Dancing with Horses

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By Rachel Nohe

Equestrian Vaulting is a high-intensity sport that requires a significant amount of upper body strength. Athletes must be able to perform gymnastics-like maneuvers while riding a horse. As an ambitious high school student, life can sometimes get tense and overwhelming. However, when Ainsley Sadler is on her horse, Benji, all that tension naturally releases from her body. Although she had no previous background in horseback riding, Sadler picked up the sport relatively quickly because of her history with cheerleading. In terms of familiarizing herself with horseback riding, Sadler made sure to build a connection with the horse: “I had to focus on not only adapting to myself, but adapting to him as well.”

Ainsley Sadler

Sadler has not always been an equestrian vaulter. She was previously a competitive cheerleader. However, over time her love for the sport became tedious. Longing for something new, the high school student discovered a passion for vaulting unexpectedly. She said, “I watched this movie that I had just rented from RedBox, and it was called the Horse Dancer. The film talks about equestrian vaulting.” Not realizing it was a real sport, Sadler became curious about the niche activity. Not long after researching the sport, she joined a local equestrian vaulting club.

Ainsley Sadler

Although her passion for vaulting is strong, school is her main priority. “I’m in the IB program [at Unity Reed High School]which is kind of like the honors program. It is definitely very rigorous…I go and practice with the horse only once a week, and all the other training is done on my own.” She continued, “It’s a common misconception that training can only be done on the horse. However, that is not true at all.”

Just like humans, horses have their own schedule; they are not always readily available to use. Sadler said, “So that means that some of the training has to be done at home.” Practices can include strength exercises and stretching. Sadler also uses a barrel, which is a stationary object that mimics the horse’s back. She uses the tool to familiarize herself with the routine before she works with Benji.

Thanks to equestrian vaulting, Sadler has traveled up and down the East Coast, and it has also introduced her to an incredibly welcoming and inclusive community. Sometimes she is not able to bring her own horse to competitions that are far away, however, other riders have offered their horses to her in these situations.

Ainsley Sadler

Sadler was recently awarded the Student Athlete Scholarship by National Society of High School Scholars  (NSHSS) for her achievements in equestrian vaulting. This highly prestigious scholarship recognizes students who have shown dedication to their respective sports. Out of all the 500+ applicants, Ainsley was one of 10 students who was awarded a $2,000 scholarship.

Sadler recently committed to attend the University of Virginia. She plans on studying biochemistry on the pre-med track. Unfortunately, competitive vaulting does not exist on the collegiate level in the U.S. However, she hopes to continue vaulting on the weekends through a club about 30 minutes away from campus. Sadler is resolute that school will always come first, but adds, “My hope is definitely to maintain my skills, and no matter what I’m doing, I know it is going to include horses somehow. If I am able to ride that is good enough for me.”

Ainsley Sadler


Rachel Nohe is a contributing writer for Prince William Living.







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