Becoming a national champion was not what 13-year-old Rebecca Clark expected. But she’s No. 1 for the sport of vaulting at trot speed. Clark only started riding a horse 11 months ago. “You have to be able to move with the horse,” Clark said.
Other girls with Lakebay’s Emerald City Vaulters leapt high above their expectations as well.
Janet Cultum, 16, took third place behind her teammate. The 11-member team took 12 top-10 honors away from the meet, including four in the pairs contest. “You have to have flexibility and balance,” Cultum said.
Different talents are expressed on the back of a horse. Learning to balance, flip, and turn atop a moving horse teaches people something about themselves, said team trainer Tammy Denault.
“I’ve always felt,” said Janet’s mother, Mary, “that for young people looking for a thrill, standing on a cantering horse fits the bill. “Janet’s always been fond of a horse, and I’m not. They’re a very large animal.”
Denault watched two of those large animals learn about their riders. Thunder Road is a 10-year-old Lippizan/Percheron cross draft horse. Storm, 7, is a full-blooded American Bashkir Curly, which Denault breeds. It all came together over the last few months at her Dreamswept Farm. Few of the team members own horses. She provides them.
Becky Olson, 12, said they practiced about eight hours a week during school and more during the summer. That includes mastering the acrobatic exercises of disciplined horse mount, riding in seat, flag, windmill, scissors, stand, and full flank. All while trying to make it look effortless.
There are compulsory aspects of vaulting. More thought and creativity goes into the freestyle competition. Like ice skaters. “Think of those girls at the circus,” Mary Cultum said. “Except they’re not very good,” Denault said. “They’re just doing the compulsories.”
When a horse trots, it’s a bumpy ride, a side-to-side motion. The horse, though, is supposed to have an even cadence in movement. “I started to walk (horses). I was incredibly afraid,” said Jamie Clark, Rebecca’s pairs partner. They placed second. “Now I’m begging the coach to do canter. But it never just comes.” All the girls light up when they are given the chance to canter during practice. They feel the need for speed.
The national competition was in Massachusetts this year, held at Denault’s alma mater. Her team outpaced the girls her mentor brought to the meet. “Yeah, that was satisfying,” Denault said. “We laughed.”
The horses and most of the competitors traveled across the country by car and trailer. They stayed in dormitories. Not all the parents made it, but they heard about achievements quickly. Maureen Morlang is one of the mothers. She brought Rebecca Clark out to vault as one in a long line of foster children to care for. She still has about five to seven at a time. Bu Rebecca Clark has found a home on the Key Peninsula.. The Morlangs are near the end of the adoption process for her. “She learns by watching, she’s a natural,” Morlang said. “I’m just blown away that she’s this talented.” Clark has fun living one of her dreams. “I used to sit and dream of being able to ride a horse,” Rebecca Clark said. “Now I have more than I can ride.” “She was thinking of stopping vaulting,” Morlang said. “But I don’t think you could drag her off now.”
Members of the Emerald City Vaulters national trot team achieved the following success:
By: Temple A. Stark
From: The Peninsula Gateway, September 5, 2001