Riding horses has been a dream her entire life and once coming to Alfred State, Haleigh Hurd, Greenwood, really hit her stride. The 2017 accounting graduate placed sixth in the nation in Open Reining at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championship in Lexington, KY.
“The hallmark of IHSA is the random draw of a horse that is meant to level the playing field and allow riders to showcase true horsemanship,” stated SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Victoria Bolton, of the Agriculture and Veterinary Technology Department. “Haleigh was a strong contender in the individual Open Reining and earned an impressive sixth-place finish. Haleigh displayed talented riding, grace, and sportsmanship in the face of a fierce field of riders.”
The IHSA offers college student-equestrians a way to compete without having to own their own horse. With both western and hunt seat divisions, the IHSA has been developing young talent for 50 years by offering friendly college-versus-college competition.
In celebration of the IHSA National Finals, the website www.HorseNation.com chose inspiring stories of accomplishment from a few selected riders. Meagan DeLisle authored this feature story of how Hurd made it to the nationals:
Haleigh Hurd says she had dreamed of being able to ride since she could walk, aside from the fact that no one in her family had any history in horses. At the age of 11, she began riding at a local barn, which led her to join Alfred University’s IEA team that fall. After riding in horsemanship for two years, she moved onward and upward into reining. For the six years that Hurd rode with the IEA, she went to Nationals each year. Despite taking her senior year of high school off from riding, her experiences in IEA and her passion for horses led her to join the IHSA team at Alfred State.
Juggling her school schedule, her time dedicated to the IHSA, and her part-time job isn’t always easy, but she always manages to make it work. She manages to squeeze in one to two rides a week in with her coach, Rose Ruffner, in the evenings. “Every practice I have, I go in very open to try whatever it takes to help me be the best I can be,” says Hurd. She doesn’t let a limiting schedule get in her way.
“IHSA has impacted me tremendously,” she continued. “It has taught me that even though I have worked so hard and tried my best that I might not always be successful and that’s OK but if I keep trying and never give up, I can do great things.” After a challenging start to her season, Hurd struggled with keeping up her positive mentality, but she persevered and made the best of every situation thrown her way — eventually leading her to her qualifying ride at semi-finals. “Rose always tells me that I don’t give myself enough credit for everything that I have accomplished and I know should, I have been very humble about my success.”
That qualifying ride is Hurd’s best memory from her IHSA career. Having her family and a close family friend there to cheer her on and celebrate with her over her win made her weekend. “I drew the perfect horse, we had the perfect ride, and out of twelve riders I won. It was a moment I have been waiting and praying for my entire life and I will never forget it,” she said of her weekend at West Texas A&M University.
If you are considering joining an IHSA team, Hurd is one of many who would encourage you to pursue that goal. She has learned so much, both as an individual and as a member of a team. “I have more confidence from the back of a horse than I do anywhere else, but IHSA has improved that through the experiences I have been able to have.” She encourages each rider to push any fears they might have aside and take the plunge into this amazing experience. “You can learn so much from other riders and coaches and it is just a great overall experience. If you have the opportunity, do not be afraid to try it.”