The Academic Equestrian: Thanks, Mom

Horse show moms do more than serve as groom and chauffeur: Haley Ruffner reflects on the gifts she’s received from her own mother.

Photo by Maria Hurd

Photo by Maria Hurd

It sometimes seems like horse show moms see the worst side of their children outside of the ring — they deal with the tears, are responsible for finding the glove their child lost five minutes before the class, are up to their elbows in soap suds at five o’clock in the morning because their child’s horse somehow got poop stains through a sleazy and blanket, and at the end of the day still manage to drag the exhausted horse and child back home, only to do it all again the next weekend. Being a horse show mom can be a thankless job, and I know this because I took my mom’s constant support for granted for a long time.

This is late and cannot possibly encompass all that you’ve done for me, but I mean it with all of my heart: thank you, Mom. I appreciate all that you do, even if I don’t express it enough.

Perhaps my biggest influence in riding throughout my life has been my mother. She showed on the Quarter Horse circuit until her teens, and organized my first-ever riding lesson as a Christmas present when I was five. Since then, she’s been my trainer, number-one fan, and horse show mom all rolled into one. She’s taught me about riding and about life; the two aren’t as different as some people might think.

My mom taught me that my mindset can and will affect my riding — if I go into a class thinking that I will lose, I’m probably right … but if I ride in with my chin up and shoulders back, believing that I can win, I’m also probably right. If I act like I’ve already lost before my class even starts, there is no way I can go in and do well. I’ve found that this applies to nearly everything I do — in softball, if I get up to the plate thinking that there’s no way I can get a hit, that fear can erase all the training and practice that tells me I can hit a softball.

She made it clear to me that hard work is more important than winning. There will always be bumps in the road, and how you handle them is more important and character-building than constantly trying to avoid every obstacle. Setting personal goals based on attainable criteria, especially with a green horse, will ultimately build confidence for both horse and rider. As much as I would like to win at shows, my horse’s comfort is a higher priority — I cannot expect him to outperform highly-trained, push-button show horses when he’s still green, nor would it be healthy for me to try and force him to be better immediately just for the sake of being competitive.

The most valuable lesson she’s taught me is the importance of sportsmanship. I have a distinct memory of one 4-H show that I attended when I was probably around eight years old and riding my then-three-year-old pony, Bebe. My friend Ashley was also competing on her Paint, and there was one particular class in which I missed a lead and didn’t place. I remember walking out of the ring, ribbonless, petting my horse anyway, and grinning from ear to ear because Ashley had won the class and I was happy for her. This didn’t seem strange to me until much later, when I observed how most people reacted to losing. I still struggle sometimes to accept my faults, smile, and move on, but I am forever grateful to my mom for instilling sportsmanship into my horse show mentality.

To all the horse show moms (and dads) out there, you are appreciated, even if we don’t always remember to say it.

Go riding!

haley bio

Haley Ruffner will be attending Alfred University in the fall to major in English and minor in Business and Equestrian Studies. She has a green Quarter Horse, At Last an Invitation “Cricket,” and he will be joining her at Alfred. She rides western and hunt seat and also loves to rein and trail ride.

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