It’s been years since Wild West City had a woman driving the stage but for the 2021 season, Reillyanne Ruane, 17, has broken the string of male drivers. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find females who drove a stagecoach “back in the day” of the wild west.
For Ruane, handling the big draft horses with ease comes naturally.
“I was looking for something to do,” she said, noting she came across Wild West City and was intrigued by the western flavor. She asked if they were looking for employees.
“Frank (Benson) asked me if I ever worked with draft horses,” she noted; Frank’s family owns the western themed Wild West City, located in Byram Township, NJ.
Not only had she worked with draft horses, she owns one. And so, the rest is Wild West City history.
After she lost her beloved Thoroughbred, Ruane decided she wanted a “bomb proof” horse, one that was sturdy and healthy and big.
She found all she wanted in Guinness, a 14-year old Irish Spotted Draft who stands 17.1 hands. He takes a 75-inch girth and weighs about 2800 pounds.
“It was a challenge to break him,” she noted, adding it took two years. But now he’s her best friend.
“He’s a ‘push-button’ horse,” she said by way of pointing out he will do anything she asks.
Wild West City might seem like an odd place for a rider, but Ruane also rides Western, which is the preferred seat of her mother, Erika. She fits right in with the cowboys and cowgirls. Her past experience driving single horse drawn carriages made her a quick study when learning how to handle the double horse drawn stage coach at Wild West City.
Each animal has a distinct personality and her natural ability to read the animals makes Reillyanne a perfect fit for the job. For instance, Dixie, a Belgium mare, is very dedicated and serious about her work, while Frank and Jessee, the black Persheron geldings, have very playful personalities.
Ruane’s main riding discipline is eventing, the “triathlon of equestrian” that combines dressage, show jumping and cross country. For that she uses a Warmblood named Atlas who stands 18.3 and weighs 2,400 pounds.
At 16 and after two years of training, Atlas will jump anything, Ruane said. “He’s insane,” she said, meaning it as a complement. He was trained by a woman from England who did eventing with him.
“There’s no lack of communication, he will do anything to please,” she said.
She characterized Atlas as an overachiever who takes jumps with plenty of room to spare and never refuses. “It feels like flying,” she said. “He’s crazy in the best way possible.”
Eventing requires a good deal of travel as she works toward her dream of competing in the Hampton’s classic.
That’s been complicated this summer with her work schedule at Wild West City and the time she spends with her horses which are kept with her family’s other equines at Hideaway Stables in Howell where Ruane has ridden since she was 6. She started riding at 4 on Staten Island and about to enter her senior year at St. Joseph’s By the Sea High School and hopes to attend Centenary College in Hackettstown after graduation to major in equine studies and pre-veterinary medicine.
Ruane and her mother are both horse people, her father, Gerard, and brother, Sean, not so much.
Her boyfriend, Paul Gonzalez, is “becoming a horse person, he loves Guinness,” she said with a smile, and she is very happy about that.