When the van der Sluijs family moved from the Netherlands to Olds, Alta. in 2001, the three teenage daughters were excited.
“We’d heard that Alberta was the horse capital of Canada,” Jeanine van der Sluijs says. “My older sister, Masha, was a talented rider, and my younger sister, Angelique and I were very involved in competitive equestrian vaulting. We assumed it would be easy to find a vaulting barn nearby where we could continue with our sport.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. At that time Alberta had no competitive vaulting clubs so it soon became apparent the family would have to manage on their own.
“My mom, who hadn’t grown up with horses, learned to lunge our vaulting horses,” van der Sluijs says. “And my sisters and I began to train our own horses for the sport.”
Before long the family was hauling four days a week to the Olds arena. Here they worked five hours at a time, practicing, training and coaching basic vaulting lessons.
“My dad finally decided we needed a riding arena of our own,” van der Sluijs says. “So he built a big, heated arena on our dairy farm.”
This barn has since become home to the Meadow Creek Vaulting Club, which currently has 20 members ranging in age from five to 25. Here the family teaches weekly vaulting lessons, plus practices and trains on their own horses.
The family’s first vaulting purchase was a Trakehner/Oldenburger gelding named Kavalia.
“Any breed can do the job,” van der Sluijs explains. “We look for certain temperament traits more than a specific breed. We need horses that are calm, willing and tolerant of activity. We’ve had success with Warmbloods, Paints, Quarter Horses and Thoroughbred/Draft crosses. And different levels of vaulters have different requirements. Our beginners prefer smaller horses with a really easy canter to ride. These beginner horses have to be very tolerant of people crawling over them.”
The van der Sluijs sisters are fairly tall, so they prefer bigger horses. “At our level we look for horses with a smooth canter that has a bit of swing,” van der Sluijs says. “Our horses only vault twice a week; otherwise we do a lot of cross-training that includes trail riding, dressage and jumping. A horse can be used for vaulting for many years if you don’t overdo it. Take Kavalia, who’s now 15, and still doing well.”
In 2010 Jeanine van der Sluijs competed as the only vaulting Canadian at Kentucky’s World Equestrian Games using a horse borrowed from the U.S. team. “Our own horses weren’t ready to compete at that level,” van der Sluijs says. “So I spent a month in Colorado before the competition training on their horse. We placed 18th, so I was very pleased.”
Then in August 2012 Jeanine competed as the lone Canadian athlete in the FEI World Equestrian Vaulting Championships held in France, this time mounted on a Dutch Warmblood owned by the Scottish team. And in October 2012 Jeanine and Angelique competed in the VaultCanada National Championships held at Ponoka, Alta.
“Most of the time vaulting is done solo,” van der Sluijs says. “But this time Angelique and I did a pas de deux demonstration, which is freestyle vaulting for two people. Our goal is to compete together at a world level in pas de deux at WEG in 2014.”
Carolyn Latimer, mother of a Meadow Creek vaulting student, values the van der Sluijs family and raves over vaulting. “When you see a vaulter perform a cartwheel on the back of a cantering horse, or a team performing lifts to create a magical performance, it goes beyond sport and becomes theatre!” she explains.