Saturday, May. 27, 2023

Hunter/Jumper Intern Flips Out Over Vaulting

After my forays into the worlds of dressage and polo, I've been dipping my toe into all kinds of equestrian sport ponds, and this week I took a trip to Delaplane, Va., to give vaulting a try!



After my forays into the worlds of dressage and polo, I’ve been dipping my toe into all kinds of equestrian sport ponds, and this week I took a trip to Delaplane, Va., to give vaulting a try! Gold level vaulter Julia Robinson was kind enough to let me come out to her farm for a lesson, and for someone who grew up always trying to convince trainers to let me sit backwards/standup/ride side-saddle on my pony, it was a dream!

There is defintely a reason none of my past trainers allowed me to try acobatics on my hunter (other than the fact that he’s not a vaulting horse). I am quite specatacularly uncoordinated, and unmotivated in the core strengthening department (apparently two vital vaulting requirements).

I’m a complete flop at any sort of flipping or cartwheeling on solid ground, and I can reach about to my ankles for a toe-touch. I tried gymnastics in grade school and lasted about two months in weekly lessons before throwing in the towel. Turns out it’s a whole lot more push-ups and rope climbs than jumping on trampolines and running into foam pits (my preferred gymnastic lesson activities).

In more recent history, I tried a front flip off a diving board a couple of summers ago, and never have I ever done a more perfectly unintentional belly flop. Needless to say, I’m not pulling 10s for my gymnastic movements on the ground, but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying them from the back of a moving horse!  

At the start of the vaulting lesson, Julia’s mom Mari warmed up the horse on the lunge line while Julia and I did some stretches on the ground. Remember when I said I wasn’t the most limber person out there? Here’s the picture to prove it.

You keep going, Julia. This is actually pretty stretchy for me at 7:30 a.m.!

In addition to stretching, Julia said she usually does a lot of core strengthening prior to vaulting, but she said we would skip it today in the interest of time (score!) and go straight to the riding.

We rode two different horses, a dark bay Hanoverian named Valentino Rossi and a lighter bay Selle Francais named Jacadi De Rox, which is the horse Julia competes on. Both were huge, and neither minded babysitting a vaulting novice, though Julia’s mom Mari said “Jac” did look back at me when I started trying to do some movements on him, with what I imagine was an expression of shock and awe at how unbalanced his new human was. It’s also questionable how much he appreciated my dismounting technique, which in theory was supposed to be a graceful push off the horse landing on my feet, but in practice was a much less pretty push-and-bounce off of Jac’s side.  

Terrible technique aside, overall the vaulting lesson was an absolute blast. If it didn’t involve so much strength training (Julia said she does at least an hour every day she vaults) I would do it in a heartbeat! And unlike my polo lesson from last week, I actually did suceed in accomplishing whatever vaulting movement I attempted. Whereas I just completely missed the polo ball most of the time, I was able to conjure up some version of the movements Julia showed me, albeit with considerably less grace. I believe the following picture comparisons of our vaulting forms demonstrates that while I did indeed complete the effort, I’m getting a barely passing grade compared to Julia’s A+ stunts.


Around the world: an entertaining activity for
beginner vaulters like myself…
…when done by a pro,
a very impressive movement!


This move was called ‘flag’, and we did it at the
canter. I found it best to leave both hands
on the horse and let Julia demonstrate the real move. 
While Julia would certainly get more points for her
execution in a competition, I would like to think my
matching penguin socks and shirt give me a bit of
an edge here. 


This move was quite challenging—its called ‘scissors’, and you
basically rock forward on your arms, flip your legs around, and
end up sitting backward on the horse. You will notice the slight
difference in air time between Julia and I. I also could not manage to
keep my toungue in my mouth for the duration of the movement—I
was focusing pretty hard on not flinging myself off Rossi. 


This was the zenith of my hour-long vaulting
career—standing on a cantering horse! I don’t think
this picture quite encapsulates the death grip I had
on Julia’s shoulder, but I wasn’t going to stand up
there without someone holding onto me! 

Luckily Julia didn’t mind being my training wheels, 
or demonstrating what a properly relaxed
stand looks like. 

I may not have the graceful factor, but to say I enjoyed my utilitarian style of vaulting is an understatement. It was so much fun! I didn’t think I would enjoy it nearly as much as I did, both because of my previous gymnastic failures and because it is so completely different from anything I’ve ever done. It just goes to show you can’t knock it till you try it—I encourage all my fellow failed earthly gymnasts to give vaulting a chance!   





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