Competitors from 44 clubs gathered at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington for the first USEF/AVA National Championship held in Virginia.
Competition began on July 19, with a funfest for emerging vaulters while all were getting settled in for the four days of competition. Wednesday’s Night of Stars highlighted the top-level vaulters with the finals of the A team, gold and silver individual competitions.
Wednesday evening also showcased the A team and top gold and silver individual vaulters competing in the final phase of their competition. Following a presentation of the horses, who received special event coolers for their efforts, the Mt. Eden/California A Team had a go at their freestyle presentation, showing the necessary creativity to come away with the gold.
Individual men and women in both the silver and gold level took center stage with Californians Megan Benjamin and Blake Dahlgren taking the top spots for the individual competition. Benjamin, with a series of 9.0 scores in her Round II gold compulsories, was a deciding factor. Julie Keville also had a great Round II and moved from fourth place after Round I to second and the reserve championship after a great Round II. One always expects the unusual with this strong athlete, and she set a standard for future vaulters with consummate strength and flexibility.
The B teams, including a relatively new club, Silver Bay from northern California, thrilled the audience. Despite solid compulsories and a lead of 0.6 going into the freestyle, the outstanding performance of Vaulters of Ice Pond did not quite get the points to take the championship. Silver Bay continues to come up with amazing new moves to challenge the other teams.
In the silver division, the West Coast swept the top five places in the final compilation with Ali Divita and Elizabeth Osborn of Woodside Vaulters turning in outstanding performances for the win. In the men’s silver competition, Todd Griffiths of Oak Hills Vaulters/Utah started out in the top slot, followed by Michael Belisle (Vaulters of Ice Pond/Connecticut), Jesse Cooper (Falcon-wood/Georgia) and Luke Lovell (Valley View/ California), staying in the same order through the match. These men are certainly developing their own style and bring new vigor to the freestyle competition.
There were some new rules for this competition. Competitors attain their gold, silver and bronze levels by passing a stringent test appropriate for each level, and all the competition for these vaulters is at the canter.
Since the entry level is always such a large class and there seems to be such a wide disparity in skills between those in the bronze level, the AVA Executive Board, with the approval of the membership, instituted a new division called copper, which attracted a large number of entries.
Northern California sisters Cassidy (bronze) and Kimberley Palmer (copper) of the Half Moon Bay Vaulters (NorCal) garnered the reserve spots in their respective levels, just missing the wins by fewer than .20 points. Champions Tisa Dobin (F.A.C.E.) and Mary Garrett (Valley View) took the championship ribbons to southern California.
The University of Connecticut team scored big in the two-phase competition, taking both phases and the overall title in a clean sweep. It is excellent to see the teams from the colleges taking home the ribbons as the student participation increases. The UCONN freestyle performance on the barrel has taken their usual good effort to new heights.
AVA President Nancy Stevens Brown applauds the growth of the sport. “For more than three decades American vaulting has grown steadily, and here in Region IX [the Atlantic states], the growth has been energetic and enthusiastic,” she said.
The same is true for the Midwest, with many new clubs. The support of U.S. Equestrian Federation has proven to be great incentive for excellence as many of the usual top level competitors left on Thursday or Friday morning to compete in Austria at the World Championships.