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Mt. Rainier Vaulters Combine Equestrian Skills with Gymnastics and Dance Prowess

The club, based in Buckley, gives kids who may not otherwise be able to afford a horse of their own, a chance to explore this equestrian sport.

Eleven-year-old Sadie Gusler is a busy middle schooler at North Tapps Middle School, participating in several sports there while also setting aside five hours a week to hone her vaulting abilities. What is vaulting, exactly?

"Gymnastics and dance on a horse."

Those six words encapsulate the essence of vaulting, and Gusler says it ranks high among her favorite things to do. "I meet a lot of new people from new schools," she said. "I love being around horses a lot, and it's just fun overall."

In terms of the people she meets, the Mt. Rainier Vaulters is currently made up of between 12 and 15 young people ranging in age from 8 to 22 who come from Enumclaw, Buckley, Bonney Lake, Puyallup and even Seattle, head coach Bonnie Kuki said.

"Mt. Rainier Vaulters has been around for nearly 15 years," said Kuki, who founded the Buckley-based club. "We're members of the American Vaulting Association which is the parent or lead agency for the vaulting community in the United States."

The club's trot team took first place in the 2009 national championship.

Most of the participants currently put in one three-hour practice on Saturdays, Kuki said, though those who are at more advanced levels do practice additional hours -- up to three times a week.

Kendel Edmunds, who was a 1979 women's world champion in vaulting and participated in international competitions from 1975 to 1992, was with the Mt. Rainier Vaulters last week to conduct a clinic for the club.

She is also qualified as a vaulting judge to conduct medal tests for vaulters as they ascend levels of difficulty. "The kids have to perform a certain number of prescribed elements and get a certain score, and then they're awarded their medals, or not," said Kuki. "Luckily all of ours did."

Since her active vaulting days, Edmunds said the sport has evolved in terms of the level of commitment it asks of its athletes. While she practiced perhaps two times a week plus weekends during her competition season, today's elite athletes are practicing five days a week, and they do conditioning on top of that for another three to four hours a week. "They are amazingly fit athletes, just like any other sport, which is great to see," she said. "So if you're going to reach that level, there will have to be a point where you say 'this is going to be my priority.'"

For most of the participants, as Gusler said, the sport is simply fun and a great way to meet people and be close to the horses. In fact, those who are interested in trying it out need not own a horse, which is a substantial expense for any family.

Some clubs own their own horses, but Mt. Rainier Vaulters do not. The horses are privately owned, Kuki said. For parents who might want to see if your children would take to vaulting, the investment is a "screaming deal" of $75 per month, per child cost that covers the Saturday practice times, she said.

Newcomers are always welcome. “We love to share the sport, and the kids are the best ambassadors," Kuki said.

For more information, visit www.mtrainiervaulters.org.

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