Sports

Test of trust for vaulters at BC Summer Games

Hannah Campbell is one of two Chilliwack girls competing in the BC Summer Games equestrian events. The Games started Thursday and continue through Sunday in Nanaimo. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Hannah Campbell is one of two Chilliwack girls competing in the BC Summer Games equestrian events. The Games started Thursday and continue through Sunday in Nanaimo.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

They’ll never get the limelight they deserve.

They’ll toil in obscurity, loved, respected and recognized only by those who are closest to them.

When the medals are handed out, they’ll be somewhere else, perhaps munching on hay.

They are the horses, and they don’t particularly care for glory.

All they care about is whether they get their food, exercise and a little care and attention. But when two Chilliwack girls enter the arena for the BC Winter Games vaulting competition this weekend in Nanaimo, the horses will play an essential role.

“When the horse is moving in a canter, he’s moving like this,” said Deseray Smith, moving her hand in a rhythmic  up-and-down fashion. “You have to be like that too, be connected with the horse. Be one with the horse. You get the wind in your hair and you feel free.”

Vaulting is a sport in which athletes perform gymnastics/acrobatics on horseback.

As the horse moves around the arena,  Smith and Hannah Campbell will whirl and twirl, flinging their legs and arms this way and that.

All the while, they’ll be trusting their horse to not turn suddenly, rear back or do anything else unexpected.

Smith is lucky to be riding Cetoma.

Though she now trains in Aldergrove, the Mt. Slesse middle school student used to train at Chilliwack’s Bit Crazy Boarding Stable, and knows this horse well.

“He’s my buddy, the first horse I ever vaulted on,” she said. “I learned all my new moves with him. He can be a bit of a goof sometimes.”

Every horse has its personality quirks, just like a human. Cetoma is friendly, patient and calm, which is great for vaulting.

“He’s got these big, big lips and whenever you feed him a treat he sucks your whole hand in there,” Deseray laughed. “Whenever you tickle his lips he smiles. It’s so funny. Hilarious.”

Before a competition, they’ll share some relaxing time doing light practice drills. When it’s game time she’ll watch as his ears perk up as he gets serious.

“He knows when it’s time,” Smith said. “He knows, ‘OK. I’ve really got to smarten up and be really good for this.’ When he gets into the arena and sees all the people, he becomes a lot smoother than he usually is.”

After a competition, Smith will spend a few more quiet moments with him.

“I’ll tell him he’s a good boy and scratch behind his ears, because horses can’t reach their ears,” she said. “I’ll rub his chest because he can’t reach that either, and he’ll stretch his neck up really tall and do that lip thing.”

Smith goes to Nanaimo as a wildcard entry.

She narrowly missed qualifying as one of the top two in her zone, and was supremely disappointed when she thought she’d missed out.

“I was really disappointed, but then my uncles and aunts came over for a family dinner,” Smith said. “And my mom was keeping it a surprise that I’d been picked in a draw to go as a wildcard entry. I texted all my friends right after saying, ‘I made it! I made it!’”

Campbell, the second local at the Games, had a similar reaction when she got the good news. In an odd twist, she’s competing for the Thompson-Okanagan zone, listed as a Merritt native because her dad lives there.

But she trains at Crazy Bit.

Campbell has a trickier task than Smith. Both will ride in the level-D canter division, but  Campbell will compete on at least one semi-unfamiliar horse.

Cetoma and Tristan are the familiar ones — Campbell describes Tristan as stubborn, and a bit rude.

“He used to be the boss of all the horses, but now Promise is,” she laughed.

Promise is another Crazy Bit regular, but Campbell’s only been on that horse a couple times. Like Cetoma, Promise has a rep for being calm and cooperative.

“I’ve heard we’ll have a pretty good warmup, and I think it’ll be fine,” Campbell said.

Like Smith, Campbell was super excited when she found she’d made the BC Summer Games.

“I jumped around a lot,” she smiled.

So much so that her mom worried she might injure herself.

“It’s a really big achievement,” Campbell said. “And it took a lot of practices and competitions to get it.”

Both girls are looking forward to the pomp and pageantry of the Games, which include more than 2,500 athletes ages 11-18, competing in 19 different sports.

But it’s a double-edged sword.

Maintaining proper focus with all the hoopla that surrounds them will be difficult.

“Before I compete I close my eyes and think about what I have to do,” Campbell said. “I’ll really, really have to concentrate because there’s going to be a lot going on.”

Each girl has different expectations heading into the Games.

Smith carries a bit of a chip on her shoulder, wanting to prove that she’s more than a wildcard.

Campbell is happy to soak up the experience and hopefully get a personal best.

“I don’t know what to expect, really,” Campbell said. “I think the arena will be very nice and I think it will be a great experience.”

See bcgames.org for info.

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