After limited interest and budgeting worries that forced the Bowdoin club equestrian team to restructure dramatically last year, a rejuvenated leadership team and greater participation this past fall has ushered in a renaissance for the team, which recently competed in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) for the first time in three years. Looking towards the future, the club is hopeful that this momentum will continue.
Over the years, the club has been constantly evolving with the team’s size, level of competition and outreach to new riders fluctuating based on leadership and student interest. However, at its roots, the club remains based on the same principles it was founded upon.
“The equestrian team was started … [by] a group of people who loved horses and wanted a space in Bowdoin’s community to meet other people who have the same passion for horses,” said co-captain Grace Hambelton ’21.
This past fall, the team has seen success in competition as well. On November 2, every rider placed in their class at the IHSA show hosted by Dartmouth. Bowdoin riders all competed in the equitation class in either the walk/trot or walk/trot/canter category, earning a fourth-place finish, two fifth-place finishes and a sixth-place finish.
Under the leadership of Hambelton and Olivia Blair ’21, Bowdoin’s equestrian team has undergone significant changes, especially in the past year. Just a few years ago, being a club member meant driving hours every week to attend practice sessions with no opportunities to compete against other schools.
“My [first] year, we were going to a barn an hour away, paying for our own lessons and were not able to compete in any sort of competition,” said Hambelton.
As a specialized sport with significant entry costs, it can be challenging to recruit new members. However, new initiatives by the club and the help of school funding allow more students to engage with horseback riding.
“I think one of the largest barriers to equestrian sports is the cost,” said Blair. “Generally, horseback riding is expensive with all the equipment, lessons and showing fees involved. All these costs prevent people from being able to ride and has, historically, made the team exclusive. As of last year, the team started to receive funding from the [Student Activities Funding Committee], which has made the sport more accessible to everyone.”
This is a significant change from previous iterations of the club, which mainly attracted experienced riders who were willing to shell out significant sums of money to pursue the hobby. However, rejoining the IHSA and securing funding to subsidize lessons has made it significantly easier to join the club and has opened up many more opportunities for those already in it.
The challenge will be maintaining enough student engagement to sustain the club.
“The equestrian team has faced disbandment before, so I am hoping that we will be able to maintain funding and interest,” said Blair. “The team can only persist so long as there are students that are interested and committed to horseback riding.”
Both captains recognize that without participation from first years and sophomores, there will be nobody to pass the torch to when the current leadership graduates.
“There can be very few people with experience that come to Bowdoin intending to ride,” said Hambelton. “There can be years that we only have one or two new freshmen with experience.”
Despite the challenges the team faces, these recent advancements in funding and opportunities to compete have filled the stables with optimism.
“Participating in IHSA gives us a good opportunity to grow both as a team and individuals, and I am excited to see the team become more active,” said Blair.