In the 1960s, a homemade film of German vaulters inspired a group of Pony Clubbers in Santa Cruz, Calif., to try a new horse sport, and by 1969, Liz Searle and Jeff Ashton Moore had started the American Vaulting Association.
Thirty-five years and many international medals later, with representation on the Federation Equestre Internationale committees and a dramatic increase in the number of vaulting clubs across the nation, AVA members had many reasons to celebrate the anniversary at the annual meeting, March 4-7, again in Santa Cruz.
Nancy Stevens Brown, president of the AVA, earned the Mentor of the Year honors. Her work with AVA founders, Moore and Searle, more than 30 years ago launched a career in vaulting that, through her creativity, energy, and coaching skills, brought home the gold many times for her Timberline club. Her gifts far exceed those of wielding the gavel, according to Danny Baker, Timberline’s first gold medalist. Her students and admirers described her talent for bringing out the best in each individual, with dedicated attention to who they were, along with great expectations of who they could be, in her clinics across the nation.
Rachel Markels Webber also remarked on Brown’s ability to see potential.
“She was off taking [nature photographs] during breaks in teaching and always found things that longtime residents hadn’t seen,” said the New England Valkyries coach from Massachusetts.
This ability has helped Brown during a time of great expectations and changes in our national federation. The new and improved U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation have joined hands with the AVA to further the presence of American vaulters in the international spotlight.
The USEF has organized four training camps, funded by the USET Foundation, during the last six months to prepare long-listed vaulters for this year’s World Championships in Stadle Pura, Austria.
There will be an additional camp for the short-listed vaulters in June prior to the Championships. With this support and enormous effort, the selected U.S. vaulters, both men and women, should continue to bring the medals home as they have in the past.
Our own Adrienne Stang, FEI-O, will be one of the judges. Even with much attention on the international sport, grassroots vaulting was not overlooked. One of the continuing concerns for the association has been the huge size of the trot and bronze classes at recognized competitions. Often with more than 100 vaulters in a class, there have been ongoing attempts to find a way to split the class into smaller, more manageable levels.
The Competition Committee submitted a proposal to introduce a copper level of competition to the existing bronze, silver and gold designations as a recognized championship. Reviewed by the Board of Directors and passed by the sustaining members, this will give more opportunity for the beginning level canter vaulter to compete against peers. The same consideration was made at the trot level. While not recognized by the USEF, trot is a mainstay for entering vaulters and a new category of preliminary trot will be added to the competition list at AVA National Championships and other recognized competitions at the discretion of management. In an effort to spread the word about vaulting, there will be national vaulting seminars to be announced on the AVA website (www.americanvaulting.org) as they are organized.
The goal is for each region to host one of these seminars and thus increase awareness and membership in every part of the country. Sunday’s clinic with World Champion Christof Lensing was about refining skills in all aspects of the sport. His designs of vaulting surcingles, including a new one with interchangeable handles, were much discussed. Comparing various coaching techniques, he proposed one that emphasizes that strength is not always the most important part of the flight exercise.
Gold level vaulter Samantha Smith of Pacific Coast Vaulters and Michele Stevens of Mt. Eden benefited from his expertise, both on the horse and on the barrel, while additional vaulters and coaches watched, taking notes to share the process with those at home. Designer Socks, a 16-year-old Hanovarian by Diamont, earned the Horse of the Year honors for the Coast Line Vaulters, of Santa Cruz, Calif.