The Academic Equestrian: The Final Semester

Haley faces the reality of “life after college.”

Photo by Ellie Woznica of Counting HoofBeats Photography

As I enter my final semester as an undergraduate college student and IHSA member, it’s difficult to go about my days without wondering where I’ll be at this time next year. Having ridden at Alfred University for eight years now — four as a high school IEA rider, and four in college — it seems almost unfathomable that the equestrian center won’t be my second home forever.

Periods of transition are inevitable in life and especially in horses. We age out of youth classes, outgrow our first pony, eventually face the reality of putting down the aging horse that carried us safely through our childhood and teen years. Some of us face the financial decision of whether to continue on with riding and showing. When we replace a helmet or a pair of boots, we reflect on the miles that have passed with them, each crack and scrape they bear that tells a story. We can section our lives into periods of which horses we rode or owned.

This year, I will pass the mantle of captain down to a capable and passionate underclassman, but in the fall I will feel as though I’m forgetting something when it’s no longer my job to welcome the newest set of riders to Alfred. I will have to task someone else with pranking our coach each year on his birthday (Steve, if you’re reading this, have you found this year’s present yet?) Another rider will come home late from a horse show streaked with poultice, having stayed to make sure the reiners got tucked in and fed peppermints. My favorite horses will find someone else to nicker at, but I hope that they’ll still remember me when I come back to visit.

No one stays at Alfred forever, of course — we all get our four years of college and then make room for the next upcoming group, who will make their own changes and innovations to the program. The equestrian center never stops growing and changing, which is the beauty of a program like Alfred’s. The program is infinitely more important to us than we are to it, but the kindness of the coaches and horses make that easy to forget. Alfred has built my voice and my identity as a horsewoman and has given me tools and connections to move away into the real world.

After college, I will return to riding my own horses every day, leaving the thrill and uncertainty of showing unfamiliar horses behind. I will begin showing my three-year-old, Slide, in the reining when he’s ready — the first horse I have ever started and done everything from halter-breaking to training on. I will graduate with an English major and Equestrian Studies minor, find a job, and start saying things like, “Back in my college days…” and “those crazy college kids.” I hope that I will find success, not to spite the people who scoffed at my areas of study but to make my professors and coaches proud, to show them that their teaching has made a difference.

The last semester of college feels like standing at the edge of a foggy field on a morning trail ride, when dew still coats the grass and the tips of my horse’s ears. I can’t quite see what’s ahead of me, but I trust my horse to carry me through whatever comes next.

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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