When Karen Lappas '88 was at Bowdoin, there was no outlet for her to continue her longtime passion of horseback riding.
During her first year at the College, Lappas said she and several other students tried to put together a team, but after they were unable to find a facility that worked for them, she had to resign herself to only riding in the summer.
"There were no indoor facilities in the area that could accommodate us," she said.
After graduation, Lappas entered the consulting field, but once she started riding again, she knew what she wanted to do.
That's how Lappas, eight years after graduating, found herself back in Maine, the owner of a farm.
"I quit the real world," she said.
Now, Lappas, coach of Bowdoin's equestrian team, works with five to 12 Bowdoin students each semester at her farm, Chez Chevaux Equestrian Center in Durham. It has an indoor arena, which allows the team to train year round.
"I just knew from my experience there that there was a group of students at Bowdoin who wanted to be able to ride," she said, noting that she also coaches Bates's team.
Sophomore Kathryn Grant is one of the students benefiting from Lappas's return to Maine.
"I just wanted to have access to horses," said Grant, who is one of the team's captains. "It's really nice to have the school's support, even if it is a club."
As a club sport, the group's registration fees at competitions are paid for by the Student Activities Funding Committee. Yet the students must pay for many of the expenses, including the group's equipment and lessons with Lappas. Lappas, however, gives them a substantial discount.
"A lot of people want to do more but can't because that's a financial drain on a college student," Grant said.
Most people on the team have one individual, two-and-a-half-hour lesson with Lappas each week, with competitions taking place on the weekend.
"Horse shows are an all-weekend thing," said Sarah Bernheim '09, who is also a captain.
She noted that not all of the 12 registered club members go to every show.
"It's kind of like the outing club," Bernheim said. "You pay the fee and then you can choose to go to whichever one you want."
Even though they do not practice as a team and not everyone goes to all the shows, Bernheim said she likes knowing that other students at Bowdoin share her interest.
"It's a communal thing," she said.
The team has two shows this semester, both in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. As many as six schools could be competing at the events against Bowdoin.
Before the competitions, Lappas evaluates the riders and then places them at different levels, which range from beginner to advanced.
At the competition, each rider participates in two classes: for the beginners, two flat classes (without jumps), and for advanced riders, a flat and a jumper class. At each show, participants have to ride a horse they have never ridden before.
"They judge you by how you look and work with your horse," Grant said.
Bernheim noted that working with Lappas has prepared her for working with an unfamiliar horse at shows.
"She switches us around to different horses so we get a good variety," she said. "She's really good about helping students with whatever they need."
Grant said that since coming to Bowdoin, riding has become more "thoughtful" for her. "I tend to reflect more on the strategies now than I used to," she said.
Grant said that some of these changes in her riding are due to Lappas's influence.
"She expects the students to treat the horses well and work with them rather than make them do something," Grant said. "Maybe you think about how to ask rather than demand from the horse."
Grant, unfortunately, will not be able to participate in any of the shows this semester due to an injury. She was thrown from a horse and fractured her back.
"Because I've been riding for so long, I'm aware of the risks," Grant said. "I'm lucky this is my only serious injury."
The risk of getting hurt does not seem to faze Grant or Bernheim, possibly due to their years of horseback riding experience. Both have been riding since a young age and have their own horses; Grant keeps hers in her home in Virginia and Bernheim at a stable near Bowdoin.
"They're like your teammates," Grant said. "They have their own personalities."
"We all have our favorite horses," Bernheim added.
Even though Lappas has made horseback riding available to Bowdoin students, Grant said that many students are not aware that their group even exists.
"We got our jackets," she said, "and people kept coming up to us and asking, 'We have an equestrian team?'"