We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~T.S. Eliot, 1943
I used to be an international competitor; I was the first person to compete at the international level from my country in the sport of Equestrian Vaulting. After my own career as a vaulter didn’t exactly take off, I became a coach. True to my nature, I wanted to immediately be the best coach I could be. Vaulting was my life; I dreamed and breathed the sport. It affected everything I did, my educational choices, my career turns, even my relationships. Vaulting defined me; it made me who I was and I gave it my all.
And vaulting gave back. I had the privilege to coach an exceptional bunch of individuals in two countries, to attend several World Championships, European Championships, Equestrian Games, shows, performances, and national titles. I formed lifelong friendships, visited foreign countries. I even met my husband through vaulting.
It was an exceptional twenty years in the sport. I was unarguably very good at what I did. My team won a bronze medal from the World Championships to prove my competence. I was a sought clinician, a known figure in the sport.
Then I moved to Switzerland with my family. I continued to be involved in the sport, but rather than being in the middle of it, I was now on the fringes, doing occasional clinics, going to competitions as a spectator rather than a participant. And suddenly all of it didn’t seem so important any more. Sometimes you have to create a distance to see more clearly. And the farther the distance, the more I could see what really had happened when I was part of the sport, what the real sacrifice had been.
I met an old vaulter a few weeks ago and was lucky enough to spend some time with her just talking. She is still involved in the sport and asked me if I ever missed coaching vaulting. I had to think about that question for a while before answering. Yes and no, I said. I don’t miss the part of training the horses and doing the actual vaulting, I don’t think I am cut to do that anymore. And it’s not only that I don’t believe in bits and side reins and such, but rather that I don’t believe in using a horse to fulfill human dreams about competition and fame.
I know, I know - I did it myself for years. Do I think my vaulting horses were suffering? Honestly, I don’t know. I would like to believe they weren’t, but truth told I probably did exploit them, more or less. We all do our best to give our horses a good life, and our vaulting horses could not have been loved and cared for better, of that I am sure. But, I did train them with one sole goal in mind: making my team the best in the world. So - in this respect, they were merely tools of an ambitious human. I wish I could go back and do it differently, but then again I’m not sure it can be done differently with the same results.
And that is the dichotomy: I don’t regret my years in vaulting, but I do feel guilt about being so blind about the horses. And this brings me back to the original question. Yes, I miss coaching vaulting. I now coach floorball and gymnastics, but when it comes to coaching a sport, nothing can replace vaulting. Another sport can give you the same feeling of community, the feeling of making a difference in a child’s life and a similar sense of accomplishment. And even the part about perseverance and team work and strength – it’s all there with other sports as well. But vaulting takes you to a whole other level of self-discovery only those who have been part of it can truly understand. Vaulting is not just a sport; it is a lifestyle, something that sticks with you for as long as you live. How could I ever regret being part of that?
What I know for sure is that I influenced the lives of several young girls and boys over the years, and the influence was positive. In fact, in some instances it may have been life-altering. And I dare say that the horses involved knew it too and were participating in the process. Because the horses were and are what makes vaulting special as a sport. Without the horses the experience would be completely different, merely ordinary. I’m sure it would still be good, but with certainty I can say it would not be as profound.
Perhaps this sounds like an attempt to justify my own participation in something I now consider questionable. Could Trix, Flora, Dan Cake, Jealousy, Socks, Caneel, Hunter, Juliet and Donatello - just to mention a few - have known what they were doing for those children or for me? I believe they did. And true to their horse nature, they willingly gave to us humans, to help children and adults alike find the dream they were looking for.
Will I ever coach another vaulting team? I think not. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand others who will.
Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly. ~Edward Albee