Written by: Emily Kvitko
As they fly through the air, junior Grace and freshman Ruby Robinson are focused and in the zone. Landing a back flip off of a moving horse while ten feet above the ground is anything but easy. “There is simply no room for error,” Grace said. Through hours of intense training and determination and even after shattering her ankle last year, Grace was able to perfectly master this dangerous stunt. “Now it just comes naturally,” she said.
Described as a combination of gymnastics and dance on horseback, equestrian vaulting challenges the athlete’s sense of balance, flexibility, strength and passion. The vaulter jumps onto the horse and performs various movements with the body as the stallion circles the ring.
The girls certainly are not the only ones in their family to engage in activities with horses. “Our mom grew up on a ranch in Nevada and would ride horses everyday,” Grace said. “She wanted us to have the equestrian experience.” Tumbling around the gym since the age of three, the sisters discovered equestrian vaulting on accident. “It just worked,” they said, smiling.
Spending all day together doing what they love, the Robinsons have connected on a deeper level as sisters and friends. “I’ve done every sport in my entire life with my sister,” Grace said. She protectively worries about Ruby’s safety when Ruby executes risky stunts, particularly back flips in freestyle. “I can’t always watch and have to close my eyes because it makes me nervous,” Grace said.
Extreme flexibility and strong muscles are both requisite to perform equestrian vaulting. According to Grace, whether she’s in a handstand on top of the horse or physically supporting her teammates, all of her muscles are engaged. “It takes a lot of strength no matter what position you’re in,” Grace said. Ruby is usually the person being lifted. She battles gravity and holds onto control. “I’ve fallen lots of times and have been dropped before while flying,” Ruby said. “It hurts a lot anytime you don’t land on your feet.” As Grace supports her sister’s body from below, Ruby does the repetitive splits in the air. “I know she won’t drop me,” Ruby said with confidence. She believes that trust in a partner and oneself is key to maintain strong equestrian partnering. “I’d like to say it’s fun and makes you feel awesome, but you actually have to focus and keep track of your base,” she said.
From competing separately to competing in teams of six, the girls are incredibly involved. Like many sisters, they occasionally get into heated disagreements. “If we have to do something together, we’re both really competitive and determined,” Grace said. “We usually blame each other for things like falling off the horse.”
As August 2014 approaches, the girls continue train harder than ever to prepare for nationals. Equestrian competitions consist of three separate divisions: walk, trot and canter. According to the sisters, nationals hold the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win gold and qualify for the world game, where they would be competing at an Olympic level with some of the world’s best equestrian vaulters. Ruby has qualified for and competed in nationals before. Two years ago, she won bronze, and last year she took second place.
Through years together of perfecting dangerous moves, occasional fights and conquering fear, the Robinson sisters have grown closer than ever. Side by side, they share passion for their sport and believe that it sets them apart from others. “Equestrian vaulting is unique and different,” Grace said. “No one really knows about it.”
Grace believes that Ruby looks up to her and holds her at a high standard. “Ruby definitely sees me much better than I see myself,” Grace said. With each others presence, they have learned to overcome fear, but, nevertheless, it remains a part of them as they perform. “It has always been, and is always going to be scary,” Grace said.
As teammates, best friends and sisters, the Robinsons have expanded their horizons in different parts of life by learning from equestrian vaulting. “In terms of sports in general, it’s taught me a multitude of different things like working hard, balancing everything, being competitive, and accepting loss,” Grace said.