The Academic Equestrian: Resolutions

Haley’s putting the “resolute” in “resolution” for 2016.


With the new year comes a flurry of resolutions to somehow improve oneself — I’m usually mostly faithful to mine until about February, at which point I admit defeat and decide that cutting out junk food or exercising every day just isn’t practical. That being said, this year I want to set a more flexible goal: I want to make myself better with every ride.

I feel as though riding is a sport in which it’s difficult to balance fun with improvement — sure, all those bareback rides are great for building leg muscles and balance, but there’s a point where I know I’m just riding to have fun and get Cricket out of his stall. I’m not focusing on my position or his collection or consistency of gaits. We’re both at the point where we can do that without it being a trainwreck, which is really nice — except that there are times when neither of us wants to actually go to work on improving ourselves. Making excuses to myself has become easy at college: I don’t really have time for a real ride, I already had practice today, I’ll be warmer if I ride bareback, I don’t have enough energy to really work on our down transitions today, etc.

For what I do with Cricket now, which is mostly trail riding, a few occasional lessons and some small open shows in the summer, competence is enough. We can get away with almost exclusively trail riding bareback with no regard to my shoulders being back or his lope speed. Would we clean up at shows? Definitely not. This past year, I feel as though I have settled for mediocrity — I’ve been successful in my division in IHSA and my horse has been his usual polite and cheerful self, but now is the time to set our standards higher.

That’s not to say that I will only be serious and ride with a saddle and drill transitions and horsemanship exercises until we’re perfect (because we all know that resolution wouldn’t last until the end of January), but rather that I will focus on my leg position or shoulders back a little bit every ride, even if it’s just a ten-minute trail ride through the snow. Even if I’m riding bareback in a halter and lead rope, I will still ask for bend and consistency, and I can use my lack of proper tack to emphasize softness and steering off my leg.

My resolution this year isn’t to take the fun out of riding, but to make every ride count for something.

Haley is the author of Horse Nation’s “Academic Equestrian” series, following her collegiate experience as she balances her studies with participation on the varsity equestrian team and time with her own horse. Catch up on past columns by clicking the #ACADEMIC EQUESTRIAN tag at the top of the page!

Haley Ruffner is attending Alfred University, majoring in English and minoring in Business and Equestrian Studies. She has a green Quarter Horse, At Last an Invitation “Cricket,” and he is also “enrolled” at Alfred. She rides western and hunt seat and also loves to rein and trail ride.

haley bio

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