Eighth-grader who loves horses gets a kick out of equestrian vaulting

You might watch the Kentucky Derby every May. When you watch those jockeys and horses speed around the track at a pace you didn't know was possible, imagine how hard that must be for the jockeys to stay on their horse.  

Now, imagine doing gymnastics on top of a moving horse. Let me tell you what this mysterious sport is. Equestrian vaulting is dance, gymnastics, and acrobatics on a horse. There are three levels — in the first level the horse is walking, then trotting, and then cantering. Participants first practice their routine on a barrel, then they try it on the horse.
My friend Teagan Keeler, who is in eighth grade and lives in Zeeland, loves equestrian vaulting.

“It challenges me in my athletic ability and it combines my two favorite things, horses and gymnastics,” she says. “Equestrian vaulting is fun and unique, and you can get very far in the sport and at the same time make tons of friends.”

Teagan is always talking about how much fun she is having at the barn. 

Competing two years

Teagan has been competing on the equestrian vaulting team for two years at AJS Farms in Holland. She found out about this unique sport when she went to a summer camp hosted by the farm. The camp provided a variety of lessons, including vaulting and barreling. The event that caught Teagan’s eye was vaulting.

AJS Farms offers recreational and competitive vaulting. On the competitive team, there are two options — compulsory and freestyle. Freestyle is when you make up a routine to your choice of music, and you get the option of having a partner. Compulsory is the standard routine every participant does to the same music. There are seven exercises (moves) competitors must complete and vaulters are scored on the technique of each one.
According to Teagan, the qualities of an equestrian vaulter are the willingness to push yourself and experiment, be strong mentally and physically, and have a positive attitude. A good connection with your horse is also necessary, she says, adding you can acquire that by petting your horse and giving them treats. 

Making it fun

¨You have to have a good coach, and the coach at AJS Farms is very experienced and makes it all fun,” Teagan says. 
An experienced coach will teach you the right techniques, and how to execute them safely. Before getting on the horse, vaulters practice their routine on a barrel so that they don't hurt themselves or the horse, and learn how to do the moves correctly. Teagan adds that it is an extremely safe sport, though, even at her level, she falls all of the time. But, she says, she gets right back up because she's having fun.
Besides safety, another factor is age and experience. Most people would hesitate to start the sport if they were older or younger than the average age, which generally ranges from 7 to 30.

Teagan says there are two teams at AJS Farms, one for ages 4 to 7, and another for ages 7 and older. The youngest vaulter on her team this year is 7 and the oldest is 30. 

¨I plan on doing it as long as my body will let me,” she says.

Read more articles by Ava Devanney.