April 5, 2007

Ten Questions with Laura Acker

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Before heading off to compete at the Zone championships next weekend, senior tri-captain Laura Acker of the equestrian team walked, trotted and cantered all over the Sun’s Paul Testa.
1. You’ve stacked up a pretty impressive resume in your four years at Cornell, moving up from the novice division to the intermediate division and now the open division. What kept you motivated to get up at 5:30 in the morning, truck out to some freezing cold barn, and shovel horseshit?

I wonder that myself sometimes. I like competing, so I guess it’s worth it.
You’re the only senior on the team who’s ridden all four years at Cornell. Why the attrition?
I think a lot of people come in thinking it’s not going to be that hard, we have practice at 6 a.m., so you have to be pretty dedicated to stick it out.
Do you still find time to go out?
I don’t find it affects my social life that much, which is a problem because I still go out and then have to go practice the next day and take a three-hour nap right after.
What’s riding hung-over like?
It’s kind of fun. You can just go really fast and you don’t really care about anything, unless you have a really bad headache.
I would assume the laws against drunk driving carry over to horses. Have you ever been a little tipsy in the saddle?
No, I think I’m pretty good by 6 a.m.

2. The thing I think most people have against equestrian is that it seems like the horses are doing all the work. What are you doing besides sitting that makes equestrian a sport?
[Laughing] Well, it’s a lot of work with your legs. You have to get them going by squeezing your legs. It has a lot to do with position. If you went to ride a horse right now you probably wouldn’t be able to walk tomorrow.
I’m terrified of riding a horse.
It’s not that bad.
They’re bigger and probably smarter than I am.
They’re definitely not smarter than you.
I’d wait until after the 10th question to make those kinds of statements. But I know numerous things, like moving a couch, that require a lot of leg strength but aren’t considered sports.
Well, my arms are pretty strong too.
But what are the intangibles of equestrian that maybe the casual sports fan wouldn’t see?
Riding is really mental. If you’re not confident going in and don’t have a good attitude you could let your horse psyche you out. A lot of people get really nervous and psyche themselves out.

3. How big of a difference do particular horses make in your sport?
They matter a lot. The draw’s really important because if you have a good horse, you’re already at an advantage. If you have a crappy horse, you have to overcome its downfalls.
Does it matter for a great rider though?
No, the really good people on our team can ride any horse and they’ll make it look good.
What do you mean by making it look good?
You have to go around and not fight with the horse, and make it look like you guys are having a great time together.
That sounds like my last blind date. What’s the secret to faking it?
If there’s a horse that’s trying to go a lot faster than I want it to, I’ll sit there and try to pretend that I want it to be going that fast.

4. Do you ever use a riding crop or, let’s be blunt; do you ever beat your horse?
I don’t beat it.
You can sugar coat it all you want. I know a beating when I see one.
That is so not true. I would hit a horse if the horse was being bad.
But they’re just poor dumb creatures.
But then it’s going to keep doing it. They’re a lot bigger than you. They could hurt you. Sometimes the horses —
[Interrupts] Sometimes they have it coming?
Sometimes they have it coming and sometimes they’ll revolt against you.
What do you say to a horse with two black eyes?
[Puzzled]
Nothing, you already told it twice. Admit the fact that you’re a horse abuser.
I’m not a horse abuser.
So, everybody’s doing it, is that your excuse?
Yes.
I think you’re perpetuating a culture of fear and shame.
No.

5. Well, we know you’re not afraid of putting a horse in its place, but do you have a favorite horse up in the stables?
I do. His name is Dutch. He has a good sense of humor. He’s one of the ones who if you hit him behind the saddle really hard, he’ll buck you off.
I don’t normally think of horses as having a sense of humor, maybe a smell or a vacant stare, but not great comedic timing. Explain Dutch’s humor to me.
He’s kind of like an ass. He won’t go if people aren’t riding him right, and the people who are inexperienced he gives a hard time to. I think it’s kind of funny.
I’m starting to get a picture of the kind of guys you like to date.
There’s no connection between the horses I ride and the guys I date. But when I ride Dutch, he’s really nice to me. He doesn’t try to buck me off.
What’s your secret?
One, I know not to hit him really hard, and two, I think he knows I wouldn’t stand for his crap. And I give him a lot of carrots.

6. How long have you been riding horses?
I started when I was eight.
Is it every girl’s dream to have a pony?
[Sheepishly] I guess so. I don’t know.
Did you have a pony?
Yeah, I did, but my first pony was really bad. I used to fall off it like every other week.
It sounds worthless. I would have called up the glue factory — You had a fricking pony! What are you complaining about?
It wasn’t good. I used to fall off a lot, and I broke my arm once.
What was wrong with this pony?
It didn’t like to go over the jumps. It would stop before jumps and I would fall off into the bars.

7. What kind of school name is “The Thoroughbreds?”
That’s a breed of horse.
It just sounds kind of lame to me.
I mean, sure, it is a little lame, for the entire school.
You seem to have seen through my clever ruse to get you to talk trash about your biggest rival, Skidmore. Cornell’s finished second to them for eight years now. How frustrating is that?
It’s kind of depressing, but it’s what keeps us motivated because nobody goes for second place.
As a tri-captain, what are you doing to lead the equestrian team?
Since we have three captains, we all kind of do different stuff. I do a lot with team spirit trying to get everybody pumped up. I make things for the team. It’s kind of cheesy, but I think it helps.
Tell me more, Acker the Attacker.
[Laughs] I did create nicknames for everyone on the team and put them on the polos we wear at practice.
What are some of the best nicknames?
I like [sophomore Dana Kendricks’] “Dana the Destroyer.”
She doesn’t seem like a destroyer.
She secretly is. Dana has legs of steel.
Very nice. So how crucial is morale to the success of the team?
It’s really important. We’re getting up at 5:15 a.m. at least three days a week, and then we’re getting up at that same time on Saturdays to go to a horseshow. They’re really long days and everyone’s obviously tired. If you have really good team spirit, I think it helps everyone to ride a lot better and stay motivated to beat Skidmore.

8. [Crossing legs] What’s the deal with geldings because that just sounds really unfortunate to me?
Yeah, geldings are good though, because stallions would be too crazy.
I just don’t feel that it’s your right to make that decision for them.
I haven’t made that decision for any of them.
How do people decide, “It’s time. Those have to come off”?
The only reason to keep a stallion is for breeding. Geldings are a lot more controlled and better behaved.
You realize 90 percent of our readers are horrified right now?
Well it’s the truth. It hurts sometimes.
I can imagine.

9. Do you think you could ride a bull on ESPN2?
No, I mean, I could probably stay on for a little bit.
That’s all that those guys do.
I’ve ridden a mechanical bull.
[Excited] Really?! I’ve always wanted to try that. What’s it like?
I don’t know. It just goes really fast and you have to grip your legs really tight.
Where did you ride this mechanical bull?
In Cancun, Mexico, a couple of years ago.
Some girls on Spring Break, go wild and take off their shirts, but you ride a mechanical bull.
I think it’s a lot better than taking off your shirt.
I guess it’s a difference of opinions.

10. What’s the hottest male varsity team at Cornell?
Well, none of the men’s teams have given us any love. We’ve come close, but then they take it back. I think men’s soccer did that. That hurt a little bit.
Pay them back. Is the men’s soccer team a bunch of uggos?
I actually know a lot of the men’s soccer players. They’re really nice guys.
Nice is girl-speak for ugly. Just say it.
No, they’re nice! And a lot of them are really cute, but I’m not going to say they’re the hottest team. I’m going to go with men’s lacrosse.
[Senior co-captain] Mitch Belisle is pretty dreamy.
Being ranked No. 1 is pretty hot.
Do you prefer the longstick defensemen, or would you settle for a close defenseman with a shorter stick.
Longstick.
Why?
I would imagine that it is a little harder to work with.
Is this pick purely a success thing or do looks matter too?
It’s a combination, but if you’re successful, you get a little better looking.
I’d say that’s what most of the male population at Cornell is banking on. It really works?
It can only get you so far. If you have a bad personality, it’s not going to last.

Paul Testa is a Sun Senior Writer. 10 Questions will not appear next week as Testa scrambles to finish his senior thesis. Questions and comments may be sent to pft4@cornell.edu