through and it’s still fresh on my mind. And the passion I have for the sport is really so fresh.”
To Bridges and the athletes on the team, her ability to be relatable benefits the team well. Having recently been on the other side of things as an athlete, Bridges is able to better understand the athletes and help them grow. Bridges said that she easily came to love the team, not just as athletes but as people.
Jumping seat junior Savannah Hemby said she has enjoyed getting to be under Bridges’ leadership. Hemby got the experience of being under Baylor equestrian’s previous jumping seat coach, Marlena Beckham, and watched as Bridges transitioned into the roll. She said Bridges was easy to get behind.
“With any new coach coming in, nerves come along with it, but as soon as coach Bridges came in all of those nerves totally dissipated,” Hemby said. “She just brought 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 recently have been in their shoes. Bridges was recently a student athlete just like 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’s been in our shoes and through every phase that we’ve been through in college and she gets it. Whether it’s having to study for a test or practices being hard, she totally gets it,” Hemby said. “She’s not just a coach to us. We can go to her with things and she’s willing to help out in any way.”
When looking for a candidate to fill the position, head coach Casie Maxwell said she was looking for someone who would blend with the chemistry of the current coaching staff, while also elevating the team. Maxwell said Bridges was an easy choice because she was drawn to Bridges’ energy and passion for the sport.
“[Assistant coach Abbi Demel and I] love what we’re doing and I wanted someone who felt the exact same way about their experiences and wanted to pour into our athletes that exact same way,” Maxwell said. “[Bridges] just brings that big energy to our team. That just kept drawing me back to her.”
Bridges has proven she has more to offer than just energy. Her work ethic and diligence to the team has helped set her apart. Maxwell said one of the things she was most impressed with was how quickly Bridges immersed herself into the Baylor culture and in getting to know the athletes.
“[Bridges] has just a tremendous work ethic, and that goes with her passion for the sport. As soon as she feels that we have more work to do she’s going to grind and she’s going to push [the athletes],” Maxwell said. “She has just poured into the job and given it her all and I love that about her.”
Leading half of the entire team has been no small task for Bridges, though. Being the only jumping seat staff has given her some freedom, but Bridges hasn’t hesitated to lean on Maxwell and Demel for support. Bridges said it’s been an honor to work with them and learn from them, as together the three have become a united coaching staff.
“It was really easy for me to be taken in by a [coaching staff] that was so cohesive. I was just lucky to find a staff that has the same mindset, and we work really hard to be a united front and to work together on everything,” Bridges said. “Being the only staff member on the jumping seat side has given me some independence on some things, but I fall back on them for any and everything I need, and they’re always there.”
Bridges is learning as she goes and using the knowledge she acquired as an athlete to help grow the Baylor equestrian team. She said she believes that the sky is the limit for them and that there’s no end to what they can achieve together.