Cover Photo credit: Naomi Morgenthaler

Ilaria Luna

Ilaria Luna. Credits Jamie Humphreys

This 2022 season added a new dimension to my vaulting experience: I participated in my first international competition (CVI) on non-American soil. CVI Flyinge, which took place from July 1st through 3rd in Sweden, was an unforgettable event, certainly with ups and downs but also with amazing memories.

Photo Credits: Nienke DeWolff

In preparation for the most advanced competition of my so-called vaulting ‘career’, myself and a group of other athletes from all over the United States first trained for about two weeks in Wapse, Netherlands, at Nienke De Wolff’s beautiful facility.

Head of DeWolff Vaulting & Sporthorses , Nienke, a former vaulter herself, graciously welcomed us and let us borrow her horses both for training and competition, preparing an intense program of daily practices on her “Movie” (a moving barrel) and on the horse every other day. We worked hard with the help of Daniel Janes and Emily Rose (who also brought her horse Eldoctro to Europe from California), both bronze medalists at the 2021 World Championships for the team event (and Daniel also winning another one for his pas-de-deux with Haley Smith).

Photo Credits: Nienke DeWolff

Also training at Nienke’s were Averill Saunders, who at only 18 years old has already been selected to represent Canada in the senior World Championships in Herning (DEN), and Mhairi Hume, who represented Great Britain at the 2022 World Championships as well. I was there among these extremely accomplished athletes, along with other vaulters from California, Michigan, and Colorado!

Photo Credits: Nienke DeWolff

We met the lovely DeWolff vaulting horses–Christmas PSZ, Wallis, and Icarus, who have accompanied vaulters from all over the world to international competitions and junior and senior world championships. After a week full of strength training, stretching, running, but also a trip to a waterpark, among other things, we said goodbye to Daniel, Emily, Averill and Mhairi, who left for the renowned CHIO Aachen, with the hope of being able to go and see them compete a few days later. Actually, we were very lucky and, after managing to gather enough tickets and accreditations for everyone, the seven of us set off on a three-hour drive to Aachen.

Breathtaking vaulting performances at CHIO Aachen

Photo credits: Naomi Morgenthaler

Since 1924, CHIO (Concours Hippique International Officiel) Aachen has been regarded as one of the most prestigious international equestrian festivals in the world, hosting competitions in various equestrian disciplines at the highest level (show jumping, dressage, eventing, four-in-hand driving, and vaulting). With an expanse of vendor tents that seemed almost endless and an arena overflowing with spectators, it was just a magical experience. Not to mention the breathtaking vaulting performances that I was very fortunate to be able to watch: Lambert Leclezio who seemed to be  floating in the air (with his fully deserved 10 for the artistic score), Manon Moutinho who danced effortlessly in harmony with the horse, Thommy Brusewitz holding handstands as if he were standing on his feet, and Sam Dos Santos, who earned a silver medal at his first Aachen despite being only 16 years old! Impressed and inspired, it was finally our turn to compete: this time in Flyinge, Sweden.

Flyinge’s CVI debut

After a five-hour drive, a nine-hour ferry crossing, and another half-hour drive, we arrived at Flyinge Kungsgård, Sweden’s national equestrian center, which also housed the royal stables of King Charles Gustavus X in the 1600s. This center, which is one of the oldest in the world, is also recognized for its work in selecting and breeding Swedish warmbloods.

Photo credits: Naomi Morgenthaler

The facilities were beautiful, having retained most of their historic features and, interestingly enough, also housed large nests of storks on their roofs, birds that have almost become a popular attraction by now. I had never competed in such a large arena, so I was pretty nervous, and the amount of countries represented at the CVI was surprising compared to the US, where often the only foreign participants are Canadian vaulters. In Flyinge, though, there were even athletes from Australia! But still, I did my best and really enjoyed myself. I was able to appreciate the rest of the competitions, admiring pas-de-deux, teams, and individuals, who, even in my category, performed wonderful routines.

Photo credits: Naomi Morgenthaler

…one of the things I love about vaulting: the sense of community that binds us together wherever we are.

The atmosphere was outstanding…When the vaulters we knew entered the arena, we were clapping and cheering so loudly  that we drowned out the announcer, and to hear others do the same thing for me and for the other two vaulters when it was our turn to compete was just electrifying. I don’t think I will ever forget that. At Flyinge I also met and reunited with some of the nicest people I know–that’s one of the things I love about vaulting: the sense of community that binds us together wherever we are.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who made this experience possible–Daniel Janes, Carolyn Bland, and especially Nienke and the adorable Icarus 🙂 Although I may have come home without a blue ribbon, I was full of gratitude and good memories…and also got back with a slightly heavier suitcase, weighed down by a brand new DeWolff jacket!