October 28, 2010–The stands are empty, podiums have been stored away, and memories are being shared with friends and family. Judges, vaulters, riders, coaches, lungers, volunteers (more than 125!) and spectators have returned to their homes. Life at the Kentucky Horse Park is returning to normal after two plus weeks of amazing equine athletic activity.
At the Alltech Indoor Arena, 12 vaulting teams, 48 individuals, and 56 horses made their entrances and exits with energy, balance, color, movement and risk as the adventure unfolded again and again–all on the back of a cantering horse. Performed to sold out crowds, the routines from all the countries, team and individual, were magic.
Reverberations from this year’s performances by world-class athletes at the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games (WEG) will be felt for many years. In the case of vaulting in America, especially so. Certainly for the already competitive vaulter, this year’s event was great incentive to prepare for the possibility of competing in Normandy, France, the site of the 2014 WEG. Many comments were heard from vaulters who are excited about putting together a four-year plan, a road map for a trip to France.
About that effort, former WEG Champion Gold Medalist (Aachen, Germany 2006) Megan Benjamin notes, “There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into [the WEG vaulting] performances, but what I remember is the feeling of hearing those final scores and realizing that we had accomplished our biggest dreams.”
She reminds us that it is a long road to that level of competition: “The truth is that there is no ‘map’ to success. World class athletes are gifted, but also hard workers. One of the best lessons my coach, Emma Seely [coach for Mt. Eden Vaulters at Garrod Farms/Saratoga, CA] has taught me, is to branch out and seek additional help from anyone and everyone who is willing to give it. At a certain point, vaulting is too complicated for any one coach to be the ‘expert’ at everything. Every coach has their specialties, and it’s important, at the world class level, to learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. That thirst for knowledge and self-improvement is important for any world class athlete.”
Her advice to young vaulters aiming at 2014 and beyond is to “work hard and think strategically about what it is you are doing. Get advice from those who are trusted in the community already. Make friends in foreign countries (and everywhere around our own) who you are willing to help you become the best vaulter you can be. Get fit, cross-train, and work on the things you’re not good at. Accept criticism with grace, practice things that are outside your comfort zone, and keep loving vaulting the whole time.”
Event FEI Judge Sue Detol from Oregon has it right when she talks about one of the vaulters from her own state who has started the journey. She says of Gabe Aniello, now vaulting with the Woodside Vaulters in Woodside California, “[He's] extremely dedicated to the sport–extremely disciplined to do whatever it takes to become a better athlete, better vaulter .” The difficult moves seen at the World Equestrian Games level are the goal of Aniello and others seeking success in international vaulting competition.
No one expects that degree of expertise of the beginning vaulter, who will experience a much simpler introduction to vaulting. For any person who loves dance, gymnastics, horses, and a sense of family in sport, a look at vaulting will definitely be worth investigating. It encompasses all of those things and more. This year’s exposure at WEG and the televised portions combined with the up close and personal demonstrations in the outdoor demonstration arena by the Vaulting Association’s Friendship Team, gave the sport an excellent opportunity to gain new converts. Noel Martonovich (along with husband Yossi and son Erik) from Colorado came to loan their horses and lunge for foreign vaulters who borrowed horses. She reports that, “I’m sure it is the first time many people had seen or heard of the sport. I think the exposure that the Friendship Team gave us in the Equine Village gave us incredible exposure also. They did a fantastic job.” According to Sheri Benjamin, American Vaulting Association president, “Google Analytics is showing an almost 60 percent increase in [the] traffic to the AVA website [AmericanVaulting.org] this past month as a result of WEG.” Definitely the good news.
It was the people in the stands who had never seen or even heard of vaulting who took home a whole new equine experience. Benjamin has set up on the AVA website “a way for interested potential vaulters, parents and barns/stables to give us their information if they wanted more details about either starting a vaulting program in their area, or finding a place to vault locally.” This forum is a starting point for case-specific dialog about any aspect of the sport. AVA long time volunteer, editor of Vaulting World II, AVA Board member, and former coach of a beginning level vaulting program, Marianne Rose, relates that there are “new membership options, new resources for new clubs. The trick is to make those parts of the whole club/vaulting experience fun enough so that it becomes something that the vaulters enjoy and that keeps them enthusiastic.”
The German riding clubs, which put some vaulting experience in the mix before each person moves onto the discipline of riding, have the right idea. American vaulting clubs use a variety of equipment to teach skills including using a padded metal barrel horse for preliminary work, such as dismounts. Each participant goes through a series of warmup exercises, stretches, and strengthening work before beginning to vault that day. Definitely a benefit to those who just wish to ride. Vaulting is statistically the safest of the equine sport disciplines. As spectators watched the WEG extravaganza, there were, indeed, a couple of falls. One happened during the American team’s first freestyle performance. The fall was from a high triple. But in a heartbeat, all three vaulters were back on the horse to complete the routine. If you blinked you would have missed it. No injuries. Part of it was dismount practice, another part the trust that is built between members of the team, and the years of the extensive and thorough training necessary to get to the WEG level.
American vaulters have won medals from every single World Championships from 1986 up to and including this year’s WEG event, held for the first time outside of Europe. No other U.S. equestrian discipline can claim that. A long road, thrills at every corner, and here on the home turf for the very first time … yet another gold! It was a performance that illustrated the strength and usefulness of vaulting as an important equestrian sport for the American horse enthusiast and the American audience for years to come.
American Vaulters Soar at Championships
1986 World Championships, Bulle, Switzerland – Women’s Silver/Jeannette Boxall
1990 WEG Stockholm, Sweden – Team Bronze/Timberline Vaulters
1994 WEG The Hague, Netherlands – Women’s Silver/Kerith Lemon, Men’s Bronze/Devon Maitozo,
1996 World Championships, Kapsovar, Hungary – Women’s Silver/Kerith Lemon, Men’s Bronze/Devon Maitozo
1998 WEG Rome, Italy – Men’s Gold/Devon Maitozo, Women’s Silver/Kerith Lemon, Team Bronze/Woodside
2000 World Championships – Mannheim Germany – Women’s Bronze/Kerith Lemon, Men’s Bronze/Devon Maitozo
2002 WEG, Jerez, Spain – Men’s Bronze/Devon Maitozo
2004 World Championships Stadl Paura, Austria – Team Bronze/Coast Line Vaulters
2006 WEG Aachen Germany – Women’s Gold/Megan Benjamin, Team Silver/FACE Vaulters
2008 World Championships Brno, Czech Republic – Team Bronze/Darkside Composite Team
2010 WEG Lexington, Kentucky, USA – Team Gold/FACE Vaulters