Our Sponsored Rider Allyson Hartenburg was the US Air Force Academy Equestrian Team coach in 2016. We talked to her about her unusual experience coaching equestrians in Air Force uniforms.
NO: You coached the US Air Force Academy Equestrian Team in 2016. How long have you been coaching them and how did you actually start with the team?
AH: I began coaching the team in August 2015. I had gone out to the Academy earlier that summer for a private lesson with of the cadets on the team, who responded to some advertising I had done when I first moved to Colorado Springs in April 2015. The lesson must have gone well because she connected me with team leadership to begin the process of making me head coach! The team’s former coach had recently moved to another state, so the
timing worked out well.
NO: Does the Air Force use horses as a part of their training or is it a leisure activity?
AH: The horses are a club sport for the cadets, and part of the FSS recreation programs for the base. They aren’t used as part of their training, but cadets do sometimes sleep at the stables during an annual outdoor training exercise!
NO: Do students bring their own horses? Do you have a barn that you use? Can you describe the facilities?
AH: Cadets may bring their own horses, the team leases some of the horses, and some belong to the Air Force. We have a 14-stall barn with a tack, feed, and locker room that is designated as the “Equestrian Team Barn”. The cadets manage and care for all of the team horses – we currently have 9 horses in the barn. The facilities include our neighbors, the cadet Rodeo Team, 6 boarding barns, the “Dude Horses” that can be rented by the hour for trail rides, two large arenas, and access to 44,000 acres for trail riding (including the base and adjacent Pike National Forest), with the Rampart Range as our backdrop. It is a unique and fabulous facility that is different from any other military stable. Anyone with a military ID can access the programs available here, including active duty and retired U.S. military, Reserve, Guard, NAF and DoD government employees, USAFA cadets and Prep School students, USAFA contractors, and the immediate family members of these groups. Other great programs offered at the USAFA Equestrian Center include the Equestrian Therapeutic Program, which applies proven therapeutic techniques to counseling programs within the Academy Services. The programs currently being implemented are Wounded Warrior, adults and children with Special Needs, group trail riding therapy for spouses of MIA and KIA heroes, Cadet Leadership and Character Development through horsemanship “Make-a-Wish” opportunities, Scout Horsemanship Badge programs. You can learn more about the USAFA Equestrian Center here: http://www.usafasupport.com/equestrian-center.html or check them out on Facebook.
NO: How does your schedule look like?
AH: I am available for cadets to schedule practice sessions/lessons with me every weeknight. My private clients schedule with me on mornings and weekends during the school year. The team travels to a few IHSA competitions each semester in both Hunt Seat and Western Horsemanship. Most of our cadets ride in both disciplines, and we compete against other college teams in Zone 8, Region 5 of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). Cadets are required to come down to the barn three times per week to do barn chores and ride the horses.
NO: The Air Force Academy cadets also compete in horse shows. Are there any restrictions as for when they can compete or any conflicts with their training?
AH: Sometimes there are conflicts, as the USAFA academic and training schedule is very rigorous. The team has to apply for permission for the cadets to leave the base to participate in competitions, which is a lengthy process that must be approved by a board. Most of the time, the team is able to get permission for travel; we will only be missing a few shows in our region this year!
NO: Are there any other rules that apply to Air Force equestrians as opposed to civilian
AH: I would not say that there are any different rules or special circumstances for USAFA equestrians, other than what has already been mentioned about travel and competition. Last year, the OIC (officer in charge) of the team and I were able to work with the Pentagon to get a U.S. Air Force “Equestrian Competition Service Dress Configuration” – a special uniform authorized for wear during formal equestrian competition. The equestrian uniform is similar to service dress but features white riding breeches in lieu of blue trousers. Black gloves, a black helmet, and black riding boots with silver spurs are also worn. Our cadets generally opt to wear civilian show clothes during IHSA competitions, as they want to be judged on an equal playing field with their peers, and the military uniform would definitely make them stand out.
NO: Is coaching in the Air Force any different than any other team?
AH: Definitely. Working with the schedules of cadets and requirements of the academy is a whole different animal than working with students at a civilian university. The freshmen are not allowed to leave base without signing out and are only ever allowed to be in civilian clothes when they are at the barn, so they have to change into and out of uniform every time they come down. They are required to participate in intramural sports, which sometimes can be challenging to fit time in at the barn with academics, military training, other sports, and having a balance of down time. Any expenses that come out of the team account have to be approved by the academy before the team can spend the money, and they are very specific about the type of purchases that can be made. The cadets pay for most of the horse care and things needed for the barn out of their own pocket, but the team is not permitted to solicit donations or do any fundraising. The team is allowed to accept donations if they are made, but not actively seek them. Other teams are able to do fundraisers to help offset the costs of traveling to shows (sometimes an 18-hour round trip!) and caring for team horses.
Fun Fact: Since our facility is on base, we can hear when the base does retreat (lowering of the flag) every day at about 4:30. During the playing of the national anthem, everyone stops their horse, faces the music, and puts their hand over their heart – which can be interesting if you are in the middle of a jumping exercise!