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Equestrian team faces budget cuts and distanced community in wake of COVID-19

November 13, 2020

Once bustling with life from eager riders and half a dozen horses, an unfamiliar silence overtook Underwood Farm, the local, family-owned equestrian facility that the club uses. For a team once racing toward the finish line at a breakneck pace, the Bowdoin Equestrian Club found itself grinding to a halt as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“COVID[-19] has pretty much cut it to a standstill,” Bowdoin Equestrian Club captain Olivia Blair ’21 said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Earlier in the semester, we were trying to get everyone to the barn and to keep practices going, but unfortunately with all the restrictions, we were not able to get anyone to the barn.”

Bowdoin’s implementation of routine COVID-19 testing and safety procedures has ensured low rates of COVID-19 on campus and in the community. However, this meant that sports, extracurriculars and student life have become limited in scope as physical distancing policies— like no shared car rides—have come into effect.

Explaining some of the challenges surrounding in-person practices, captain Grace Hambelton ’21 emphasized the struggle of transportation.

“Because of the distance to the barn, about three miles each way, there’s no way that we could get the people on campus to the barn,” Hambelton said in an interview with the Orient. “Even though some of the [first years] might have cars, they aren’t allowed to use those cars.”

The Equestrian Club hoped to receive an operating budget from the Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC), but their budget was cut as the SAFC operating budget was reduced due to the College’s significant financial loss due to COVID-19. For the equestrian club, this made it nearly impossible to provide every team member an equal opportunity and access to horseback riding.

Even in these times of disarray marked by budget cuts and a canceled season, Blair and Hambelton remain hopeful that riders will maintain their sense of family and recruit new members for future seasons.

“We’re keeping our goals low and realistic: have a team going forward and have an idea of what could happen when restrictions loosen and we’re able to start riding,” Hambelton said. “Most of our team is made up of seniors right now, and so obviously we’re gonna lose a lot of those people. We originally had hoped we could bring in a lot more underclassmen this year and set up the new group of people who will make up a team.”

Recruiting has become especially difficult this year, as the club cannot offer any activities that it usually would.

“There have been a handful of first years who have reached out to me super interested in [the club],” Hambelton said. “So it’s really disappointing to be like, ‘I’m so sorry that we don’t have much we can do [at the moment].’”

Similarly, current club members are having difficulties adapting to the new social atmosphere.

“I have a hard time being on the west coast,” Maria Garcia ’23, a member of the club, said. “I’m free typically when other people aren’t free or [are] eating meals.”

Despite the challenges, Garcia has a plan in place to keep the team together and the horses—positive and realistic thinking.

“It’s kind of hard to plan when we don’t really know what it’s all going to look like,” Garcia said. “It’s hard to come up with a lot of concrete plans for next fall, but I think we’re gonna definitely try and just set ourselves up [this year] so that it is possible to [do more next year].”

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