Sally Krueger, Chief PR and Content Strategist
At Rooster, we’re pleased to have a stable of employees with decades of professional and personal experience in and around the equine community. Here’s an example of a Rooster who runs on horsepower.
When did you first start riding? I’m an eighth-generation Georgian, born and raised in Atlanta. One side of my dad’s family has cutting horses and working cow horses, and my great-uncle on my mom’s side of the family had a racing operation in South Florida once upon a time, but my parents weren’t really horse people. As a toddler, they let me play on one of those bouncy horse rides, and I just rode it to death. They were afraid I’d flip it! So, they put me on a real horse when I was about 5 or 6 for riding lessons. It was a big chestnut mare, and while tacking up for my first lesson she reached over and bit me on the arm. But I kept going with the lesson and couldn’t wait to go back.
So, your first memory of horses was a painful one? Oh yeah, but it wasn’t the last either. Over the years I’ve had my nose broken, pulled a rotator cuff, bruised a few ribs, had a concussion or two …. It’s a tough sport, where it’s common to fall off a 2,000-pound horse, and sometimes have it fall on you! Safety is an important part of learning to ride and be around horses, whether you’re on the ground with them or on their back.
What was the first horse you owned? We bought a pony when I was 9 or 10, and he was a poor choice for a first horse, as many are. His name was Charleston, but we called him Charlie Brown. He was probably a mix of quarter horse, appaloosa, and Welsh pony, and he was the most ridiculous looking animal you ever saw, but he was all mine. My dad had an idea to take a family holiday photo of me and my two younger sisters on this pony, standing in front of some large public soccer fields that were across the street from our barn. It was a weekend, so all the fields were full of kids playing and parents watching, and Charlie must have spooked at something – there certainly wasn’t a shortage of spooky things there – and he decided to take off across the fields, scattering kids and parents alike, then raced for a ditch at the end of the field and tried to jump it. I got thrown, fell in the ditch, and fractured my back in a couple of places. Like I said, it’s a tough sport, and it taught me to be tough.
What style of riding do you prefer? I’ve always been very competitive. Growing up, I was in competitive swimming and tennis. I was naturally drawn to Hunter/Jumpers, and the opportunities to compete in the Atlanta area, at that time, were growing. We later bought a large pony I showed for a few years, and I then leased a few horses in middle school and early high school. It allowed me to get experience riding different types of horses and compete in different classes and fence heights. I also started riding and showing horses for some of my trainer’s clients. When I was a junior in high school, we bought a bay mare named Chelsea, and she was truly an alpha mare. As much as any trainer, she really taught me everything I needed to know about how to ride and compete at a higher level. We started traveling a lot more, competing in larger, higher ranked show circuits along the East Coast. She was legendary and I only realized later in life how lucky I was to own a horse like that and have the experiences I did.
Tell us about your experience as an NCAA Division 1 athlete. My parents were big Georgia Bulldog fans, but I wanted to get out of the state, and had spent some summers training just outside of Athens, GA, so it didn’t have much appeal for me. I chose Auburn University because when we visited I fell in love with the campus, town and people. I met Auburn Equestrian Head Coach Greg Williams on that visit and his vision for what the sport could become and what the team would be at Auburn was unlike anything I had ever heard – I wanted to be a part of what he and the team were building there. As a freshman, Auburn had a club sport for equestrian, but my sophomore year we went through the NCAA clearing house and became a Division 1 sport. Competitions in college equestrian are a lot different than most junior show circuits, or even collegiate club sports. For one, you don’t get to ride your personal horse – you ride the team horses, and the home team typically provides the horses. You go head-to-head with another rider who is riding the same horse you are. Whoever receives the highest score for their ride earns a point for their team. My first collegiate meet was against Georgia in Athens, and I drew a notoriously bad horse. This thing jumped like a deer; it was horrendous, and it humbled me big time. Both the team and I got better, trained more, rode any horse we could get our hands on and grew into our roles as student athletes. It was an incredible experience to be a part of the first NCAA Auburn Equestrian Team. Today, Auburn is consistently ranked among the top D1 equestrian programs in the country, with six overall national championships in the last 20 years.
How do you nurture your passions today? During college, mostly in the summers, I started coaching junior riders and began judging competitions in my home show circuit, as well as riding horses for my trainer and others. Sadly, these days I spend more time in a desk chair than a saddle, but I’d be inclined to get back into it one day; maybe buy a “pleasure craft” horse – something quite and easy who is more lawn ornament and pet than competition horse. It would be great to go back to coaching and judging if I could find the time. I just love being around horses. It’s in my DNA – or maybe I have a genetic defect! It’s just always made sense to me.