At a horse arena located near the Greenbank Farm, two equestrians were honing their vaulting skills, balancing and tumbling atop horses.
Equestrian Crossings, which offers riding programs in Greenbank and Oak Harbor, is forming a team that will participate in regional and national competitions next year.
The national vaulting competition takes place in August 2014 at Eugene, Ore. The Equestrian Crossings team currently has two people, Jacque Diaz and Haley McConnaughey, but organizers have hopes to sign up more.
Vaulting is basically gymnastics on a horse that walks, trots or canters in a circle.
The rider performs a series of moves to music while atop the horse while a longueur(trainer) stands in the middle of the circle and ensures the horse maintains a consistent pace.
“The ultimate goal of vaulting is to move in harmony with the horse,” Equestrian Crossings Instructor Miriam Burk said. She highlighted the advantages of the vaulting program — it helps with social skills and it is a creative outlet.
Diaz, who is 31, has been vaulting off and on for the past five years.
“I’m just getting back into it,” said Diaz, who has spina bifida and has been in a wheel chair since she was 3 years old.
She learned about the vaulting program when she bumped into instructor Miriam Burk at the Oak Harbor Walmart.
She had previously competed in bowling and track and field in the Special Olympics.
“Vaulting is a new challenge,” Diaz said before practice.
Her teammate, 13-year-old Freeland resident Haley McConnaughey, wanted to compete in vaulting because it combined her love of dance, gymnastics and horses.
She has been participating in Equestrian Crossings programs for about a year. She learned of the program through her sister.
The two vaulters started their practice on an elevated barrel with pads surrounding it while their horsed were busy warming up.
Diaz said performing moves on the horse is easier because its gait helps her time the moves.
“I love the movement of the horses,” Diaz said.
They were riding Kirbey, who is a 15-year-old Percheron, and Radar, who is a 23-year-old Norwegian Fjord.
Burk said the two horses have been training for years and, with a third one in the wings, developing a team seemed like the next step for the vaulting program.
She said the team should ideally have 10 riders. That would allow competition in individual, pairs and team events that would include up to six riders.
Equestrian Crossings vaulting program has both competitive and recreational options. Burk noted that a 70-year-old woman will start recreational lessons next month.
In addition to recruiting riders, Equestrian Crossings is looking for sponsors and raising money to pay for the costs of competing and organizing a team. The organization has to raise around $2,500 per rider before the regional and national competitions.
Lessons, which also includes English and Western riding, start in September and the initial competitions begin in early 2014.
Equestrian Crossings offers riding programs and hippotherapy for people of nearly all ages, abilities and disabilities. For more information, contact Burk at 360-840-6775 or go to www.equestriancrossings.com