PART 1: A Small Big Equestrian Country
We at VaultingNews have a partnership with German vaulting magazine Voltigierzirkel and they gave us a challenge for their next issue: To write something about vaulting in the Netherlands.
I first thought that wouldn’t be that much of a challenge: The Netherlands are an equestrian power house and they are more and more present at the vaulting scene by hosting important competitions, such as the annual CVI Ermelo or the 2015 World Championships for Jrs.
I then decided to reach out to Carola Sneekes, a well-known member of the Dutch vaulting community, to learn more about her and about her plans for the year to come. And wow! She had a lot of cool stuff to share with us, it was truly inspiring to learn more about her passion for horses and vaulting, she is very involved in her project of raising two new horses from scratch. And, as far as a big equestrian culture goes, vaulting in the Netherlands seems to be much harder than one would imagine.
Carola was very nice to talk to us and answered all our questions in detail. We have decided to split her answers into two posts, this is the first one and we will talk mostly about the Netherlands and the second part will be mostly about horses. Horses, horses, horses. She seems very passionate about them.
We will publish part 2 after the next VoltigierZirkel magazine is out.
1. The Netherlands are traditionally a powerhouse in equestrian sports. Always ranking among top teams in sports such as jumping. Where do you think that leaves vaulting? Do you think that it is easier for the sport to grow in a place that already has such a strong horse culture? Or do you think that people are usually focused on the more traditional disciplines and vaulting ends up being lost?
This is a hard question to answer. I can only guess I suppose, because I don’t know how it would be if the Netherlands weren’t strong in dressage and jumping. I think, without any proof of my thoughts, for vaulting it is a disadvantage.
Off course we have a lot to be grateful for. Such as the huge amount of knowledge about how to train horses properly and how to get the best possible preparation for competitions. I know, for example, that there is a very good program for the junior vaulters in the Netherlands at this moment. But the counterpart is, as you mentioned, vaulting doesn’t get attention from the media, any riding school or even horse-literature, because the traditional disciplines are always better. That is a pity for two reasons; first, only through seeing our sport people get to know it, and more (young) children will be joining clubs. Second, there are quite a few companies interested in sponsoring equestrian sports, but since we are not as successful, almost all the money goes to the other disciplines. In Holland vaulting is a very small discipline and I think the major challenge is to get it into the spotlights and make it bigger. Only if that happens we can be as professional as we want to be.
Furthermore, there is the fact that our federation wants us (vaulters) to get the same qualification scores for the big events (CVI, EC,WC, world cup) as the other (bigger) disciplines do. So it is very hard for us to qualify and many vaulters get discouraged, lose confidence and do not even try.
2. You hold one of the most important events in the vaulting calendar (CVI Ermelo) do you think that increases the visibility of the sport? Do you see effects of that in an increase of interest from the general public or increase in new athletes or something like that?
No actually I do not see that. We have a very big CVI, but the only spectators that are coming are already in the vaulting family. Mainly because our federation centre (where the CVI is located) is in the middle of a forest and there are no big cities are anywhere near. And there is no advertising for the CVI, so ‘normal’ people (non-vaulters) do not even know it exists.
3. A few teams in your country have a hard time organizing themselves to practice because each of the members train in a different city or the horse is from a different club and and it takes a lot of effort and communication to get, for example, to the level you had in Aachen 2015. What do you think are the biggest challenges you have to overcome to vault there? Is it not having enough vaulting horses, not having enough horse trainers, clubs, vaulters etc?
Actually I can tell you quite a lot about that 🙂 I am in such a team myself. As mentioned, vaulting is a really small discipline in The Netherlands.
For example I am in a club which belongs to one of the biggest clubs in Holland. But we only have 24 vaulters. There are two clubs “near” to us, both over an hour’s drive away, in different directions. One has 13 members, the other only 7 as far as I know. You can imagine it is hard to gather 6 talented vaulters when the basis is so thin. Our federation thought about a solution and made it possible to vault in two different teams from two different clubs. So every vaulter can join the team at his or her own club, and be in an advanced team with members from different clubs at the same time.This makes it possible for the clubs to keep their teams together (and not lose their best vaulters to another team) and at the same time to get some higher level squads who can do CVI’s. The team I am in is the team which went to Aachen and Le Mans the last two years. We are composed of members from 3 clubs. Last year we trained on a horse from yet another club, because we didn’t have a good horse, and they did have a horse, but no high level team, so they lent us the horse. This horse was located precisely in the middle of the 3 clubs (75 minutes driving for all of us) so this was actually perfect. Only because the horse also carried his ‘home-team’ we could only do training once every two weeks.
This year Cynthia has bought a new horse from Spain, and we are training at her club. So this means way more traveling for Roxanne, Esther and me, but the possibility to train whenever we want. So Dianne, Sofie and Renske are training on this horse twice a week, and the other three join every Friday, because of the distance.
The main problem in our country is, as mentioned, not enough clubs and vaulters. But something which I think is also really important is the lack in training for coaches. If a coach wants to get more knowledge or skills, he has to go abroad because there is no way to learn something like that in Holland. And bad coaches make bad vaulters. Luckily there are a lot of highly motivated coaches who make a lot of efforts to improve but there are also a lot of people who want to learn but do not have the opportunity to get the knowledge and therefore stay at the same level. And there is a group of coaches who forget that vaulting starts with basic skills. For example one trainer recently asked me if I could teach a pupil to flank into handstand, because she was very talented and already had a good swing. So I asked the girl to show me her handstand on the ground, and she just looked at me and told me she was afraid to do a handstand on the floor without someone holding her. So I asked the trainer how she thought the girl was going to be able to do handstand on a horse when she was too scared to do a normal one, and the trainer admitted she never thought about that since the girl was already going so high with her swings. This is an extreme example, but I do see a lot of vaulters getting stuck in the higher levels because they never learned the basic skills.
4. For a long time in your career you vaulted alongside your sister. How did that work? I imagine that if I vaulted with my sister it would become some sort of war. Were there moments when it would get too hard?
Well, actually Esther and I get along quite well together.
Of Course there are moments that we fight, and moments we can’t stand each other, but 99% of the time we are a good team. We know each other very well, and thereby we know when the other one is tired, annoyed, happy and so on. And we just let the other be who she is, and that works fine. The times when we fight are always when we are both very tired or having stressed. So that can happen a little more just before championships 😉
And in retrospect all of our fights are based on bad communication. This is the same with our mother (and lunger) actually. I am hugely grateful for what Esther has done for me. When Milo was ill, and when he died, I didn’t have a horse to train and compete on. So Esther lent me her horse, thereby dividing her training-time by two. She degraded her training by helping me, and I think that is something really special. Off course now that I have two horses she can practise on mine whenever she wants as well. We are competing against each other on CVI’s but it doesn’t feel like that. I am happy when she goes well, and she is happy when I do. We are a team with two members and both happy when the other member gets good results.
This was part 1 folks! Part 2 will be out next week and it will be mostly about rasing and educating horses.
Talk to you soon!