Horse vaulting has been around for several thousand years, and has since evolved into a sport. In Pierce County, the only vaulting club in existence is located on the Key Peninsula. The club is officially recognized and member of the American Vaulting Association. In all of Western Washington, there are only about a dozen recognized clubs.

Julie Robison, 16, lifts 5-year-old Dominique Reichl while they practice pairs’ freestyle as part of the Harbor View Vaulters Team. Photo by Mindi LaRose

Today, vaulting is an equestrian art of gymnastics and dance on a horse. It predates modern gymnastics and was devised by the military as a means of moving and having the hands free. It is good for balance, self-confidence and fun, and can be competitive.

Lori Robison, the trainer of Harbor View Vaulters, has had her team for a year and a half and loves every minute. Kathy Seelye is the coach, assisting the team with all the difficult moves.

Robison’s daughter, Julie, started at age 7 and is now 16, the oldest member. The youngest is 5. The club meets for two hours three times a week and the girls are very dedicated to what they do. Draft horses are used for this delicate work, as the broad back gives good support for standing maneuvers. Three horses comprise the team: a Percheron, an American Bashki and an 18.2-hands-tall Belgian, Joey, who has the most training. There are eight vaulters and they perform in an outdoor arena, so caution is used during inclement weather. Plans are under way for a covered arena.

Vaulting is like ice skating, Robison says, in that there is a compulsory and freestyle component. In compulsory, each vaulter must complete a round of seven strategic moves whereas in freestyle the vaulters can devise their own routine to music. In both components, the horse moves in a circle and the vaulter leaps on, performs, and leaps gracefully off.

Last May, the Harbor View Vaulters attended a registered vaulting show in Chilliwack, Canada, where three horses and five riders performed. In August, Joey and a vaulter will be traveling to Wattsonville, Calif., for competition. Robison said vaulting is a tight community, with vaulters relying on helping each other even when they are not on the same team. She says a show is two days and covers different events from beginners to trolling and a cantor.

In addition to training her team, Robison is a registered psychotherapist in Tacoma and did recreational riding for 10 years before her love of horses incited her to start the club. She used to run marathons and triathlons. This fall, Robison plans to open equine assisted therapy sessions, which will encompass the use of both of her skills.

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