Sunday, April 18, 2010

On vaulting

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.

~ K

Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly. ~Edward Albee

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your reflections. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My daughter enjoys vaulting and is starting novice competition. I am trying to learn more about the sport.

    Also we are all student of life. It's great to have teachers sharing their experience.