News & Stories
January 11, 2023

The Magic of Coach M

by Karilon L. Rogers


Twenty years ago, in the inaugural issue of Berry magazine, we told readers about Meghan Nolan Boenig (99C), who’d been hired by the University of Georgia to develop and lead its first varsity equestrian program. What’s transpired since seems magical. But she’d heartily disagree, telling you there’s nothing magical about it – it’s all about confidence, preparation and a great start at Berry.

When the legendary Vince Dooley, then athletic director and former longtime football coach for the University of Georgia, remarked on the young age of the 24-year-old he was interviewing for head coach of the institution’s new varsity equestrian program, he received a bold response: “But if I can do this well, Coach, I can be awfully good for an awfully long time.”

The job was hers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Meghan Nolan Boenig joined UGA athletics as a head coach in October 2001. Since that time, she has blazed an equestrian trail untouched by any other college or university coach in the nation: seven National Collegiate Equestrian Association championships and seven reserve championships (equivalent to second place), to name just a few team accomplishments. She also was named NCEA National Coach of the Year in 2021, again to name just one of many accolades.

Not bad for a woman who was almost too nervous to go to college.

Say what?
That’s right. Scared. Flat out didn’t want to go. Boenig was born in New Jersey and had lived in New York before moving to horse country in Virginia. It was in the Old Dominion State that she became deeply involved in horse care and riding, as well as teaching others about both. She was comfortable in the world of horses but otherwise painfully shy. As a junior in high school, her family moved to Powder Springs, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, and barely 18 months later it was time for college. The timid teen was just getting settled and was reluctant to forge her way in yet another new place.


Boenig was part of a national team of coaches and administrators who developed the rules and competition format for the new NCAA version of equestrian competition. 


“I had known about college options in Virginia, but now it was smart to stay in Georgia because of the Hope Scholarship,” she remembered. “But I just wasn’t interested in going anywhere new. Because I had learned it was always wise to ‘listen to your mother,’ I asked mine where she thought I should go. She said Berry because of its natural beauty, it was close enough to home for visits, and so on. I was so nervous, but once I was there, my parents had to beg me to come home to visit!”

Boenig was blessed with roommate Christy Ethridge Brimmer (99C), who “turned out to be my best friend and helped me so much.” She also flourished as a member of Berry’s equestrian team (then a club sport), serving as president twice, participating in both English and Western Intercollegiate Horse Show (now Shows) Association competition and helping organize the shows.

But what’s that have to do with UGA?

“When you know something well, you are more confident,” Boenig remarked. “I knew horses, and that gave me confidence once I went to Berry and got involved in equestrian.

“Holding the offices and participating in competition really helped me flourish and gave me a foundation – made me confident in other areas. To be a coach, you better be a salesperson. You better be confident. You better be bold.”

Her skills must have been amazing when she left Berry. When she arrived at Texas A&M to start her master’s program in equine exercise physiology, she quickly was put on staff to co-coach the school’s new varsity equestrian program. So she studied, researched, taught, coached and developed a new program. Not a bad two-years’ work. No wonder UGA hired her.

Bold does work
But did she really think she’d get the UGA position at age 24?

“Yeah, I did,” she stated firmly. “The reason is that there was no one else with the experience with NCAA rules and knowledge of equestrian that I had. I had spent time coaching as well as time managing people, writing budgets – the administrative side. I had those skills more than anyone else. I knew what no one else did.”

With the utmost support of Hoke Wilder, her administrator at the time, Boenig put those mad skills to work for UGA, working with her staff to develop everything “from policies to the type of program we wanted to be.”

“I will always count my blessings for Hoke Wilder!” she laughed. “In the very beginning, he leased a boarding facility for us across town including 12 horses and lots of peacocks, pot-bellied pigs and miniature donkeys. It was always fun out there. Never boring!”


She also spent time maturing her sport, which at that time was just a foal in the varsity world, having been adopted by the NCAA as an emerging sport for women only a few years earlier in 1998. Boenig was part of a national team of coaches and administrators who developed the rules and competition format for the new NCAA version of equestrian competition.

Luckily for her, husband Markus Boenig was back at Texas Tech studying law during that exceptionally busy time of program-building, and sons Josef and Matthew had not yet been born.

Straight to the big time
Today, UGA equestrian has a complete facility with clubhouse, several arenas, more than 50 horses and 109 acres of land – the first land ever purchased by UGA, according to Boenig. Approximately 60 student-riders make up the team each year.

Boenig emphasized the great support her program has received from other UGA sports programs and athletic administration, as well as the quality of her coaching and support staff. All that backing has helped her lead her teams to victory after victory. One that stands out for her personally came in 2014.

It all started with the Southeastern Conference Championship, which UGA thought it had won. Their victory had been announced in the arena.

“We started celebrating, putting on championship t-shirts,” Boenig recounted. “Then came an announcement that there had been a calculation error. We had not won.

“The ladies were so deflated. I told them that it was not our championship, but we were not done. We had more to achieve.”

You might say the riders literally had lost the shirts off their backs. But three weeks later at the NCEA National Championships, the UGA women worked especially hard to win the title, and they succeeded – with the very last rider bringing home the winning points. An amazing moment.

“That team made it happen,” Boenig stated proudly.

She should be proud – of her teams, her staff and herself. Competing as head coach in her first – and THE first – NCEA National Championship in 2002 – her Georgia team came home as hunter seat champs while the first program Boenig helped build, Texas A&M, won the overall title. The next two years, UGA brought home two overall national titles, as well as the hunter seat awards. The Bulldogs went big again in 2008, 2009 and 2010, winning three national championships in a row, as well as hunter seat titles in 2009 and 2010. Next came the 2014 highlight and finally, their most recent big win in 2021.

Not surprisingly, Boenig’s student-riders also excel in the classroom, with many earning placements on NCEA All-Academic teams and other academic honor rolls. Boenig said the focus of her program is threefold: 1) Academics, 2) Attitude and 3) Athletics.

“Those three things align very well,” she explained. “All focus on preparation, attention to detail and other factors leading to success.”

Good call?
Boenig said she is never amazed when her teams win national titles. She is not staring in wonderment. She is busy watching carefully as they compete to see what they can work on to improve.

“That doesn’t make me ungrateful,” she determined. “You get a day to celebrate, and that day is wonderful. But winning is what we are meant to do in sport. It is what we work and prepare for each day. My life and what this sport and my family have given me are what I find amazing.”


When asked if Coach Dooley ever told her he made a good call approving her hire, she said he never expressed the sentiment in words, but he didn’t have to. They always had a good relationship; he even called her years into his retirement when her team won the 2021 NCEA National Championship.

“He was very proud of his legacy in women’s sports at UGA, as he should have been, and equestrian is part of that legacy,” Boenig explained. “His support for me didn’t need to be put into words; it was a given. He was always a coach. He congratulated me, and then it was, ‘Let’s do it again. Back to work.’ That’s a coach.”

And that also is Meghan Nolan Boenig. Or Coach M, as she is called. And, until or unless Berry equestrian competes against them … Go Dawgs!


Boenig on Berry equestrian
“I’m proud of Berry’s continued success in competition. It takes hard work and determination to return to championship rounds year after year. 

I give Margaret Knight, now Ellington, much credit for continuing to lead them back to the top. It’s funny to think of the history as I was on her first team at Berry. It was wonderful to see them move from a club to a varsity sport. What growth and pride!

“Today, Berry, too, is a member of the NCEA. I can’t wait to take our student-athletes to Berry to experience the wonder I’m privileged to call home.”

Boenig on Berry
“It was Berry in general that put me on the path I am on. The community. The connections. The exposure to new and different things. The lifelong friendships. My random pairing with roommate Christy Ethridge Brimmer made a huge difference.

“I loved my biology classes and labs. My work as a teaching assistant for Biology Professor Bill Davin built my confidence, my practical knowledge and my curiosity. Animal Science Professor George Gallagher and his wife, Robina, who was one of my equestrian coaches, helped me decide about Texas A&M, and Berry gave me the nerve to actually go someplace very different from anywhere I had ever been. You might say Berry was a jumping-off place to new opportunities.

“When students go to college, it is often the first time they begin to decide for themselves what they want to be and do. It is so important to be open to learning from all around you. I met incredible people at Berry, and it made a lifetime of difference to me. I always thank Berry for putting me on this path.”

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