Cooperstown teen Sarah Feik competed in a national equestrian vaulting competition the weekend of Aug. 9 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Feik, 15, started vaulting when she was 8 years old, she said. She was the first student at Zemi Farm Vaulters, a Hartwick vaulting club started in 2012 by Cody Moore and MacKenzie Waro.
“I was just at the barn one day, and MacKenzie asked me if I wanted to try vaulting,” Feik said. “I asked her if I could stand on a horse, and I was in.”
The sport is anything but simple: it involves doing gymnastics and dancing atop a moving horse. Vaulting can be an individual or team sport. In team competitions, up to three vaulters may be doing a variety of moves on the horse at the same time, according to the American Vaulting Association’s website.
Feik’s scores in the regional competition in Virginia, which was held the last weekend of June, qualified her for the national contest, she said. Adjusting to a different horse — she couldn’t bring the one with which she usually practices to St. Louis — was a challenge, though the St. Louis horses were bigger, which gave her more surface area to work with, she said. Feik said she enjoyed meeting more experienced vaulters and learning from their techniques. The scoring system is 0-10, and she was able to raise her score by a full point, she said.
Feik said she practices once a week with the team and keeps her skills sharp by using a barrel with handles at home whenever she can. One of the keys to vaulting is developing trust and harmony with the horse, said Waro, who is Feik’s vaulting mentor. Another crucial thing when it comes to vaulting, she said, is mastering the art of falling. Each vaulter can develop his or her own emergency dismount, but they must always land on their feet away from the horse. Feik’s technique is to tuck her head in and always try to land on her feet, she said.
Waro said Zemi Farm Vaulters has about eight kids per year ranging from 7 to 22 years old, and no prior horse experience is required to get involved. One of Waro’s 7-year-old students, Hailey Zabelicky, also competed in St. Louis and won first place in her division for the “walks” competition, she said.
Feik’s next competition will be a regional one in Pennsylvania in September. Next year’s national competition will be held in Massachusetts, Waro said, which is significant because they are rarely held on the east coast. There will be a team vaulting demonstration at the Cooperstown Equestrian Park Open House at 3444 County Highway 11 in Hartwick. The open house starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7.
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.