Calvin students build community through education, competition and volunteering.
Since it began in 2005, Calvin’s Equestrian Club has provided a small but steady number of enthusiastic students with opportunities to interact with horses and fellow horse lovers. This year, Calvin has seven riders participating in horse showings, with additional members taking advantage of the other horse-related activities the club has to offer.
“We look to attract people who have a basic interest in horses, but who don’t necessarily have horse experience,” said Rebecca Laarman, administrative assistant in the student development office and faculty advisor for the Equestrian Club, “Anyone is welcome and encouraged to attend any of our events.”
At the shows, such as the IHSA Hunter Seat Show held at Grand Valley State University earlier this month, each rider gets a horse that matches his or her ability. Riders may mount their horses, but are not allowed to touch anything until they’ve entered the arena. Once inside, they begin riding before a group of judges, who consider only the rider’s ability and not horse/rider compatibility or how well the horse is performing.
“It’s really intimidating for the riders,” said Calvin senior Madelynn Coe, co-leader of the Equestrian Club, “They don’t know what the horse is going to be like. They don’t know the temperament or personality of the horse they’ll get. It’s a good challenge for them.”
Despite being small in number, Laarman is repeatedly astonished by her team’s excitement for the showings.
“They have a blast. They laugh all day and if they get rain-soaked in the process, they don’t care because they know they’re with their friends who share this common interest.”
Along with competition, the Equestrian Club also includes social and educational components, such as conversations with horse professionals, rodeos, hay rides at Robinettes, and bimonthly chances to volunteer at Roanoke Ranch—a non-profit organization for at-risk kids from around the area.
During the summer months, Roanoke Ranch takes kids out of their comfort zones to build their confidence and teach them responsibility. Laarman, who grew up around horses, but also enjoys working with youth, believes wholeheartedly in Roanoke’s mission.
“Many horse-related ministries are volunteer run and have a small budget with huge expenses. If we value the ministry, it is important to step up and contribute to the project.”
Since Roanoke’s program runs during the summer, the Equestrian Club’s members aren’t able to work with the youth. Instead, their goal has been to free up the owners’ schedules so that the two have time for other projects.
“We want to rejuvenate them. We do what we can so they can do what they do well,” said Laarman, “We go in during the school year and give the owners, a husband and wife, the morning off. We help clean stalls, throw down hay, clean up the horses—whatever we have time to do.”
Because horse experience isn’t necessary to join the Equestrian Club, many members find volunteering at Roanoke to be the perfect introduction.
“It’s great for people who have never been around horses because then we get to teach them from the ground up,” said Coe, “We can start with the basics, like how to approach a horse in a stall to what to do with a herd of horses in a field. It’s a really good opportunity.”
Neither Coe nor her co-leader, Nate Bell, participate in the horse shows, but during the season, the two coordinate activities like the one held at Roanoke Ranch.
“We do a lot of planning and thinking of events. And a lot of budgeting. Calvin helps subsidize lessons, which no other school does, so we’re always counting our pennies.”
On top of this, Coe and Bell have many responsibilities connected with the showings. They arrange transportation, make sure riders have had lessons, and complete all the necessary paperwork before the shows.
For Bell, the only male on the team, being co-leader also involves a few extra tasks—such as helping with any heavy lifting at Roanoke or arguing with pleas for him to ride in the shows.
“There’s a lot more girls that show than guys,” Coe admitted with a grin, “Probably because you have to wear tight pants.”
Bell nodded, “They tried to get me to put some on, and I was like, ‘No.’”
The Equestrian Club is one of 70 student organizations currently at Calvin: Dance Guild, Pre-Dental Club, Anime Club, and Environmental Stewardship Coalition—just to name a few. Each year, new and old students alike gather on commons lawn for Cokes and Clubs, some in search of free candy and (for off-campus students) free toilet paper, others in search of shared interests. According to Laarman, joining a community that respects and cultivates one’s passions is an invaluable gift.
“My goal is for students to find a place where they belong on Calvin’s campus and from that grow and get more out of their college experience,” said Laarman, “It’s not about winning at the shows—it’s about developing a team and a core group of friends that want to support you.”