Published 11:15 pm Friday, January 31, 2014
Many people would struggle to stay on a horse’s back if they were simply trying to ride it. A trio of youths from Suffolk regularly compete in the sport of equestrian vaulting, commonly described as gymnastics and dance on horseback.
It is an equestrian discipline recognized by the Fédération Équestre Internationale, and 16-year-old Erich Rohrer, his 10-year-old sister, Lucy, and Sydney Morgan, 15, compete on the Suffolk-based team called the Silver Moon Vaulters.
All three have competed for a minimum of five years and have notable accomplishments in the sport.
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The process that each of them executes when they mount a horse is a delicate one, requiring discipline and precision.
Cindy Rohrer, who started the team, said when it comes to equestrian vaulting, “The ultimate object is harmony with the horse.”
During a competition, a horse will move in a 15-meter circle, guided on a rope by someone in the middle of the circle known as the lunger. Rohrer fills this pivotal role.
“The lunger has to be in total control of that horse,” she said, dictating a steady pace while the vaulter performs.
“It is a team effort between the horse, the lunger and the vaulter,” she said. “There’s equal responsibility on their shoulders.”
Sydney and Rohrer’s children, Erich and Lucy, must first perform a series of moves on the horse during a compulsory round, in which they are judged based on set standards.
”The hardest thing for me is the mount,” Lucy said, in part, because of her height, which she estimates as 4 feet, 5 inches.
Subsequent moves require flexibility through rotation on top of the horse. Some require strength, for example, by the vaulter going up on a handstand, twisting in the air and then landing backward before swinging up again and turning face forward once more.
Erich said the handstand is the most difficult move for him. “Sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can’t,” he said. “It’s just one of those moves.”
When Sydney considers the most difficult thing she does in a competition, she said, “Probably standing.”
Competitors must show that they can stand on the horse while it is moving in the circle. All compulsory moves must be held for four of the horse’s strides.
Beginners execute moves while the horse is moving at a slower, walking pace. Vaulters who reach the higher levels of the sport advance past walking and trotting to the canter. This is the speed at which all of the Suffolk competitors operate now.
The one-minute freestyle round follows the compulsory, and Erich said it is what he enjoys about vaulting.
“It gives everyone a chance to show their creativity,” he said.
Performances are judged based on artistic performance, including music interpretation, and tend to be more fancy, featuring somersaults, handstands, shoulder stands and splits. Moves only need last for three strides, but compulsory moves cannot be used.
When Cindy Rohrer sees a video of her children’s performance, she is proud and able to fully appreciate it. As a lunger, however, she cannot watch during a round.
“I have to really concentrate on just the horse,” she said, or the pace will be lost.
Though risk is a part of athletic endeavors, Rohrer said vaulting is statistically the safest equestrian sport.
Already a regional champion on the East Coast, Erich placed fifth at the national championships last summer within the silver division, the sport’s next-to-highest grouping, based on skill level and divided by gender.
“He has accomplished more than most 16-year-olds can accomplish at that level,” his mother said. “There’s not many guys that stay interested in the sport.”
Sydney and Lucy are developing nicely, and both are competing at the bronze divisional level this year.
Previously, Sydney competed with the horse moving at a trot and was ranked second in the nation at that level.
There are also team vaulting competitions in which multiple vaulters perform together on the same horse. Two years ago, Lucy was part of such a team that won the trot-level national championship.
Erich admitted to fear when he initially approached vaulting, “but once I got on that horse, it just kind of clicked, it just felt right,” he said.
For Lucy and Sydney, because the sport involves horses, the required harmony comes naturally.
“I just love being on a horse, and it doesn’t matter how bad of a day it’s been,” Sydney said. “I can just sit on the horse, and it’s all gone.”