The Academic Equestrian: 5 Challenges of Being a Short Equestrian

Haley Ruffner, our collegiate blogger, has reached great heights so far in her intercollegiate riding career. It’s just that they’re metaphorical heights… not literal ones.

Photo by Ellie Woznica of Counting HoofBeats Photography

At just a few inches over five feet, I don’t quite fit the image of a tall, slender girl poised elegantly atop a fancy horse; rather, I look more like a pudgy child whose stirrups never quite go short enough, feet comically close to the bottom edge of the saddle pad. I almost need a ladder to tack up our tallest school horse — it’s more of an aim-and-heave saddle hoist than a gentle placement on his back. The horses laugh when I go into their stalls with a set of earplugs they don’t want to wear. Below are some other challenges I’ve encountered as a smallish western rider.

1. The top saddle racks in the tack room. These are the most dreaded part of a practice — I can usually get saddles down from them, but after practice I’m stranded in the tack room, waiting for a vertically-advantaged teammate to come to my rescue while I hold the edge of a saddle because I thought that maybe this time I could actually throw it all the way up there, and now it has tipped sideways, about to fall.

2. Too-long pants. “Short” jeans are slightly too short when I ride and somehow disproportionate, but regular length jeans are long enough to drag on the ground. My fix is to just never take my spurs off my boots, letting them hold up the backs of my jeans so they don’t get torn up.

3. Stirrup length. Riding in a multitude of school saddles for intercollegiate shows is a constant reminder that normal saddles are not made for legs that stopped growing when I was twelve. “Are you sure you want your stirrups all the way up?” ask my teammates and coaches at every show ever. The extra bad news is that, if you’re not tall enough to reach your stirrups, you’re also too short to reach the hole punch where it hangs above the tack room door. Lose-lose situation.

4. Tall horses. Hello, Tex, you almost-seventeen-hand beauty, I hope you didn’t roll because I can’t see any of the top of your back, much less reach it to brush it. Also, if you wouldn’t mind lowering your head so that maybe I could at least entertain the illusion that you’ll let me bridle you, that would be great. Thanks.

5. Mounting blocks + chaps. Combine a restricted range of leg motion with a wobbly plastic stool and a horse who’s losing patience, and every time you have to mount up before a class becomes a mini-ordeal. Half-lunges (while praying my horsemanship pants don’t split) in an attempt to stretch out my chaps enough to reach the stirrup are a pre-show ritual.

One place I refuse to let my height be a disadvantage is in the saddle. Once I’ve found one with short enough stirrups, I stretch up, heels down and chin up, like I’m six feet tall and nothing is out of my reach. On the back of a horse, nothing is.

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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