Nationally ranked equestrian vaulter Genevieve Downen is a 13-year old from Longbranch better known as Genna to her teammates, the Harbor View Vaulters, who train and practice on Key Peninsula. The seventh-grader earned the American Vaulting Association National Bronze for her first-place bronze highpoint score in 2018. Teammate Isabella Fetters, a 15-year old from Port Orchard came in just behind Genna for the year, winning third place bronze highpoint. Awards were presented at the association’s annual symposium at Enterprise, Nevada, in March 2019.
The highpoint award is determined by averaging the top three scores earned by vaulters and their horses in regional competitions with teams from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Equestrian vaulting is a combination of gymnastics and dance with handstands, flips, splits, spins and arabesques all performed on horseback. The horse is trained to move in circles around a handler who holds a long rein, called a lunge line, to gently communicate with the horse––when to walk, trot, lope or canter at a gait suited to the rider’s skill level––as if the handler was riding the horse.
Each competitor completes a series of compulsory exercises and a freestyle section where they perform individualized routines that are choreographed to music. Execution and form are evaluated on a 0-10 scale.
Genna said she prefers compulsory to freestyle, because “I feel more stable and there is less chance of falling off. But I am working to build my confidence.”
Indiana Jones IV, Genna’s partner in competition, was named the 2018 American Vaulting Association Horse of the Year, also earning regional highpoint and national bronze highpoint awards. “Coach Lori has such a bond with Indy, the trust he has with her is exceptional,” said parent volunteer Dan Fuller, also an experienced handler for the club.
“Indy is a 21-year-old Percheron thoroughbred cross who has been vaulting with us for the last seven years,” said Lori Robison, coach and owner of Four Winds Riding Center in Wauna. “He’s one special and very loved horse; it’s a pretty great gig being a vaulting horse.”
The Harbor View Vaulters team practices year-round at Four Winds, with members coming from as far as Poulsbo and Snoqualmie. Several parents called it testimony to the value in Robison’s training, coaching, and the good attitude she inspires. The parents go the distance to support their children’s dedication to a sport many hope will become an Olympic event.
When his daughter Jane, 14, expressed interest in vaulting, Jon Eidukas of Snoqualmie said, “My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘What? Standing on the back of a horse while it’s moving? Isn’t that dangerous?’ But we did our research and found it’s statistically safer than many other sports.”
“Our family first learned about vaulting during the KP Farm Tour,” said Anna Downen, Genna’s mother. “We didn’t have time to see all the farms, but Genna loves horses so we thought we would visit Four Winds and let her pet a horse.”
Impressed enough that she wanted to take riding lessons, Genna began vaulting at age 10. She’s set a goal of qualifying for the Junior World Games when she reaches the 14-18 age group and hopes to ride in the World Equestrian Games when she is 19.
Genna estimated she spends about 13 hours a week practicing at the stable and at home she is “on the barrel every time I’m free.”
She said dance and martial arts training helped her develop body control and core strength. She said her core strength was developed in taekwondo, and she recently earned her black belt. Her father, Mark Downen, is a taekwondo instructor at the Tom Taylor YMCA in Gig Harbor.
“My goal for 2019 is to have fun, not worry about competition, and create a solid freestyle that scores well,” Genna said. “What is so cool is that I have a chance to do something that is kind of cool—it is different. I am doing something that most people don’t get to do.”
In April the team completed their first fundraiser of the year, a fiber and leather drive. On the weekend of May 10 and 11, they will have a rummage sale at Four Winds in the hopes the team will be headed to St. Louis, Missouri, for the next national competition.