Academic Equestrian: Team Captain

Haley Ruffner, our intercollegiate equestrian blogger, has been named team captain!

From left to right, Haley, Photo by Molly Stansfield.

From left to right, Haley, Emily and Erica. Photo by Molly Stansfield.

When I found out that my coaches were considering naming me a captain for the western IHSA team this year, I was honored beyond words. The title alone is daunting, much less the array of duties that accompany it; the responsibility of representing one’s team in every situation at the barn and on campus serves as a constant reminder to be on my best behavior (for example, see last week’s article). At the year-end banquet, all the new and old captains stood in the front of the room for a picture, and there, shoulder-to-shoulder with my role models on the team, it sunk in that it was my turn to be someone’s role model, helper, and go-between for the coaches.

I’ve always had great respect for and aspired to the role of captain, so holding that title this year has made me reevaluate how I conduct myself in practices and at shows. My co-captains, Erica Wise and Emily Tuttle, epitomize the quiet, effortless leadership all good captains have — they are teaching me organization, time management and how to resolve conflicts before they happen purely through example. Together, we make a team in ourselves.

Progress and unity within the team is part of our job this year, and thus far we have organized team workouts, community service, clothes orders and team bonding opportunities that will take lots of dedication and maintenance to follow through with, but somehow, with my co-captains, coaches, and team at my back, it seems more of an exciting challenge than a burden to shoulder.

Although it’s the captains’ job to make sure everything runs smoothly, almost every rider this year has taken the initiative to do what is necessary and then some. I may be named captain, but I find leadership qualities all around me that I try my best to emulate, from first-years on the team to our most seasoned riders. My original view of a captain was someone who went ahead of the team to lead them, but I’ve since learned that the more important work is to be found by working amongst my teammates: leading not from the front but from the back of the group, where each person pushes the next to be positive and keep going through example.

Tomorrow marks the start of the season with our first show, and I’m taking this opportunity to take a deep breath and remind myself that everything will go as it should by merit of the wonderful people and horses here at Alfred. As captain, my only worry is that I won’t do this team justice — even now, I watch the final practice before the show and see the focus of every rider, the determination in the set of each rider’s shoulders, the care taken to execute each maneuver without error. My goal tomorrow is to do well in the show pen, but even more important is make sure that everyone on the team rides into the ring knowing that they have the support of the captains, coaches, and their teammates behind them every step.

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 with minors in Business and Equestrian Studies. She owns a Quarter horse gelding At Last An Invitation, or “Cricket.” Haley is the captain of the AU western equestrian team, and also competes in reining and loves trail riding.

Photo courtesy of Haley Ruffner.

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