Gymnastics on horseback: Elizabeth Osborn rated top female equestrian vaulter in U.S.
Elizabeth Osborn is the top woman in her sport in the United States — based on points earned in U.S. competitions — and yet still has gone virtually unrecognized. She even has to explain what vaulting is.
For those who require that explanation, vaulting is "a combination of gymnastics and dance on a moving horse," says Osborn, 18.
Osborn, a resident of Menlo Park, placed eighth overall on Aug. 3 at the Federation Equestre Internationale World Vaulting Championships in Brno, Czech Republic. She is currently competing in the U.S. National Championships in Watsonville, California.
Osborn trains at the Woodside Vaulters club, and is not the only Woodside Vaulter competing internationally. Ali Divita of Emerald Hills competed with Osborn at the World Championships and placed 16th overall.
According to Osborn, a vaulting competition has four rounds. First is a compulsory round, followed by a freestyle round. After these two, the competition is cut to 15 competitors.
The final 15 then perform a technical round, which is a combination of the compulsory and freestyle routines. Like the compulsory round, vaulters must complete five different moves, but as in the freestyle round, vaulters can choose the order of their routines.
The first of the five moves is the roll mount, when the vaulter moves from the ground to mount the horse on its neck as the horse trots. Next is the backward stand, when the vaulter moves to a standing position on the horse facing backward.
Third is the cartwheel move in which the vaulter rolls from the neck of the horse to its back. The shoulder stand is a move similar to a handstand, but as the name suggest, on one's shoulders while the horse canters. The last move is the needle, which Osborn describes as "like doing the splits on the side of the horse." This move tests the strength and flexibility of the vaulter.
After this technical round comes the final round, which allows for another freestyle routine.
In all of the rounds, not only are the vaulters judged on their technique in performing the moves, but the horses are also judged on the quality and consistency of their gait.
Both Osborn and Divita rode Pikkolo, the horse they usually use in European competitions.
Because vaulters are performing gymnastic and dance moves on the horse, Osborn says it is important for a vaulting horse to "have a nice gait and a smoother canter. The horse must also be "consistent," she says.
Though performing shoulder stands and other moves while on a galloping horse might seem dangerous, Osborn insists vaulting is not as hazardous as it sounds.
"You work up to your level. You don't just start out doing really hard things," she says.
Osborn says she has never injured herself vaulting, but a friend of hers once broke her arm. Still, she says this is the only incident she knows of in which a vaulter got injured.
Osborn graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School in June, and will attend the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio in the fall. When she leaves for school, that will be the start of a one-year break from vaulting when she will see how heavy the school load is to "see if I can fit [vaulting] in with school."
If she decides she is unable to balance school with vaulting, she plans to take time off school to train.
The World Equestrian Games, which occur every four years, will be in Kentucky in 2010, and Osborn says she wants to compete in the Games.
"It's like the Olympics of vaulting," she says.
For now, Osborn has her last major competition in the U.S. National Championships. Osborn says that she has never won the Nationals and this may be her last chance, "so winning would be nice."