Central Alberta’s Jeanine van der Sluijs is one of the veterans of the sport of equestrian vaulting which is easily described but much more difficult to be good at.
“It does take a lot of practice but that’s kind of the neat part about it,” said the 26-year-old. “It makes for an exciting spectator sport.”
The athletes are limited to what they can do on the back of a horse only by their imagination and skill level.
“You can do all sorts of moves, facing all different directions, all the way up to skills such as cartwheels, handstands and back flips off the horse.”
The relationship with the horse is probably the biggest part of equestrian vaulting because the judges are looking for a real connection between the rider and the animals, he said.
“We spend a lot of time working on really feeling the horse, having a good connection and making sure that all the movements you are doing are in harmony with the horse so you are moving as one.”
She has worked with a couple of horses over the past few years but one in particular named Kavalia, which she will ride this week at the national championships in Ponoka.
The two have been a team for about seven years now and through that period of time each has found out what exactly the other is good at within the sport and then you try to highlight those talents during a competition, she said.
A sixth place finish at the CVI Cup in California last month was good enough to earn van der Sluijs a spot in the World Championships next year in France.
“It’s still more than a year away so lots of training time in between but it’s very exciting to have the score already and I can start planning on going.”
The effort in California though was on the back of a horse named Oliver and van der Sluijs says working with different horses is part of the challenge participants face within the sport.
She feels the sport is growing in popularity but admits it’s difficult to get new clubs going because there are so many different aspects to equestrian vaulting and it takes a lot of training time to get the horse ready.
There are about five active clubs in Alberta with another two preparing to start up and she says it’s exciting to help them out while growing the sport.