A New Twist on Horseback Riding: Orland Sisters Teach Equestrian Vaulting

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Once a week, Amy Tomczak and her 13-year-old daughter, April, climb on the back of a trotting horse and do handstands, somersaults and leaps, “painting pictures” with their bodies and music.

They’re learning the sport of equestrian vaulting – best described as gymnastics performed on horseback – from sisters Megan and Kristin Grove, owners of Equestrians in Harmony in Orland, California. Though the moves look spectacular, “they’re easier than you would think,” says Megan. 

Equestrians in Harmony offers lessons for a wide range of ages, from a Tiny Tots class for children as young as 4, to lessons for adults ages 50 and above. The Groves teach everything from sitting on a horse in every direction (one of the simplest vaulting moves) to more difficult positions like handstands and balancing on one foot on horseback.

Photos by Jess Croshaw Photography, www.jesscroshawphotography.com

Photos by Jess Croshaw Photography, http://www.jesscroshawphotography.com

“What makes our horse activity unique is the use of music,” says Megan. “We play with and express music like ice skaters or circus performers. It is an awesome way to be creative and have fun.”

Equestrian vaulting is excellent for strength and balance and builds confidence, Kristin says, especially for those who may be intimidated by horses. To realize that such large creatures are sweet and easy to handle can be a big confidence booster.

Beginners start learning the elements of equestrian vaulting on a stationary barrel, then move to the back of a specially trained horse that’s standing at a halt. Horse vaulters use a special piece of equipment with handles, called a vaulting surcingle. Once techniques are mastered, students begin working on a horse that’s walking, then trotting, and finally, cantering.

The horses are controlled by a “lunger,” a trained person who leads them in a large circle using a lunge line. “The sport of vaulting allows students to be around horses without having to be in control of the horse,” Megan explains. “You’re able to sit on a horse and experience riding without the added element of steering or using the brakes and gas pedal, so to speak,” she says.

Amy says vaulting is an incredible workout. “I noticed a transition in myself and my strength.” But most of all, she enjoys vaulting because of the time she spends practicing it with her daughter. “As a mom, to have my daughter ask me to do something with her means a lot,” she says.   

Despite the perception that equestrian vaulting may be dangerous, Megan believes it is actually one of the safest activities you can do on a horse. Horses are always secured on the lunge line and therefore cannot bolt away. Exercises are performed on “soft footing” and help prepare riders for a variety of situations, which can help if they are ever bucked off while participating in another equestrian activity. “You don’t panic, because wherever you land, you’ve been there before,” Kristin says.

Amy says she completely trusts the Groves. She’s proud to see her daughter participating in a sport and accomplishing goals she sets for herself. “It’s very safe. The horses are trained for what they’re doing,” explains Amy. “Megan and Kristin are wonderful young people with great hearts. They would never put anyone in harm’s way. Vaulting is a good activity for people of all ages and for all ranges of motion.”

Even those who have had bad experiences on a horse have ended up loving vaulting, Megan says. The horses – Shamus, Indy, Picasso, Sky, Adagio, and Pyro – are gentle and trained to remain calm in all situations.

The Groves have been on horses most of their lives; combined they have more than 25 years’ experience in vaulting, dressage and horsemanship. Their classes adhere to the nationally (AVA/USEF) and internationally (FEI) recognized form of vaulting, and include stretching; general fitness and strength training; gymnastics exercises; compulsory exercises; dance movement and freestyle exercises; and horsemanship skills.

Equestrians in Harmony is excited to begin their fourth year in business. Lessons are offered at Grove Farm in Orland and at Bidwell Horse Arena in Chico. They also offer birthday party packages and summer camps at Grove Farm. For more information visit their website, http://www.equestriansinharmony.com or call (530) 200-3944. 

Skye Kinkade
About Skye Kinkade

Skye Kinkade is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and mother of four lively children. She enjoys being part of a close-knit community that is so generous and kind in difficult times.

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