By Sarah Reega
Over the last few years, I’ve learned that being part of an intercollegiate team means being part of a family. The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Equestrian Team is a family, made up of the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) Team and the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Team. Our barn is our home, and barn members and our fans are part of our family. Our “show moms” (and dads, friends, and significant others) are invaluable members of our family. They make us macaroni and cheese to sell for fundraising, they bring pizza to shows in the middle of the winter, and they hold our whips as we switch from rider to rider and horse to horse in quick succession. Being from Colorado, I have a large appreciation for everything my team family does.
However, the most important component of our team is our family of horses. I am fortunate and privileged enough to attend a university, which owns and leases horses, with full equine facilities on campus. Schools that host intercollegiate shows often lease a private facility or borrow privately owned horses, but our school horses and our barns are part of the university itself. Our school horses are mostly older souls who find their way to us after successful competitive careers.
There are many horses who have greatly affected my intercollegiate dressage career thus far, but one special horse stands apart from the rest. Ruggles, also known as Monhegan, was the first horse I was put on in my Advanced Dressage Horsemanship class, and he helped me navigate the intercollegiate riding setting. He was shown up to Intermediate I in his glory days, which is far above the level we school in intercollegiate dressage (and I may or may not have asked him to passage a few times over the years despite that fact). His spirit does not match his age, and he still capable of showing off his schoolmaster skills when a riding student asks correctly. If there was an intercollegiate dressage award for school horses, the UNH Equestrian Team would have been proud to honor him with it. Ruggles has changed me as a dressage rider and as an equine studies student, and I will miss him as he leaves UNH for retirement.
We ask a lot of our school horses, as they must be proficient in dressage and jumping, and may also be used for our therapeutic riding program. At intercollegiate dressage shows, these horses are typically ridden by four different riders in one day. A rider from the host university warms up a horse they’re familiar with, and then three different riders ride the same dressage test, on the same horse, in quick succession. Each of the three riders gets a timed ten-minute warm-up on a horse they’ve probably never sat on before, and then they enter the ring to perform an Introductory to First Level test. This level of work is significant for our mounts, physically and mentally. Managing different riders, with different abilities and aids, is a lot of stimulation that most privately owned horses wouldn’t be able to handle successfully. It takes a special type of horse to make an intercollegiate mount, and I count Ruggles as one of them.
Ruggles will be returning to his owner’s home in New York at the end of the spring semester. UNH was fortunate enough to have had him for a number of years as a free lease, and he has done everything that was asked of him. From teaching beginner walk-trot riders, to helping riders navigate their first cross country experience, to being one of the most dependable horses at our intercollegiate shows, Ruggles has earned his happy retirement. Saying goodbye to school favorites is always difficult, but the lessons learned on him will carry on, through the students he has taught over the years.