Jump. Trot. Canter.

December 7, 2016

ELGIN — Rochester Community and Technical College equine science students jumped, trotted and cantered their way through their end-of-semester evaluation Monday.

The evaluation gave the equine program’s 26 students a chance to show off their skills they’ve been developing since August; they demonstrated their knowledge of jumping, showmanship and different types of riding.

“It’s good practice for them to do it as a mock horse show, or a schooling show, because a lot of the students haven’t had a chance to compete before,” said equine science professor Julie Christie. “It’s a great opportunity for them to do it in a non-stressful environment.”

The students demonstrated jumping and two different types of riding — dressage and western styles. The riders were evaluated on their control of the horse, ability to jump in a straight line and ability to keep the horse in a rhythm.

“Dressage is more like ballet for horses,” Christie said. “So they do a pattern, like you would in ballet or in figure skating, and they have to get through certain maneuvers and they’re scored on each thing.”

Students have also been working on problem-solving for horse training issues and improving their communication with horses, Christie said. One thing the students will tell you, she said, is that no two horses have the same personality.

That “can translate good or bad, depending on what you’re trying to do,” said Ashley Haglund, 27, an equine science senior. “I think learning how to work with their unique personalities is a cool experience we get, since we have so many different horses to ride.”

‘Not like cars’

Haglund said that from a young age she was drawn to horses, and has been taking riding lessons for a long time. She currently trains horses and plans to continue that with better credentials after graduation.

“They’re definitely not like cars,” Haglund said. “You don’t just get on and drive.”

Christie said, “I think this sport is unique because it’s not just about the person and their athleticism, it’s about the person and the horse, together, and how they work together and how they help each other get through obstacles. So you get that bond between the animal and the rider.”

And Christie said students are pushed to ride a variety of horses so they get that experience. As horse trainers, that’s something they need to be used to — each animal with its own set of “buttons.”

“Riders use different body parts to communicate with their horses,” Christie said. “So you’ve got your hands on the reins, which communicate with the horse’s head. You’ve got your legs wrapped around the horse’s barrel and that communicates to move their body sideways. You’ve got your seat; you can use your voice. To some extent, even looking, you can turn your head (and) the horse can see where you’re looking.”

Horse industry

Minnesota is a great place to be for horse lover, Christie said.

“The horse industry is actually thriving in Minnesota,” she said. “There’s constantly new barns opening up in the Rochester area. It’s doing very well.”

She said careers in the industry offer more than just riding horses — there are other options like horse racing, equine-assisted therapy and the manufacture and selling of horse trailers, feed and saddles.

Many of her students end up as trainers or riding instructors. Others, like Stephanie Bruggeman, who graduated from the program in 2008, start their own riding and instruction businesses. Bruggeman returned Monday to judge the show.

The equine program, which started in 2005, was on the chopping block at RCTC two years ago, but after student and faculty outcry it was reinstated and moved to another facility.

By graduation, these students will walk away with the ability to train and evaluate horses, as well as teach others about the animals and work through training challenges. Monday’s evaluation was a first step toward that.

“This just gives (students) more tools in their toolbox for how to train and how to problem-solve,” she said.

But the best part for many of the students is “being surrounded by a bunch of other horse-crazy people,” Haglund said. “They understand.”