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Chantilly Group Competes In Once-Olympic Sport of Vaulting

Topaz Vaulters is a team of vaulters, who perform gymnastics and dance on the back of a moving horse, based in Chantilly.

Even though no longer an Olympic sport, Topaz Vaulters from Chantilly still keep the sport of equestrian vaulting alive and competitive.

Vaulting is a sport that combines gymnastics and dance on the back of a horse. One, two or three vaulters perform on a horse at a time while the horse is led by a longuer, a person whose sole job is to control the horse.

Vaulting has been used as a demonstration in the 1984 Olympic Games in L.A. and in 1996 at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. There are no current plans to return it to the Olympic Games but Appel-Bucierka said groups are making an effort to get it re-instated.

“We’ve been trying and trying and trying,” Appel-Bucierka said. “We’re all pushing to try to get vaulting back as an Olympic sport.

Obtaining Life Skills through Vaulting

Topaz Vaulters was started by Chris Appel-Bucierka. She began vaulting after obtaining a horse named Topaz when she was 29 years old, and she has been teaching vaulting for the past thirty years.

The team at the moment is small, but Appel-Bucierka said the team is looking for new members all the time. She said Topaz Vaulters is competitive, but she stresses the importance of life skills obtained through team vaulting.

“The philosophy of our group is to build good kids who help each other grow and teach each other,” appel-Bucierka said. “If they happen to have success along the way, that’s great.”

The team is not strictly limited to children. The youngest team member is 10 years old and the oldest is 60. Topaz Vaulters takes new members of any age or skill level. Appel-Bucierka said in some ways it is better when vaulters join without any prior experience.

“The best place to learn to ride a horse is through vaulting first,” Appel-Bucierka said. “Vaulting teaches the person how to use their body properly and how to be secure on the back of a horse.”

If any previous experience is favored, it’s dance. Appel-Bucierka said vaulters are “doing the ballet on the back of the horse. Dance is good.”

As with any high intensity sport, there is a concern surrounding risk of injury. Topaz Vaulters is a member of the American Vaulting Association, which has strict rules to ensure safety.

“We are the safest equestrian sport because the horse is under control by somebody else and we don’t use horses that hurt people,” Appel-Bucierka said. “I call vaulting horses legally dead because they are so bump-proof.”

As another measure of safety, Topaz Vaulters keeps attendance at the request of the American Vaulting Association. Each injury has to have a report filed and teams cannot renew registration each year until the proper paperwork is filed.

Members of Topaz Vaulters do not have to compete if they do not want to. The team’s competitive members attend multiple competitions throughout the year, including two held locally. Topaz Vaulters co-hosts and runs a Spring Fest and Fall Fest with Great Falls Vaulting Team. There competitions are held in May and September at Frying Pan Park in Herndon.

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