Vaulters Fly - Show Jumpers Do The Unexpected

Thursday, October 7, 2010

So, today is a mixture of Vaulting, Para and Show Jumping.  I’m going to mostly talk about vaulting but will just touch on the disappointment I feel about our show jumping riders.  Of course Laura Kraut and Cedric going clean was a huge high.  But McLain Ward and Sapphire having two rails down was just so unexpected.  It was a great night for the Gold Medal German team, the Silver Medal French team and the Belgians in Bronze.  Even the Brazilians had an amazing day with Rodrigo Pessoa and HH Rebozo leading the pack.
For the U.S. you just wonder what went wrong.  Lauren Hough’s and Quick Study as the first to go in began the surprise when three rails dropped.  We knew that meant the rest of the team had to go clear.  The Mario Deslauriers and Urico crashed through a combination and pulled up at the next fence; they ended up on 13.  With that we knew it was a sure bet we weren’t going to make the medals, but we still had McLain and Sapphire.  When Cedric was clear it seemed she was setting the stage for Sapphire, but then when those rails dropped his dream and ours faded.

Enough about show jumping.  Today I am going to talk about Vaulting.

I started the day out with the Vaulting, which I don’t know a lot about and so I was learning as I watched the Team and Individual Male Compulsory competition.  Each team enters with 7 members and a longeur who longes the horse.

Vaulting is all about gymnastics and dance.  You can also get a sense of those who have a dance background by the way they move and those with gymnastics skills show a lot of strength when they maneuver from one position to another through a handstand.  The more powerful vaulters seem to be able to hold the handstand just slightly longer.  There is no doubt that vaulters must be very physically fit.

Everything the Vaulter does is being judged including the mounts and dismounts, the various required movements and the way they work with each other (when vaulting as a team or in pairs).  Judging is done by six judges surrounding the round arena.  Three of those are watching and judging the vaulters while the others are judging the horse.

When it comes to the horse, the best ones are those that are strong and calm with a smooth and consistent gait.

The horse and longeur enter the arena first and then the vaulters enter in a synchronized “gallop” (probably more like a canter) into the arena.  They all line up and then bow.  Then the Vaulters move to the outside while the longeur puts the horse on a circle and into a canter.  

Once the rhythm is set the vaulters begin, each one doing the seven compulsory moves to choreographed music (Mount - Seat - Flag - Mill - Scissors - Stand - Dismount).

As a photographer I was aware of a couple of things.  First I wanted to look for the cleanest background when shooting.  Then it was which moves were the most dramatic.  The compulsory moves aren't quite as captivating as when they do their freestyles but the dismounts often create a great picture and also when they transition from move to move.

The crowd was small in the morning but by the afternoon the Alltech Indoor Arena was quite packed and announcer Brian O'Connor alerted us that for the Freestyle the seats will be sold out.

In between each round the rakers would go into the circle to freshen up the footing for the next Vaulter.  If you've been reading the updates I included from the Vaulting Discipline Director Kersten Klophaus you have a sense of how much effort was put into preparing the footing the Vaulters are vaulting on.

The Vaulters have a time limit in which they must complete their vaulting and once that time is up the whistle blows.  The whistle also is blown for a compelling situation.  In fact for the team from Argentina a vaulter landed badly, the whistle was blown and a medic was called.  She was unable to walk at first but was hanging with her team later.  So, all seemed okay.

One of my favorite teams was the one from France.  They had a syfy look to them with a tiny one leading the way.  They did a creative triangle format to enter and cool music and cool looking hair, especially on the pint size one.

They were followed by the U.S. who were even more creative.  The U.S. leotards were terrific - all white with swirls of red and blue - and their entrance and bow were very creative.  In the end they took over the lead with 7.207.  Germany was right behind with 6.997 and then Austria with 6.99.

Vaulting has a history to it which can be traced back to the Roman and Minoan cultures.  They were also featured in the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp (then called Artistic Riding).  

Over the years the scenario has changed and today the competition is quite competitive and includes team, individual male and female, and Pas de Deux, where they compete in pairs of two.  The level of competitions ranges from 1* to 4*.  Competition tests may include the compulsory moves, technical tests and freestyle (or vaulting to music).

Vaulters choose their own music to match their style of vaulting and they also choose the uniform design.  It's been an FEI recognized discipline since 1983.

In the Men’s Compulsory Gero Meyer from Germany took the lead with Kai Vorberg from Germany next.  That was the end of Vaulting for me as I went to shoot the hunters performing.  It’s late now because the Team Show Jumping was a night time event.  So, I’ll close for now and be back again tomorrow.

All Photos by Diana DeRosa