Year 8 student Toby Mander performs gymnastics on the back of a moving horse and is part of the British championship team in the sport which is known as equestrian vaulting.
The discipline, which is most popular in Germany and Switzerland is gaining in popularity in this country and Toby got involved about four years ago. Since then he has competed in many competitions, most recently as part of the winning team that won the British Championship title in Glasgow earlier this year.
The sport involves a series of standard moves, known as compulsories, plus a round of freestyle, where gymnasts show off their skills. Team events last for four minutes with up to three people mounted on horseback at one time performing a series of moves. There are different levels. Toby competes in the pre-novice class which is held at a walking pace while more experienced competitors take part on a cantering horse.
Toby and his team practice for an hour and a half each week at Moulton College under the tutelage of coach Julie Newell. The six-person squad ranges in age from junior school students through to College leavers.
Toby said: ‘When I was in Year 5 my sister got into the sport and so I tried it and started training. Unfortunately my sister dislocated her knee and stopped competing but I carried on. We have had lots of competitions and this is the second time we have been British team champions. We have a couple of horses that we use. My favourite is Cody who is in the pictures as I was one of the first people to train with him.
‘Compulsories are moves that everyone has to do. They include sitting and then going up into a box shape which is quite easy. With freestyle you can handstand or people cartwheel from the horse’s neck onto its back. If you fall off you have to jog and catch up then get back on.’
Toby is planning to compete in the individual as well as the team events next year and he will be ramping up his training regime. ‘I am all right at gymnastics but I am better at doing it on a moving horse. I have grown up with horses so I have learned how to ride, but it is not all about riding. At home I practice on a barrel with legs as it is a similar shape to a horse. I don’t practice at home a lot but I do when I am coming up for a competition and we have about three a year. When I started equestrian vaulting people thought it was just vaulting on a wooden horse so when I show them pictures of it they are shocked!’