When Tammy Denault, owner of Dreamswept Mountain Resort and coach of the Emerald City Vaulters, pulled out of her place with two horses, Yellow Storm (ABC-S-495), and Thunder Road, a half-Percheron half-Lipizzaner mare, she knew it would be a long, hot ride cross-country to Massachusetts for the National Vaulting Competition. The four members of the team accompanying her, (the other seven team members would be flying out), ranged in age between 12 and 14. The kids were very excited, as none had been out of Washington state before. This was a big adventure for them, and what an adventure it turned out to be. There was extreme heat all across the country, a tree falling only two car-lengths ahead of them during a thunder and lightning storm in Montana, tornado warnings in the Midwest, and rainstorms on the East Coast.
On the long drive, Tammy had time to reflect about her long career with vaulting. Her introduction to the sport came at Mt. Holyoke College, where she was earning her degrees in psychology and education. She smiled, thinking how things seem to go full circle, as the national vaulting competition was being held at her alma mater, and her students would be performing for her former teachers.
Tammy has spent the last 15 years coaching and training vaulting horses, which must have a smooth, consistent gait. This is what makes Curlies ideal vaulting horses. Along the way, she earned her certification with the EVA (Equestrian Vaulting Association) of BC as an equestrian vaulting trainer. Tammy, with her college roommate, Jodi Dohmen, formed the Emerald City Vaulters, the oldest American Vaulting Association club in Washington state.
Many people associate vaulting with bareback riders at the circus or with trick riders in the movies. However, vaulting is the sport of gymnastics on horseback set to music and is a recognized discipline by the Fédération Equestre Internationale for international competition. Participants are judged on a set of compulsory moves and a set of free-style moves, called, in German, a kür. There is competition for individuals, pairs, and an entire team. It’s one of the few sports where men and women can compete on the same team, and where all learn balance, movement with the horse, gymnastics, and music interpretation. Most importantly, vaulting requires trust and teamwork between the vaulters, the horse, and the longer, who controls the horse moving in a circle on a longe line. In this competition, Tammy would be the longer.
To break up the long journey, Tammy told her vaulters about the rich history behind vaulting. It started as a way to train the cavalry of the Roman Empire and the knights of the Middle Ages, and it acquired its name la voltige from Renaissance France. Vaulting was included as artistic riding by cavalry officers in the 1920 Olympics and was later demonstrated at the 1984 and 1986 Olympic games.
Finally, they arrived and settled in with the rest of the team. They knew they’d be competing as a trot team, as they had too few members ready to compete at the canter level. It didn’t matter. The competition would be stiff. The team had been preparing all year, perfecting their compulsory moves, choosing music for individual kürs and pairs, and perfecting their team kür to a medley of Mary Poppins songs. They’d attended clinics in the summer to work with Colin Schmidt, a world competitor from Canada; Nikko Tanaka and Jodi Dohmen, silver-medal competitors; and Tames Alan, a retired dancer and choreographer. Everyone thought nationals would be a good learning experience for the team.
Yellow Storm, a Curly, had long been everyone’s favorite horse for compulsory moves because of her smooth gait. She never missed a step, and even the judges commented on her way of going. Thunder was used for the team kür, as she would have up to three vaulters on her back at one time. Both horses were used for the individual kürs and pairs part of the competition. There was much excitement when the team took first place in the compulsory moves, thanks in part to Storm’s even pace.
Then they took a first in individual kürs and did very well in pairs. It was all coming down to the team kür. There was much anticipation as the team warmed up with a dance routine they learned that summer, and everyone prepared for the event that would decide the national championship. All went well until one team member fell off the horse, but the team had been trained by pros and continued with the competition. Imagine their surprise and elation when the scores came in, and they saw they’d won the team kür despite the fall. The Emerald City Vaulters had just become the US National Trot Team champions for 2001!
There was much celebrating, and Tammy, always one for education, made sure to find time afterward to take the kids to historic sites before heading back West with the trophy and experiences of a lifetime.
For more information and pictures of vaulting, visit Tammy’s web site at: www.oz.net/~tdenault and the American Vaulting Association at www.americanvaulting.org.
By: Tames Alan
From: Curly Cues, November 2001