Sisters take equestrian vaulting to new levels

Those who enjoy equestrian vaulting liken it to gymnastics on horseback and if that sounds difficult you would be right.

Those who enjoy equestrian vaulting liken it to gymnastics on horseback and if that sounds difficult you would be right.

The Alberta Equestrian Vaulting Association held provincial and national competitions at the Calnash Ag Event Centre Aug. 7 and 8, bringing competitors from Alberta and British Columbia. The sport is growing steadily and attracts individuals and families to compete.

Sisters Angelique and Jeanine van der Sluijs were first introduced to vaulting in the Netherlands but when they moved to Olds there were few clubs for them to join. They helped start the Meadow Creek Vaulting Club, which has taken them to the international level.

“We were young and we just wanted to continue,” says Jeanine.

For her, the joy in equestrian vaulting is working so closely with her horse. She competes individually and as a pair with her sister. Their goal is to compete at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in equestrian vaulting in Normandy, France. Getting there requires practice.

“Most importantly is communication between the two of us,” explained Angelique.

Luckily they have always vaulted together and have 26 years of experience between the two of them. The sisters practice moves at home and individually on their own horses before riding on Phoenix together. The challenge for Jeanine is coming up with choreography they can use to their advantage.

“If she’s not ready for me then that can be a problem,” explained Jeanine.

“(It’s) how to put the routine together because we are both really tall,” added Angelique.

They are taller than most vaulters, which can pose some difficulty as they are on the horse at the same time but this does not seem to be slowing them down.

As a team the van der Sluijs have earned enough points to garner the second highest skill level; right now they are working on getting to the highest. To do this, the girls study vaulters who have already competed at worlds but also look at other disciplines such as gymnastics for ideas.

“We both decided this was one of the levels we wanted to achieve,” explained Jeanine.

They recently competed and placed first in a CVI Pacific Cup competition in California and intend to build up their points even more to claim themselves a spot for worlds. About 20 hours a week is spent doing dry land training and being on a horse. Jeanine has been vaulting for 20 years now and has earned herself an individual spot to represent Canada in France. She is the first Canadian to qualify for the vaulting at the games. “It’s just a really good feeling for me to know that I have my score.”

The sisters’ level is such that they ride in a canter and perform their routine for judges. They enjoy vaulting at a faster pace.

“There’s some moves that can only be done in canter,” said Jeanine.

Despite working so well together the pair would not be able to compete without their lunger Becky Marland. She handles the horse and guides the animal in a circle while the girls ride. Jeanine credits Marland for working so closely with them.

“She goes out of the way to give us the training that we need,” she said.

“She just gets so excited when we train,” added Angelique.

Vaulting is still a young sport and everyone in the family helps out, their mother, Marijke, printed the program, Jeanine coaches the younger vaulters and Angelique lunges for them.

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