December 14, 2016 | By Chuck Carlson
Nathan Horsman was seven, maybe eight, years old when he’d decided he’d had enough of just about everything.
Horsman smiles at the memory.
“I told my dad I was going to walk to Colorado and train deer and elk how to ride,” he said.
Considering he was living in Wisconsin at the time, it was a bold statement.
“Geography wasn’t my strong suit,” he said.
After spending a cold night sleeping in a nearby apple orchard, the young Horsman decided that, perhaps, he’d been a little rash. Besides, he wasn’t quite sure what it meant to train deer and elk to ride.
So he returned home with a firm goal in mind.
“Looking back, I knew I wanted to train and work with horses,” he said.
And over the last 30 years, he’s done just that, training horses, providing lessons and even competing in rodeos in such far-flung locales as Alaska, British Columbia, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, Utah and, now, at Albion College.
“Of all the places I’ve moved and all the places I thought of moving to, Michigan wasn’t one of them,” said Horsman, who was born in Rockford, Ill., but who insists home has always been “where I hang my hat.”
Nonetheless, when opportunity called, he was ready and in September he took over as Albion’s Western coach and riding instructor as part of the revitalized and revamped equestrian program.
Horsman, 38, was brought in the same time the College opened its renovated $1.8 million Randi C. Heathman Riding Arena and at a time when the school has made a commitment to making the 340-acre Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center one of the premier facilities in the Midwest.
It’s a goal Horsman is happy to embrace.
“I was pretty shocked when I first saw it,” he said. “I didn’t think they’d make that much of a commitment. And they did. And that’s what it boils down to—commitment.”
It is a bold commitment for a school without equestrian degrees. But behind the efforts of Recruitment Coordinator Randi Heathman, '03 (whose Albion senior thesis played a lead role in creating the program), equestrian has drawn a number of students who enjoy the competition and, of course, being around horses.
“It’s more like an extracurricular activity,” Horsman said. “I’ve viewed this as a really fun challenge.”
Horsman’s specialty is Western, a discipline that focuses on how a rider sits on and handles the horse, known as “equitation.”
“It’s connecting and effectively communicating with a horse,” he said, adding that horses are keenly aware of how well a rider is sitting.
The second discipline is reining, where the rider is asked to perform a pattern which includes sliding stops, spins on the hindquarters, large fast circles and small slow circles. The riders are scored and judged based upon their horse's performance and correctness in executing the maneuvers within the pattern.
Horsman has 13 students on the Albion team ranging in experience from beginner to accomplished; the College competes against eight others schools from the region, including Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University.
Albion also has hunt seat and dressage equestrian teams.
Horsman admits this is a new and different world for him. Prior to coming to Albion, he had spent two years working on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
“You’d work 12 to 16, sometimes 18 hours, a day,” said Horsman, who lived in Wasilla, Alaska, with his wife, Elizabeth, and their six kids. “It was a pretty cool place. It was interesting but it was something I wouldn’t do again.”
His work schedule had him working three weeks straight and then off three weeks. When not working he’d spend time with his family as well as teaching riding lessons and holding riding clinics, sometimes in other parts of the Lower 48.
When the pipeline company he worked for lost its contract, Horsman opted to leave and concentrate on horses. Then his wife saw an ad for the Albion position.
Almost before he knew it, he had brought his family to Albion, Michigan, where they now live.
Danielle Menteer, director of the Held Equestrian Center as well as dressage coach and instructor, was intrigued by Horsman’s background as well as the fact that he had his own website, complete with an educational video on how to work with horses.
“He was a shoo-in for an interview,” Menteer said. “His methods were very sound. He was well spoken and he was very thorough in his teaching methods. That [video] had me convinced he’d be a great candidate.”
When he actually came to town for an interview, her belief was confirmed. It also helped that as a member of the Certified Horsemanship Association, he’s trained in all the riding disciplines.
“That lends him to being a team player,” she said. “And he’s already made a big difference in teaching students and getting them enthusiastic about riding. He’s also very diligently looking toward the future for the equestrian program, not only building it but expanding the facilities.”
Horsman is intrigued by the College’s desire to make the Held Center a destination for competition on a regional and, perhaps, national scale.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” he said. “But first you have to define your goals. If you don’t, you don’t know if you’re on the right path.”
For Horsman, the right path has always been clear.