Five young women came together from across the U.S. to give competitors and spectators a taste of high-level vaulting at the 2008 Palm Beach Dressage Derby CDI-W/Y and they only had two days of practice to put it all together. "We're all from different teams. We come a couple days before our demo and we practice and put the routine together," said Annalise Van Vranken, 16, of New Jersey.
Van Vranken is a member of the Shooting Stars vaulting team in New Jersey and competed at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany. She's been vaulting for 10 years and said it's the perfect blend of her two loves – horses and gymnastics. The vaulters who come together for the Derby exhibition call themselves the Friendship Team. Other team members this year were Lois Dennison, 17, of Massachusetts; Lisa Zielenske, 17, from Georgia; Sarah d'Auriol, 15, of Virginia; and team coach Greta Shryock, 25, from New Mexico.
This was Dennison's first year with the Friendship Team. "It's really fun because I don't usually get to vault with the people I'm working with here. It's a good experience to get on a different horse and try different things and see what works. It's a good team sport and it's fun doing something like this with other teenagers."
D'Auriol is the youngest member of this year's team and, like Van Vranken, she also competed in the 2006 WEG, but for France as she's French. She loves the sport and the travel that comes with it. "I like meeting new people and traveling to new places. I always make friends at competitions." D'Auriol said that competing at the WEG "was pretty exciting. It was neat." She also trains in gymnastics five times a week.
For Zielenske, vaulting was her only real option for equestrian competition when she moved to Georgia. "I love horses and when we first moved to Georgia that was the first horse sport we found and I fell in love with it." She's come to the Derby in the past as a "helper" to the Friendship Team. This is the first year she's with the team as a member. "I like this chance to vault with people more my level."
Shryock is the most experienced of the group with more than 15 years of vaulting behind her as both a competitors and performer. "I competed for 15 years and now mainly do performance vaulting as I'd rather perform than compete." She said getting on the Friendship Team is by invitation and most consider it an honor. "I've been on every Friendship Team since 1996."