The Academic Equestrian: Multi-Disciplined

Because classes and one team just wasn’t enough…

Jumping a course for the first time in three years. Photo by Peggy Shank.

As a college student balancing classes, work, my own horses and the varsity western IHSA team, I decided this year to try out for the hunt seat team because I just wasn’t busy enough (and because I missed riding both disciplines). Now that practices and both of my riding classes (English II and Introduction to Reining) are in full swing, I have rediscovered the awkwardness and struggles inherent in the life of a combined hunt seat and western rider.

1. So much laundry.

I hate riding western in breeches, can’t ride hunt seat in jeans, and sometimes even have to change from boot socks into thinner ones so I can zip up my tall boots. On Mondays and Wednesdays, when my schedule goes from 6:30 western practice, to reining class, to a class on campus, and back to the barn for English II, it feels like I go through three sets of clothes before noon. At this rate, it’s a wonder I haven’t clogged all the school washing machines with horse hair.

2. Strange clothing combinations.

Speaking of clothing: sometimes, your schedule works out such that you have to get dressed for riding practice before you go to class, resulting in an outfit like breeches, tall socks, and western boots. When this happens, I put on my equestrian hat as an explanation and clomp around campus with confidence, knowing that although I do resemble some sort of an escaped circus act, at least I’ll be on time to practice.

3. No free weekends, ever.

Although I can’t say that my nearly-nonexistent social life has suffered from joining another team, my number of free weekends has dwindled from few to almost none, especially once show season begins in earnest. As a result, I might have to take drastic measures like starting my homework before Sunday afternoon.

4. Muscle memory.

Last year, I finally convinced my muscles, for the most part, to remember what a correct horsemanship position is supposed to feel like and to not complain too much when I rode that way. Now that I’m constantly switching from one saddle to the next, they’re confused all over again — my English stirrups feel too short, my western ones too long, I have to take a moment to recalibrate my hip angle each time I get on, and sometimes I catch myself figure-eight-ing a western bridle or walking up to the mounting block for jumping practice wearing western boots. I find myself assuming a deep-seated reining-stop position to slow down hunt seat horses and have to remind myself not to post on bouncy western horses.

5. Packing show clothes.

If I could just wear breeches, cowboy boots and spurs, my stretchy horsemanship shirt, and hair in a ponytail (sans hairnet) for every show, that would be ideal. Instead, I have to remember to pack each uniform separately and keep two sets of show clothes clean all year. It is inevitable that I will get it mixed up and accidentally pack my western belt buckle for a hunt seat show, or try to get dressed in a helmet instead of my hat for a western show.

Luckily, I have teammates in the same boat and supportive coaches who will laugh with me during my readjustment to the hunt seat world.

Haley will continue to share more adventures from the perspective of a collegiate equestrian! Keep an eye out for The Academic Equestrian weekly.

Haley Ruffner is attending Alfred University, majoring in English with a minor in Equine Business Management. She owns two Quarter Horse geldings, Cricket (“At Last an Invitation”) and Slide (“HH Slick N Slide”). Haley is a captain of the AU western equestrian team, competing in horsemanship, reining and hunt seat. She also loves trail riding.

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