Full of Horse Sense

When it comes to horses, understanding a majestic steed might help you understand more about yourself.

“Horses are really special in essence that they kind of show you who you really are,” new Rochester Community and Technical College Equine Adjunct Instructor Stephanie Bruggeman says.

“They’re very present. They don’t think about yesterday, they don’t think about tomorrow. They’re in the present, whereas, you know, we’re very busy thinking about what’s coming up, or very sorrowful about something that happened before. They just kind of help us to be present and bring out the best in us. They have so much to teach us, like patience, because we speak two different languages.”

Bruggeman’s goal, something she has done for seven years with her own business, is to help RCTC students learn how to speak that language.

Ever since she was first told about the program by a Spanish teacher, horses were here future.

“It was a very new program, and I was like, ‘sweet, I want to do that,’” Bruggeman recalls. “There was never a plan B for my career. I always knew I wanted to be an instructor, and a trainer, and work with horses, and work with people who loved horses. I didn’t realize that I would get a college degree while doing it.”

Her love of horses grew out of lessons she had in 1999, and flourished into not only an associate’s degree in 2007, but a business in 2010 and non-profit in 2014.

SKM Riding is where she gives riding instruction to beginner and intermediate riders, including rider biomechanics and how they can influence the horse. She also teaches horses how to take direction from handlers.

Her more recent business endeavor is Refuge Ranch Ministries. She serves as executive director of the non-profit. Its mission is to take rescue horses, whether they were in a “kill pen” or going to be euthanized, rehab them, and pair them with local youth as a way to get kids to open up.

This past summer they rescued 22 miniature horses. “That was super fun,” Bruggeman says.

She’s lived quite the horse-filled life, and didn’t think she’d be back a decade later to co-teach with her former instructor, Julie Christie.

Bruggeman, with an associates and five years of work experience, was able to qualify for the RCTC role.

“It was a dream job I never thought would ever be an option to me without having to move,” she says.

She began teaching four students this semester with Christie.

“It’s the best setup I could have asked for getting into teaching,” she says. “Minimal students, great students. And having Julie there to hold my hand and answer questions.”

Christie has also found the partnership beneficial.

“I have been in touch with Stephanie since she graduated, and have watched her build her business, improve her horsemanship skills, and build clientele,” Christie says. “Stephanie and I have competed together and trained horses alongside each other over the last few years. We have a very collaborative relationship and often brainstorm equine topics together. I would say that we have a lot of respect for each other and I’m excited to be working with her at RCTC.”

She went on to explain how it is a benefit to the program to have a former student on board.

“I’m excited that we were able to hire a former student for this adjunct teaching position. I think she will be able to mentor students in a meaningful way as she was once in the same shoes as they were. Also, she has experiences that I don’t have – starting a nonprofit horse business, for example.”

Bruggeman has had to step out of her comfort zone, but she’s hoping to increase her workload in the classroom and also increase her skills in dressage, a specific way of riding a horse.

“It’s proof that you’re dedicated,” she says. “You just can’t go out, pay $1,000 and get a gold medal. You have to put in the time, effort, and dedication. It’s proof to myself, and proof to clients, that I’m worthy of their time, and the horses.”

With that knowledge coming back to students at her business and RCTC, it’s time well spent.

“If you ask me to talk about horses, and I get paid to do so, there’s nothing better,” she laughs.

“My father-in-law says if you were to cut off the top part of my head, tip me upside down, all that would come out is horse,” Bruggeman says. “That’s it. That’s who I am.”

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