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2002/11/20

National Champion Vaulter Performs At Equifair by Tom Burriss "How can you have something as challenging as gymnastics combined with something as spectacular as grace on the back of a moving horse that isn't the rage all over this country? We've got every kind of team sport you can think of--vaulting can and is a team sport. And we've got extreme sports which require dedicated practice and are dangerous--vaulting is all that and then some," observes Mid-South Horse Review columnist Don Blazer. "Twenty-five years ago I predicted vaulting would be a very big sport in America. I was wrong." Yet everyone was completely enamored with 19 year-old Mary McCormick's performance at the Equifair, held at the Shelby Show Place Arena on October 19 and 20th. This is something very new to the Mid-South. In fact, the team with which she competes and coaches, is the first and only one in Tennessee. Mary started Silver Star Vaulting (SSV) in Cedar Hill, Tenn. just over a year ago. Just about all the teams are in California and Europe. Only about one-quarter of the teams that exist are located between the Mississippi River and the East Coast. The bulk of the Eastern U.S. teams are from Virginia, (16 teams), and spread between Maine and New Jersey are another ten. In the South there are two in Atlanta and one that has just started in Florida. So how did Vaulting end up just north of Nashville. "My dad is in the music industry, so we moved to the Nashville area about 5 years ago." From California, that is. Mary is from the hot bed of vaulting, having been raised in the Northern California wine country. A career beginning at age eight, for seven years she worked her way to the top, having won six national titles, three with a team and three individually. In 1996 and 1998 her team was also good enough to be invited to the World Equestrian Games, a multi-venue competition for reigning, dressage, eventing, diving, and vaulting. She then moved with her dad to Middle Tenn. "I fell in love with [Tennessee] right away...lots of land and lots of horses," she says dreamily. It sounds to be heaven for her. For a while she "retired" from vaulting. After a few years off, she now leases 75 acres and has ten kids with whom she competes and coaches. To be involved, it does not matter what background a participant has; horses or gymnastics. "Either way is fine," replies Mary. "I did not have any previous experience in either when I started. Right now only three of the kids in her club have riding experience behind them. "It is a special sport that really does not require any previous experience at all, and it allows a person to progress at their own rate." A vaulter does not "operate" the horse, in fact a vaulter should not give the horse any commands while performing at all. That job is left up to a longer, whose job it is to continuously circle the horse in a smooth and consistent fashion while the vaulter perform. This dubious task has fallen to Mary's boy friend Bobby Steinruck, a Tenn. native, who was a trail rider before meeting Mary. Bobby had never done any longing, but "he has been working very hard and is doing very well," said Mary. "He really knows how to read a horse." Bobby also serves as the SSV team manager. Mary and the SSV's primarily use three horses. The right one, "is a broad subject," to discuss, according to Mary. There is no vaulting breed, but there are certainly vaulting characteristics. Among the qualities to look for are demeanor, size, and gait. Not to mention stamina. "Longing in a tight circle can be very hard on a horse. The horse has be able to do a lot of circles." A popular type of horse for vaulting are draught horses. You can imagine that the sheer strength as well as their size is very accommodating. "They are very wide, and that is helpful when three people are performing on their back." Not to mention, that the draught horses have a very smooth gait despite their size. Grace the big mare. She is a registered 6 year-old Percheron, and stands at 17.1 hh. She is still a little new, but has three excellent gaits and is very gentle and willing to learn. Star is a sorrel colored, 16 year-old, registered Quarter Horse gelding. He is 15.1 hh tall. He'll do anything asked of him. He has been shown Hunter Under Saddle, Jumping classes, Western Pleasure, Barrel Racing Speed, Trail, Team Penning, and a few others. He is extremely calm and patient, which makes him a great vaulting horse. Austin is an 8 year-old Quarter Horse gelding, stands at 15.2 hh and is very wide! He is a sweet and cooperative horse. He has a lot of spirit and is very athletic - but he is a steady mount and a lot of fun to ride. Six-year old Winnie is a fabulous Halflinger gelding owned by Wraywood Farm. SSV uses Winnie at vaulting practice, and has extremely smooth gaits. Captain is a beautiful QH/Belgian gelding who is owned by C. Thomas. He is the perfect size for vaulting, and he has an awesome trot. A variety goes into the vaulting horses and so does a lot of hard work and practice. One picture on the SSV website shows Mary leaping in the air from a horse's back. At least three feet separate the two. Despite being hardly an ounce over 100 pounds, the landing must be tough on a horse no matter the size. "It's 50/50," she replies. "The horse has to be happy with what you are doing with him, but a vaulter must learn to land gently. "I have to land gently and quickly get back into the rhythm of the horse. "They are wearing pretty thick pads on their back too." There are rules as to how much weight can be on top of a horse, 400 pounds. Mary did not talk about any 400 pound vaulters, but considering that up to three people can perform at one time, the weight can add up. "Before a competition, we have to weigh in, and we make up as many combinations as possible [with our team]. Any maneuver that is performed over 400 pounds is disqualified." The safety and welfare of the horses is tended to, but what about the riders. They are performing stunts and maneuvers over at least four to five feet in the air, on a moving object. "There is an inherent risk with everything," says Mary, "but vaulting has an excellent safety record. We emphasize safety first, and we do not teach a move until a vaulter feels comfortable doing that move. "I have broken an ankle riding a horse, broken fingers playing football, broken an ankle on a curb, but I have never been hurt vaulting," assures Mary. This year Mary represented the SSV team at the National competition in Livermore, California, August 14-17. Nationals this year was a big success. Mary did not have SSV vaulters ready for Nationals this year, so she was able to compete with her former California team Tambourine. The Tambourine/Silver Star B-team won their kur (freestyle), got 3rd place in compulsories, and ended up being reserve National Champions overall. Mary McCormick and Julie Keville entered the open pairs class and came in first place with the highest pairs score at Nationals. Mary won the National Championship in the individual women's silver division. Divisions are based on experience. Next year she will compete in the Gold level. "Once you win a division, you have to move up," clarified Mary. For now it is back to work and practice in Cedar Hill. "It is our goal to have a team ready for the nationals next year in Colorado," she vows. Vaulting classes are available on weekends and after 5pm on weekdays. They have classes available for all talent levels, from beginners to advanced, in either a group or individual lesson. She also teaches riding lessons, English or Western style, or help you work on skills you already have. If you need he help training a horse, she trains all types of horses, especially manners. She has worked with horses in all disciplines, but her specialty is Hunter/Jumper and Western Pleasure activities. Currently she has three Tennessee Walking horses in training. To contact Mary McCormick and Silver Star Farm call 615-696-1652 or visit her website at www.silverstarfarm.com.

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