The Academic Equestrian: Back to the Gym

Haley Ruffner, our collegiate equestrian blogger and captain of her university western team, contends with some leadership and fitness challenges out of the riding arena.

Flickr/neys fadzil/CC

Flickr/neys fadzil/CC

As the coaches and captains continue to make improvements with how the team runs, little problems that went previously unrecognized come to light. One that requires constant adjustment and supervision is that of team workouts — how do our riders feel about them, is everyone attending, are we doing exercises appropriate to our needs, and is our scheduling varied enough to work for everyone?

Last week, co-captain on the hunt seat team, Jess Lewis, and I ran our workout as usual Thursday afternoon. However, instead of our six or so regulars to the practice, we had around twenty people show up. This effectively derailed our plans of warming up and heading to the weight room — with twenty people, there’s no way we would be able to cycle through all the machines, especially because the gym is still open to the public while we’re there practicing. Our backup plan of a YouTube yoga video worked for a solid ten minutes until the internet crashed. In the end, we reverted to a generic full-body workout from a previous week, which worked just fine, but overall the practice that day was fragmented.

During this workout, a few of the riders complained throughout, which Jess and I hadn’t yet experienced — feedback, yes, and reports of soreness the next day, but never complaints while exercising. “Why do we have to do yoga?” became “Ugh, this is hard,” and “Why can’t we just go to the weight room?” Although we have a system whereby riders are supposed to RSVP, it wasn’t strictly enforced; usually people would just show up to whichever workout was most convenient that week. This sometimes left us stranded, as in this case where fifteen people arrived in addition to our regular six.

Most of the group was hardworking and fun as ever, but the few who weren’t as into the practice as everyone else changed the tone for everyone — there was tension that we usually didn’t experience during our hour at the gym.

Because of this episode, Jess and I took a closer look at our workout routines and how we could improve them. We usually stretched, went for a warm-up run, and then proceeded to a full-body workout either with weights or in the gym’s multi-purpose room. As we are both busy during the week, we couldn’t spend as much time planning as we would have liked, but whatever exercises we cobbled together worked well enough to make us sore the next day.

This week, we switched it up with little differences that turned out to have a much larger impact than expected. Instead of our usual jog, we did power-skips (one-tempis, anyone?), sprints, and backwards-runs in intervals around the track. We didn’t fill our usual ten minutes, but everyone was working so hard and laughing at their awkward reverse trot-steps and jumping skips that everyone was out of breath in half the time.

When we moved on to the workout, we added some cheesy throwback party music — if you’ve never seen a group of twelve equestrians trying to dance to “SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake while on their stomachs in Superman position (with arms and legs off the ground, stretched out to the front and back), then surely you’re missing out. Whatever exercise we created then was unquestionably more engaging than regular old Superman lifts. At the end of the workout, before cooling out and stretching Jess had the idea to add in a relay race — we split off into two teams, then sprinted around the track to tag the next person in line. In the end, no one was sure who was on what team, much less who won, but when you’re laughing and dripping sweat with your team, that doesn’t seem to matter.

As we lock in for the rest of the semester and fall show season, I find myself looking forward to more Thursday workouts (dance sessions?) with my teammates.

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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