Equestrian vaulting is one of those sports that you don’t hear about very often.
A physically taxing athletic pursuit to say the least, the judged event involves competing in choreographed gymnastics and dance routines on and in harmony with a moving horse.
At competitions, equestrian vaulters perform compulsory and freestyle routines and can compete individually, in pairs or in a team of six riders, with three team members allowed on the horse at any one time.
“It’s just a really cool sport that keeps you active and it’s so different that it’s cool to tell people about it because nobody ever hears about it,” said Avery Malone, a 15-year-old from Innisfail who has been competing in equestrian vaulting for the past seven years.
Malone, who was the Alberta Sport Development Centre – Central’s Athlete of the Month in June, has been hooked on the sport from the moment she first tried it.
“When I was younger, I think I was in Grade 3, my best friend had joined vaulting and I had never heard of it before. So I was like well it sounds pretty cool. I just went to watch her practice and my coaches today asked if I wanted to jump up on the horse and try it and I loved it. I’ve been doing it ever since,” she recalled.
“I just stuck with it and kept doing it. There’s never been a day where I thought that I didn’t like it.”
This past year has been a successful one for the young Central Alberta rider, who competes out of the Meadow Creek Vaulting Club, which is just east of Olds.
“I compete provincially all throughout Alberta and into B.C. and then just last year I started competing internationally,” said Malone, who made the trip down to Gilroy, California this past April to compete, finishing sixth in the Junior 1 Star division.
This is the second year that Malone has made the trip down south to compete.
“It’s been a really cool experience. Last year just was my first time going for the experience to get a feel for it. This year it was a little bit more serious and I ended up placing pretty well,” she said of the trip.
“It’s been really cool to grow and just have that experience to go with my coaches at such a young age.”
That success has continued throughout the last few months, as in mid-June, the young performer competed at a big three-day event in Blackfalds, finishing fourth in Women’s Canter ‘B’ and helping her team claim the top spot in the team competition.
For Malone, there are some pretty big differences between competing internationally compared to competing in her home province.
“Competing provincially, for the whole seven years, it’s basically been the same people that I’m competing against, so the competitions are always the same, you usually know just about how you’re going to place. When I started competing internationally there were so many different people and they were so good at what they do that it was a really good wake-up call. You were like ‘wow I’ve got to start training now so I can get as good as the people that I look up to and the people that I compete against’,” she said.
In order to achieve that goal and reach the next level, Malone spends countless hours training both on and off the horse to improve her strength and form.
“It’s a lot of training. Especially when you’re an individual there’s a lot of body strength to keep you on there and then as a team it’s also a lot of hard work because you want to be strong enough to keep you on there while you’re lifting people above your head and flying them,” she said.
“You want to be confident enough that you can keep each other on the horse.”
When asked what it feels like to complete a complex manoeuvre on horseback, the Grade 9 student at St. Marguerite School in Innisfail said that it has become second nature to her.
“It’s a weird feeling at first for sure. I remember the first time I got on him, it’s a lot of movement that you’re not really used to. But I’ve been doing it for so long that it just feels right. When you move with the horse you’re in harmony with them,” she said, adding her relationship with the horse that Meadow Creek Vaulting Club provides for her makes things that much easier.
“The one horse that I compete on as an individual, I’ve basically been working with him for the seven years. So I know how he moves and he knows how I move, so we work together so well that it’s kind of like we know each other like the back of our hand.”
Now the focus for Malone shifts to the future, as her vaulting team strives to qualify for the Junior World Equestrian Games in Europe next year.
It won’t be easy, though. Each participating country at the Games can only send one team, meaning that in order to qualify for the competition, Malone and her teammates have to become the best team in Canada.
On top of that, they’ll also have to earn a qualifying score by participating in competitions.
“We’ve already been training together for a few years, so this year we’ve kind of kicked our training up a notch and we train two times a week together and then I think it’ll be more in the future,” Malone said, adding that the team will then be hitting as many competitions as they can in order to get their qualifying score.
But the difficult road ahead hasn’t deterred the vaulter from enjoying her current success, and she said she was excited to be named the ASDC-Central’s Athlete of the Month.
“It was really cool. This program has helped me so much. Just being Athlete of the Month has helped me get a lot of recognition through the papers and with my vaulting association. It’s just a really cool experience.”