About 30 minutes west of Fort Worth, Kelsey Huffman rides horseback on a winding dirt trail on October Hill Farm — the home to the TCU equestrian program that looks, feels and smells a world away from University Drive and Berry Street.
Kelsey Huffman and her sister, assistant coach Kindel Huffman, have helped define TCU’s equestrian program since it started in 2006.
“They’ve been such an integral part of this program since it’s started, I wish they had a little sister to stay in the program,” head coach Gary Reynolds said. “Without Kindel and Kelsey, I don’t know that we’d have a national championship under our belt.”
The Huffman sisters, Kindel the oldest by more than three years, began riding horses by the age of two and were competing at the age of five in Norco, Calif., where the sisters grew up.
“All of our lives, since we were honestly two, three years old we grew up on a ranch, so we’ve been around horses all our lives,” Kindel Huffman said.
Kelsey said their parents put the sisters on a horse once the girls could walk, and the two started competing by the age of five.
“Riding horses is in our blood,” Kelsey Huffman said.
With Kindel and Kelsey riding horses as long as they could remember, it might seem strange that Kindel came to TCU, a university that didn’t even have an equestrian program at the time she arrived.
“I had a friend that went to school here, and I showed horses with her. So I came out here for a competition, and I fell in love with the school,” Kindel Huffman said. “I knew they were going to start an equestrian team here, and I knew I wanted to be on it. So, fortunately, I was here one semester, and they started it.”
Kelsey said she was never far behind her sister since they began riding horses and that she felt she had an easy in with the TCU program. She got to know Reynolds and the riders when visiting her sister on campus while a freshman at the University of Findlay.
Even though Kelsey followed Kindel to TCU, the sisters have never competed against one another — Kelsey rides Western and Kindel rode English events. Now an assistant coach for the program, Kindel focuses on TCU’s Hunt Seat team.
“I rode English, she rode Western, but in a way I won a world championship title in English, so then later on she had to win one in Western,” Kindel Huffman said. “So I guess that’s a little bit of competitiveness.”
Reynolds said the two sisters had their own styles of preparation and techniques to focus, but both girls have always been winners.
“[Kindel] won hers first, and so now it’s kind of like, ‘Well now the little sister better step up and do it,'” Kelsey Huffman said.
Reynolds said he looks at the Huffman sisters like his own daughters, noting that his own daughter looks up to Kindel and Kelsey so much that she’s even named her dolls Kindel and Kelsey.
“Their dad passed away when they were very young of cancer,” Reynolds said. “It’s been very much an important thing to me to be a part of their life, and it’s been good for me to watch them and be able to be a male role model in their life.”
In what Reynolds described as a divine order of events, Kindel ended up as his assistant coach after her graduation.
“I thought it’d be my career later in life, but the position came open only eight months after I left TCU,” Kindel Huffman said. “I didn’t think I was ready, but I couldn’t let the opportunity go by with my home school.”
Kindel doesn’t directly coach Kelsey, but when she has a chance to watch her younger sister compete, she’s her toughest critic, Kindel said.
As for Kelsey’s plans upon graduation, Kindel laughed, debating out loud on what Kelsey wanted to do and what she should do upon graduation.
“I definitely don’t see myself riding horses as a professional; I’ll always do it as my hobby and for myself,” Kelsey Huffman said. “I see myself having a business job in the horse industry…I see horses and the business side of it in my life forever.”