The Academic Equestrian: A Good Coach Is Hard to Find

Between the end of the regular season and the start of the post-season, collegiate blogger Haley Ruffner discusses the importance of good coaching.
Haley and her coach Harry Hurd. Photo by Rose Ruffner.

Haley and her coach Harry Hurd. Photo by Rose Ruffner.

In the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, good coaches are arguably the most valuable asset a team can have. They shape riders’ potential into skill, serve as role models for the team, and inspire us to be the best that we can be. As this season draws to a close, I am grateful for my coaches Harry Hurd and Steve Shank for pushing me to improve. Every year they claim that the team is stronger this year than the year before, and everyone’s heard it enough that we laugh and roll our eyes—but every year, it seems like there are more riders to qualify for post-season and an overall more confident team.

Our coaches make us proud to wear that Alfred University jacket, and we seek their approval more than the judge’s. It’s a feeling like no other to enter the arena knowing you have an entire team watching and supporting you, as well as two coaches who stand behind you through wins and train wrecks alike. The pressure from watchful eyes makes you square your shoulders, lift your chin, press your heels down and ride the best that you can. At the end of the day, your best is all you can give — and if it isn’t good enough, your best effort that day is turned into a learning experience for future shows.

What I thought was good horsemanship for me has evolved over the year thanks to my coaches’ nonstop instruction. I’m sure it’s getting old when they have to tell me yet again to keep more weight in my stirrups or ride with more effective hands or be more precise on downward transitions, but I appreciate so much that they haven’t given up on me. They might roll their eyes or give me grief for a mistake I’ve made, but they maintain a positive attitude and help me to understand what I’m doing wrong, why it’s happening and how to fix it. I don’t know how it is that they manage to refrain from saying, “That was awful” or “What are you doing?” through even the ugliest of rides; their professionalism through every situation inspires like behavior from the riders. We learn to dwell on mistakes only as long as it takes to fix them, and even then to do so in a manner that maintains sportsmanship and class.

Our coaches are the second set of parents that everyone needs at college—they hold us to a high standard of behavior, they lead by example, they keep us in line (although I would argue that we keep them in line as well), and they bring out the best in all of us. Going into our first postseason show this weekend, I am thankful for our wonderful Alfred University coaches and their hard work that often goes unrecognized.

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.

Photo courtesy of Haley Ruffner.

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