The Academic Equestrian: Freestylin’

Haley Ruffner is already looking forward to final exams — or at least one particular exam for her Reined Cowhorse class.

Flickr/Nick Gourlie/CC

Flickr/Nick Gourlie/CC

Final exams are still over a month away, but there’s one exam that I have already spent hours planning for: the reining freestyle that will be my final grade in the Reined Cowhorse class. Watching freestyles is a favorite pastime of mine when I’m procrastinating doing other useful things, but choreographing one of my own is proving to be quite the production.

I unconsciously evaluate every song on the radio for its compatibility with my assigned horse’s jog step. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” inspires the need to run exclusively big, fast circles and spin while playing the fiddle, which would quickly turn into a train wreck for all parties involved. Faith Hill’s “I Hope you Dance” would be a favorite for my mom in the audience, but the grumpy mare Jeri might not fit the song gracefully. “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas inspires me to sing along, which would undoubtedly result in me being “boo”ed out of the arena. My current choice is the battle song from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — whether that’s because it would be a quality freestyle song or because it gives me an excuse to turn Jeri into a unicorn is unclear.

Once I finally choose a song, making a pattern comes next. How many spins can I do before a) I fall off or b) Jeri gets sick of spinning and either stops or jumps out of it? Could I actually sit a sliding stop bareback? Do I dare try to take off the bridle? Leg yields are fun, but will a non-reining audience be bored with them? How much fun can I have without giving my coach a heart attack?

In the coming weeks, I will plan my own individual freestyle as well as help figure out what the entire class will do for a group performance. Our group is infinitely more organized than we are as individuals, but for the sake of surprise all I can divulge at this point is that it will involve our coach and professor, Harry Hurd, wearing bright-green Wranglers and a Santa hat.

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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