It takes guts, determination, perseverance, and practice to carry out acrobatics on the back of a moving horse. The sport of vaulting combines all of these qualities and more, pushing athletes to new levels.
Attracting children as young as five-years-old, vaulting offers a unique experience while building a foundation of skills.
“Some people already have a dance or gymnastics background, but they happen to have a love for horses. They like doing things with other people and then it comes together for those combined reasons,” said Naomi Weber, director of the Koot-Neigh Vaulting Club.
During the summer season Koot-Neigh flourishes with 24 vaulters offering outdoor lessons four days a week. Once winter begins the club moves their lessons indoors so their vaulters can train year round.
“I think that people are attracted to horses, performance, athleticism, and team. You need to be interested in all of those things for it to kind of gel with you,” said Weber on the sport.
Vaulters of any age who are new to the sport begin at walk, undertaking basic moves known as compulsories to build a foundation of skills.
After moving on to more challenging exercises vaulter’s then advance to the next gait which is a trot, where the horse moves faster and bouncier giving the rider more lift to manage and utilize.
“You can start working a bit more on harmony and the flight exercises, but at that level when you change gaits you go right down to the bottom of the difficulty scale so that you are rebuilding from what you did at walk,” said Weber.
After building their skill following the trot, vaulter’s move on to what is known as canter which is where the horse moves faster adding more centrifugal force and lift speed for acrobatics.
The competition season in vaulting begins in May and runs through October with events taking place in the Lower Mainland, Alberta, and Washington.
The Koot-Neigh Vaulting Club plans to attend roughly seven competitions throughout the outdoor season.
“Most of the competitions are offered at all levels so a beginner can go and compete and they are just competing against their level. They will have lots of fun, achievement, and success,” said Weber.
Vaulter’s who train with the local club are not expected to compete in every competition.
Some participate in only a couple while others participate in the sport at a recreational level practicing, having fun, and taking part in demonstrations in the community.
Run by the duo of Weber and her daughter Korynn, Koot-Neigh Vaulting Club has been in business for eight years and offers therapeutic, recreational, and competitive vaulting.
The name Koot-Neigh is based on the aboriginal name of the region where the club exists, while the spelling gives the club a fun and unique name.
“When we moved from the coast here it was the sport that we had found that was working for our family, so we decided to start a club here,” said Weber.
Her daughter teaches and competes in vaulting and has just finished her first international competition in Chilliwack.
“For me the reward is seeing that she can give back and that she is coaching and supporting other people,” said Weber.
The therapeutic side of the club offers individuals with challenges such as cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, and fetal alcohol syndrome the ability to work on mobility, flexibility, and strengthening of specific parts of their body.
“There’s all kinds of benefits working on your balance, core, and spatial awareness when you are on a moving animal,” said Weber.
The clients taking part in therapeutic training aren’t necessarily doing all of the tricks, but they sit and balance sideways and backwards while the horse is hand lead or on a line.
The horses in vaulting do not need to be of a special breed or size; they just have to want to be with people and willing to try new things.
“The kind of horses you need for this sport need to be level-headed, fit, sturdy, and they need to be kind hearted,” said Weber.
The horses are as involved in the challenging sport as their vaulters. At times they are required to maintain their pace, rhythm and balance while the vaulter hangs off their backside or sits on their neck.
“The horses are very much involved. They’re not just a surface. They have to adjust constantly to the vaulter’s activities,” said Weber.
At Koot-Neigh, the horses are part of the family. In order to be well-rounded, happy and healthy athletes each horse spends a lot of time doing other activities such as hills, trails, dressage, and jumping.
For the first time, the club will be hosting their very own vaulting competition on August 16 highlighting vaulters from the area.
“The horses bring out qualities in people that sometimes other activities don’t. We found that time and time again with some of our vaulters that in other sports or activities they were shy or they were afraid, but now they’ll go that extra mile or have that extra motivation or enthusiasm to push through some of those challenges because they want to be with the horses,” said Weber.
Upcoming demonstrations for the club are on June 21 at the Pass Creek Grounds and July 6 at the Sunshine Bay Riding Grounds for Fun Days.