All the World’s a Stage -- And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances." 1
This is truly the case for the five Equestrian Vaulting Selection Trials. Each in its own way is a miniature performance, over and over for the period of a dozen or so weeks. From Herndon, Virginia to Saratoga, on to Woodside, then Somis; ending in Santa Barbara, California. Each trial is a drama of expectation, of dreams, and hard, hard work--a series of auditions for a prime time performance on the biggest stage of all, the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.
On with the show --
Megan Benjamin. Photo by Carole DwinellAct 1 : The Team. It’s pretty clear who will play the leading role in this year’s grand finale. The F.A.C.E. Team has captured each of the first three California Selection Trials portraying the bard’s Romeo and Juliet in a beautiful equine adaptation with both confidence and artistry. Traveling to Aachen was the group’s first road show this year, but they’ve done it before. In 2006 almost the same team took the silver medal in Aachen at that year’s WEG. Déja vu. This year after round one of compulsories and Freestyle, F.A.C.E. placed in the top eight and won a spot in the Nations Cup with the addition of Megan Benjamin and Patrick Stevens.
This event in vaulting involves each country being represented by an individual male and female vaulter as well as a team. The vaulting version of this event celebrated its premiere in Aachen three years ago according to their website. The F.A.C.E. Team’s fifth place at the final curtain on July 11 in Germany was a warmup for capturing the USEF/AVA National Championships back in Santa Barbara, California on July 30 and securing an unofficial place on the WEG roster.
Act 2 : Individual Women. Mary McCormick and Megan Benjamin of the Mt. Eden Vaulting Club are at the top of the rankings, with Woodside vaulters Alicen Divita and Katharine Wick rounding out the first four places on the list.
Vaulting as an individual, Divita gathered up her extra points with a win at Chilliwack and placing fifth at Krumke before going on to Aachen. Benjamin placed second in Ermelo, won in Krumke, then placed third at Aachen with her Nations Cup performance.
Mary McCormick on Sir Anthony Van Dyke. Photo by Carole DwinellMcCormick started early this year with an invitation to the Masters Class at Leipzig. Then by a very circuitous route via Philadelphia (cancelled)/home/Philadelphia to Amsterdam (cancelled) instead to Zurich then rerouted to Madrid in order to get to the Netherlands--all due to volcano eruptions in Iceland. She arrived the day before that competition in Ermelo, got on her designated horse and came in third!
The Woodside team with Katharine Wick won Aachen’s Pres der Sparkasse, the event for teams that did not qualify for the Nations Cup, those without the individual male or female vaulter. They went from second to first after the final round freestyle. The USA National Anthem resounded through the arena, music most welcome. Wick relished the moment. She has been working on her placing in the Individuals Rankings. The Chilliwack, Krumke and Aachen experiences, even though on a team rather than as an individual, gave her additional confidence. She returned to the U.S. to place 3rd at the F.A.C.E. Off Challenge and 4th at the USEF/AVA National Championships, adding to similar placings in the first two California Trials.
Act 3 : Individual Men. With top ranked Devon Maitozo committed to his F.A.C.E. Team, in the second through fifth places on the men’s ranking list are Todd Griffiths, Kenny Geisler, Kristian Roberts and Patrick Stevens.
Dr. Griffiths, with a dual citizenship, balances an active veterinary practice in Canada with flying down to participate in the Mt. Eden Trials, then later driving through the Rocky Mountains encountering bear and moose on the way from his practice in Ontario to Chilliwack for the competition there. Then he arranged for someone to cover for his practice to attend Nationals in Santa Barbara. It paid off. He’s in the top position for a WEG spot.
Todd Griffiths on Prophet at Chilliwack. Photo by Elite Focus Event PhotographyKenny Geisler, ranked #3 even though he completed on the Mt. Eden A Team, also competed as an individual just in case the team didn’t make the cut. An experienced, strong vaulter, he saved energy by competing only in California, with a win at the Region II Championships and always placed in the top three at the other Trials.
Fourth on the list, vaulting with Half Moon Bay Vaulters, Kristian Roberts has been consistent throughout the trials with solid performances that put him in top placings. As a competitive gymnast, he has a brutal workout schedule that includes gymnastics, weights, and workouts that take up a considerable number of hours a week. Again it is that commitment that is paying off for this young vaulter.
Another young vaulter, Woodside’s Patrick Stevens, is also coming into his own. Getting past some difficulties in the foreign competitions, he has always stepped up to the plate. Solid belief in his vaulting future and continuous improvement have marked his advancement as he matures.
Act 4: The Final Act in these preliminary theater pieces was the USEF/AVA National Championships held at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. Located in the same venerable location since 1958, it has hosted probably the widest variety of events in the history of equestrian competition and exhibitions. From the original Old Spanish Days and Fiesta Rodeo to dressage, rodeos, show jumping, and breed exhibitions, the facility is in the midst of an exciting renovation. This project includes two 125’ x 250’ regulation size covered riding arenas as a foundation rallies to support this “... irreplaceable treasure ... the essence of Santa Barbara’s equestrian and agricultural history and traditions.” These traditions date back to the area’s Spanish and Mexican heritage.
This year’s USEF/AVA National Championships carried on that colorful tradition in more ways than one. Ten years ago, the last time a vaulting event was held at the Showgrounds, the 2000 USEF/AVA Individual gold Men’s Champion was Devon Maitozo and the winning Team was the FACE Vaulting Club’s A Team. This year was a repeat performance, a call back. The F.A.C.E. (Free Artists Creative Equestrians) Team continued its dominance of the division.
Kristian Roberts on Hudson. Photo by Carole DwinellAs the 2010 National A Team Champions Devon Maitozo, Rosalind Ross, Annalise VanVranken, Mary Garrett, Mari Inouye, Emily Addison Hogye and Karly Frankel-Newman performed on Maitozo’s Westfalen gelding Palatine, they again presented their story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and a young girl’s dream of love. It was a fluid and moving rendition of reality and a dreamworld. Palatine, a large part of the flow with his steady balanced and rhythmic canter, was lunged with sensitivity and quiet authority by trainer Carolyn Bland.
Maitozo continued the theme of a dream in his individual gold freestyle performances with an audio of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, I Have a Dream, set to a strong musical background. It was more than enough. With the 2010 USEF/AVA Men’s Individual Gold Championship as well as the A Team medal in hand, his dramatic performances and deliberate choreography, combined with high compulsory scores, secured for him another star in his crown.
Still speaking of dreams, in Mary McCormick’s win at this year’s National Championship on Sir Anthony Van Dyke, she projected “champion” and the judges at this year’s Nationals competition rewarded her diligence and hard work with the blue. Her freestyle statement performed to “American Woman” by the Guess Who will be an appropriate production for the WEG stage.
With all these players in the wings, the National Championships confirmed the talent and ability of the vaulters who will join the others of the United States destined to appear in Kentucky. The first U.S. World Equestrian Games will have an international curtain go up on what will be the result of a year of incredible partnerships in performance between human and horse ... whatever the discipline.
As you like it--and you most definitely will.
1 As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-141) — Wm Shakespeare/Jaques
Photo Credits: F.A.C.E. National Vaulting Champions. Photo by Carole Dwinell
Megan Benjamin. Photo by Carole Dwinell
Mary McCormick on Sir Anthony Van Dyke. Photo by Carole Dwinell
Todd Griffiths on Prophet at Chilliwack. Photo by Elite Focus Event Photography
Kristian Roberts on Hudson. Photo by Carole Dwinell