Every summer that she can remember, Lauren Ruiz has traveled with her mother, father and brother to a remote cabin in the woods near Taos, New Mexico, where they completely disconnect from their busy lives in Southern California.
“There’s no cell service,” said Ruiz, 18, who will soon be graduating from Bonita High School in La Verne. “It’s just a tiny little cabin, nothing fancy. It has been in my family for three generations.”
Those blissful summers in northern New Mexico helped Ruiz develop her passion for horses and riding. That passion, in part, has led to her decision to begin as a freshman at Cal Poly Pomona’s Huntley College of Agriculture this fall.
Cal Poly Pomona has long been familiar ground.
Ruiz’s parents — Maria Angelica Ruiz, now an outreach and admissions counselor with the university’s Educational Opportunity Program, which helps low-income and first-generation students succeed in college, and Carlos Ray Ruiz — met there as students. Lauren grew up going to the campus Pumpkin Festival and petting farm. Even as a little girl, she gravitated toward the horses.
Lauren, who lives in Covina, took English riding lessons in San Dimas for several years. During summers in New Mexico, she switches to a Western saddle and goes full cowgirl — all 4 feet 10 inches of her — under the tutelage of Nancy Burch, owner of Roadrunner Tours in Angel Fire. Lauren leads trail rides for Roadrunner in Carson National Forest. The other hands call her Shorty.
Bonita High School requires seniors to complete a PACE project and document a meaningful volunteer experience. (PACE stands for Purposeful, Active Career Exploration.)
In summer 2019, Lauren Ruiz asked Burch to be her project mentor. Burch paired her with Little Red, a “green broke” 2-year-old Arabian-Appaloosa pony who was not yet comfortable with having a saddle and rider on her back. When Ruiz first hoisted a 25-pound saddle onto the pony, the animal angrily swung her body around. Ruiz had to learn to be patient and gentle and to repeat actions and offer rewards when Little Red responded well.
“Once I was able to get on her and start riding, she would do things I didn’t like,” Ruiz said. “I don’t like to use spurs, so I would touch her with my leg — a kick or a squeeze.”
It took two months to get the pony to settle into the riding routine.
“At the end,” Ruiz said, “it was awesome to see how horse and human can create this bond.”
As for what the future holds, Ruiz has two thoughts: become a veterinarian or own her own stable and riding company, somewhere in the mountains. She relishes the idea of learning about plants, sheep and Cal Poly Pomona’s renowned Arabian horses.
Her parents, meanwhile, are thrilled that their daughter chose their alma mater. “As Cal Poly Pomona alumni, we wish for her the same quality education and professional development that benefited us,” Maria Ruiz (’98, liberal studies) said. Carlos Ruiz graduated in 1996 with a degree in mechanical engineering and is currently pursuing a master’s in engineering management at Cal Poly Pomona.
For Lauren, the flora and fauna beckon. “I love being outside and working, getting my hands dirty,” Ruiz said. “I am such a cowgirl.”