Hannah Hludzik ’24, a communications and media studies major on the marketing track, competes in barrel barrel racing—an uncommon pursuit for someone who's grown up in the Lehigh Valley.

Hannah Hludzik ’24 may have been raised in the suburbs of Bethlehem, but she’s a country girl at heart. “When I was growing up, my parents used to take me to rodeos all the time, so I started riding horses when I was four years old,” she says. “My mom’s friend had a horse farm. My mom took me there, and that’s where it all started.”

Hludzik is used to the intrigue and questions that invariably arise when people learn that she is a competitive barrel racer. “I’m not in the right area for it,” she quips.

By age 10, Hludzik says she began losing interest in her weekly English horseback riding lessons. It was around this time that she attended a rodeo that changed the trajectory of her hobby.

Hludzik recalls that while watching from the stands, she lamented to her parents how she wished she could ride in this style instead. Sitting nearby was a man who overheard their conversation and asked where they lived. He knew of a horse farm in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, that offered barrel racing lessons and competitions. One phone call to Edgewood Valley Farms and Hludzik was on her way to realizing her dream.

Hannah Hludzik ’24 competes in a barrel race.

Throughout middle school and high school, Hludzik balanced riding lessons at Edgewood with playing on her schools’ volleyball and softball teams. She found that being a student-athlete prepared her for the grueling physical and mental demands of controlling a horse. “Riding and rodeo have taught me to stay strong and not give up,” she says. “Being in the horse world takes a strong person, as horses test every ounce of your mental state.”

Eventually team sports pushed riding lessons to the back burner. After high school, Hludzik earned a medical assistant degree, then followed her boyfriend to North Carolina. The relationship didn’t last, but the move down South immersed Hludzik in a thriving rodeo culture and reignited her commitment to riding.

“Adrenaline is pumping as you speed around the barrels,” says Hludzik, “and there’s just a feeling of freedom riding so fast.”

When Hludzik returned home, she set out to find her own horse and, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, fell in love with Ash Win (nicknamed Shwin), a beautiful five-year-old, buckskin-colored quarter horse with a sweet disposition but no barrel racing experience. Patiently training Shwin has paid off, as the pair already placed in a rodeo last year. “I’ve won here and there, but nothing too big yet,” Hludzik says. “I am excited to travel farther this year and see what my horse can really do.”

Hludzik and her quarter horse Shwin. They placed in barrel racing at a rodeo last year.

As for landing at Moravian, Hludzik had always dismissed the university as “too close to home” and credits her best friend who was a student here for encouraging her to attend. Hludzik enrolled in the athletic training program, though it didn’t take long for her marketing minor to pull her in another direction.

Hludzik thrives on the variety she’s found in her communications and media studies major with a focus in marketing. She can also incorporate her interests in photography and social media. “Everyone knows me by my horse if they have seen my Instagram,” she says.

Looking ahead to landing a summer internship and her first job after she graduates later this year, Hludzik says she is more than ready to relocate, preferably to a part of the country where rodeo rules. She already has the cowboy hat and boots.

—Meghan Decker Szvetecz ’08