AUBURN — When the horse farm she was leasing sold in Brunswick, Michele Whitmore looked around for a new home and found it last spring in 15 acres on West Auburn Road.
The move wasn’t without hurdles — those acres were wooded, and the property sits on not one but two watersheds — but she cleared the last of them Tuesday night in front of the Auburn Planning Board.
Six months after she bought it, Whitmore, a competitive show jumper and coach of the Bowdoin College Equestrian Team, plans to resume lessons later this month at the restart of Underwood Farm.
“The arena is being built right now — actually, I’m staring at the excavator moving dirt around,” Whitmore, 28, said last week. “The shelters are being finished and we’re putting up fencing now. It’s been an interesting process with the town logistics because it’s a double-watershed.”
The property at 616 West Auburn Road sits in the Lake Auburn watershed in the front and Taylor Pond in the back, triggering additional engineering work and environmental protections.
She and her husband have so far cleared eight acres with a final plan for 12. The farm is approved for 12 horses; she’d like to eventually grow to 15.
Whitmore teaches outdoor lessons year-round in a lighted arena. She’d like to eventually build an indoor riding arena.
She started Underwood Farm in Brunswick in 2017. Most of her 45 students are making the move to Auburn, along with nine horses, five of them lesson horses and four boarding.
“We were actually in the market to buy anyway, so (the original farm selling) kind of pushed it,” she said. “We were looking to expand. . . Thankfully a lot of really good people have been helping out and really putting the hours in, for sure.”
Whitmore, a certified riding instructor, has coached the Bowdoin College team since 2018.
Her Underwood Farm riders are as young as 3. She teaches both English riding and show jumping and has seen more people drawn to the sport during the pandemic.
“Especially when we had to realize that kids were a little bit safer outside, a lot of people that may not have originally thought about riding, started riding,” Whitmore said. “It really became an outlet for a lot of people.”
She’s the farm’s only instructor for now. In addition to the regular lessons, she also offers three camps in the summer.
“You learn a lot of patience,” Whitmore said. “It also humbles you big time working with a 1,000-pound animal. I have some students start out as lessons and they really connect with one of my horses and that student turns into a leaser, and eventually, sometimes, they end up buying.”
In addition to showing on her own, Whitmore also participated in the Thoroughbred Makeover project, training a retired racehorse for nine months and then competing with it in Kentucky against other retirees.
“Some do really well (with) post-track careers, some struggle,” she said. “You’re just kind of giving them a second chance at another career.”
She started riding at 7 and joked that in high school, she remembers frustrating her guidance counselor by insisting it was horses for her, nothing else.
“I knew what I was going to do, I was set on it,” Whitmore said. “‘Well, you need to have a backup career.’ Nope. ‘I’m going to have a farm by the time I’m 25, I’m going to train horses and, also, instructing.’ Literally by the time I was 24, I started my business and started my farm.”