The Academic Equestrian: Up Before Dawn

Haley Ruffner, our collegiate blogger, contends with the fine line between dedication and healthy time management as finals loom closer.

The equestrian center before dawn. Photo by Haley Ruffner.

The equestrian center before dawn. Photo by Haley Ruffner.

Three days a week, my alarm vibrates and sings at me at 4:50 AM. I roll over and blindly tap the screen until it turns off, quickly, so it doesn’t wake my roommate. I scoop my clothes off the dresser, laid out the night before, and trudge to the bathroom to put contacts in and brush my teeth. Shoving a granola bar in my pocket, I gather my keys, pull my boots on, and go out to my car. It’s pitch-dark out, and it feels like there’s not a soul awake in all of Alfred. I blink up at the stars, and they at me, on my walk to the parking lot.

In my car, I crank the heat, shiver, and wait for the windows to defrost. The barn parking lot, too, is quiet when I arrive. I am the second person there, after my coach Harry. We sit in the office together, sometimes talking, sometimes not, until I have to tack up for practice. When I first wake up, any desire to snooze my alarm for another hour is dispelled, albeit reluctantly, when I think of my quiet mornings with Harry at the barn.

There’s something comfortable about teammates greeting each other, sleepy-eyed and yawning, at dawn and coming to life gradually as we prepare for practice. The horses, blanketed and working on their morning hay, doze lightly and enjoy their grooming. What begins as silence but for the swish of brushes on thick winter hair evolves into a laugh here and there, echoed by riders in stalls across the aisle, then lively conversation by the time we ride.

After practice, I am ready to face the day. I smell of horse and there’s hay in my hair, but my head is clear. Back on campus in time for my Geology class, I park my car and high-tail it to class in my barn coat and boots. Sitting down in the half-lit classroom listening to my professor teach about the inner workings of the earth, my body reminds me that I woke up at 4:50. The open notebook in front of me looks as comfortable as any pillow, and my blinks grow longer. I daydream about having my homework done and going to bed at 6PM. My friend Ellie and I take turns nudging each other awake, but between the two of us we end up with complete notes.

After my classes are over for the day, I head back to my apartment for the first time that day for dinner and homework, exhausted. I wonder if it would be better to reschedule practices for the afternoon, and get a couple more hours of sleep. Would I be more attentive and do better work in class if I could sleep in? Can I get more work done earlier in the day and go to bed earlier? Do I need to balance schoolwork and riding better? These are the thoughts to which I fall asleep every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evening, knowing I’ll be lucky to get six hours of sleep. Of course, lots of people operate on much less sleep than that, and my tiredness in class could just as easily be attributed to laziness and lack of engagement.

As the end of the semester and finals week looms, these questions make me reevaluate my priorities. As it stands, I’m not overly concerned about my grades slipping, but time management will become even more important in the coming weeks before winter break. I seek to channel the peace of silent snowy mornings through the transition from barn to classroom, and to apply my passion for riding to everything else I do.

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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