The Academic Equestrian: Fraternizing With the Enemy

Everything is fun and games at Haley’s intercollegiate horse shows … except for the fact that her mother coaches an opposing team.

Photo by Ellie Woznica of Counting Hoofbeats Photography.

Photo by Ellie Woznica of Counting Hoofbeats Photography.

In Alfred University’s Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) region, we typically show against Cornell, Brockport, RIT, and Alfred State College at each show we host. As would be expected, there’s a fair amount of friendly rivalry, but we all keep it professional and sportsmanlike. This year, however, the competition has ramped up a few notches with the addition of Alfred State’s new coach: my mom, Rose Ruffner.

My coaches, friends with my mom, maintain an amusing charade of standoffishness: “Your mom cannot touch you or speak to you at the horse show. There will be no fraternizing with the enemy.”

“Can she still bring us cookies?” I asked. (My mom is our single and most valuable cookie distributor at horse shows — she singlehandedly fuels the entire team with snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies.) This elicited an expression both terrified and confused with furrowed brows and open mouth before my coach Steve Shank offered a stammered reply of, “Well — well, I mean, I guess — but we’ll have to test them for laxatives — she might sabotage us!”

In response, my mom sends Steve a single cookie in a sandwich bag with his name on it each show. He keeps up a show of suspicion until no one’s looking, then wolfs it down.

My horse, Cricket, is being used under my mom’s guidance in Alfred State’s team practices, so often I will come ride him in the practice before or after he is used. My coaches ask me afterwards if I’ve brought them any valuable information about riders to look out for. I just smile and tell them that my mom’s doing a good job.

My mom, always my biggest fan, still cheers for me at every show, even as she coaches her own team and helps them succeed. I am the rider I am today because of the strong coaches I’ve had, the first and most important of which is my mom. Even if I have to sneak bags of cookies away from her at horse shows and pretend not to look at her on the rail every time I ride by, she knows she’s still in my top three coaches. At risk of getting in trouble from Harry, Steve, and/or my mom, I will not divulge the order in which they are ranked top three.

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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