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Riding for Elms
It’s a cold Saturday in November and Heather Rush ’99 is standing in the Mount Holyoke College Equestrian Center, anxiously waiting to see what horse she will be assigned to ride in the International Horse Show Association’s (IHSA) Regional Alumni Western Horsemanship competition.
Heather is decked out in black fringed chaps, a shiny belt buckle, and her new cowgirl hat. This look is a long way from the tailored breeches and jacket, tall black boots, and traditional rider’s helmet she wore as a kid when she competed in English Hunt Seat riding and fell in love with the sport.
Whereas English Hunt Seat is more about fence jumping, Western riding is about horsemanship. It’s new, challenging, and out of her comfort zone. So she likes it.
For the Love of the Ride
Every time Heather tried to walk away from riding she got pulled back in. She gave up riding as a kid when she used to practice at King Oak Farm near her Westhampton home. Years later as a senior at Elms College, she found out that her old riding instructor was the coach of the Elms riding team. She decided to join and her love was rekindled.
Graduation did not mean the end of competing. Heather rode for several years in alumni competitions and even returned to her alma mater as an assistant coach.
She gave up riding again but began to miss it. When she researched local competition opportunities she found that Elms alumni were not competing anymore, likely due to there no longer being a college team.
Heather also found that Western competitions had become a new thing in the Pioneer Valley. It’s a different competition with different rules, dress codes, and attitudes.
“It’s luck of the draw. You get assigned a horse you’ve never ridden before and you’re judged on composure and how calm you look riding a horse you don’t know,” Heather said.
Heather wrote to the IHSA and they gave her approval to compete in the alumni class as a representative of the Elms.
“It’s kind of cool to be the only person representing Elms College. There’s a sense of pride,” Heather said.
The communication arts major now lives in Holyoke and works for Pioneer Valley Educational Press in Northampton as a graphic designer. She has already competed in three riding events and will continue to represent Elms College whenever she can.