As vaulters, it is easy to feel a bit like the forgotten demographic of the equestrian disciplines. Sponsorships, though not as easy to come by in equestrian sports, are handed out to the dressage riders and show jumpers, the eventers, the reiners. Many countries have national coaches for their dressage teams, but not for their vaulting teams. Why doesn’t vaulting get the respect it deserves? Well, as it turns out, there is one club that has been working tirelessly to put vaulting in the spotlight, and while they have been wildly successful, they agree the work is far from over.
The Voltigierzirkel (Vaulting Circle), a booster club for vaulting that has been a major part of the scene for 25 years, is widely known across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. However, few who live outside of these German-speaking realms understand the significance of the club to the sport: it has been a major lobbying power. We asked Felix Bender, head of the club, to elaborate on this.
He puts it simply: “The primary goal of Voltigierzirkel is to promote the sport of vaulting.” But such a simple goal is not easily accomplished; as Felix himself says, many booster clubs have attempted to do this and fizzled out. What has made Voltigierzirkel so successful? What is the model they have used to propel themselves to success? I will cover this more in detail in part two, but let’s get to a couple of the basics.
“Voltigierzirkel e. V. is absolutely independent. In other words, we are only accountable to our own members. That gives us a lot of freedom how we develop our working mode,” says Felix. Every two years, Voltigierzirkel holds a sort of vaulting conference known as the Voltigiertagung in Germany (Altleiningen, to be specific). Here, they have a number of lectures, seminars, workshops, and the like that are tailored specifically to the Voltigierzirkel members. “We don’t have to obey any directives ‘from above’”, says Felix. In addition to being a fun and information-rich opportunity for both professionals and amateurs in the sport, the event serves another extremely important purpose: networking.
When asked about the reasons to pursue membership in the club, Felix emphasizes the importance of this networking power. “The most important [reason to join] is to give the vaulting sport the greatest lobbying power possible. If every individual is left alone to drum up recognition and media exposure, this is very tedious and inefficient. If the vaulters, trainers, judges, etc. unite to use a common voice, it’s much more effective.”
One of the founding members of the Voltigierzirkel, international judge Ulrike Rieder, understood very well the important concept of teamwork when it came to promoting the sport. “Every time I talk about the early years with Ulrike Rieder, I hear about how strongly she believed in, and still believes in, the great potential of the vaulting sport. This includes the possible benefits brought by the active vaulters and coaches and their horses, as well as the possible media presence. Vaulting was traditionally seen in Germany as a children’s and youth sport, and the age limit [of 18 years] was strongly contended. The Voltigierzirkel saw this “small fold” of the sport critically from the outset, and had to endure many conflicts with the German FN. Without the founding members of the Voltigierzirkel, the sport would certainly not be as developed as it is today.”
This goes without saying. By smashing the age limit imposed on the sport, Voltigierzirkel and its lobbying power revolutionized vaulting. Its methods employed over the years have been wildly effective, both with regard to its success as a club and its success with its primary goal of promoting the sport of vaulting. I will expand on this more in part two, and share Voltigierzirkel’s idea for the next step in promoting the sport.