When Haley Smith is finally done competing for the year, she’s going to eat some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. It’s a fitting reward for months of intense weight training, scrupulously toning each …
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When Haley Smith is finally done competing for the year, she will be at the top of her game.
All the hard work will have paid off: Gymnastics classes twice a week to strengthen her core and sides; long, uphill runs for leg strength; dance classes in between everything else.
And with all that, she still had to find time to sync up with her competition partner, Diva, the 15-year-old Oldenburg horse.
Smith is a competitive vaulter, the equestrian event that is essentially a combination of dance and gymnastics components on horseback. Competitors, sometimes three at a time, commit a series of choreographed moves on the moving horse for a score determined by judges. The circus-like performance requires an incredible amount of strength and attention to detail.
Smith, an 18-year-old graduate of Legend High School, competes at an elite level in the sport. She will compete in front of thousands, along with her pairs partner Daniel Janes, at the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) World Equestrian Games, beginning Sept. 11.
“She got here from hard work,” said Smith’s coach, Carolyn Bland. “She goes and gets the job done no matter what, even if it’s a small mistake she finds a way to continue on her program.”
In 2016 she competed in her first world senior competition in Le Mans, France. A junior at Legend, Smith traveled to California on the weekends to train with Pacific Coast Vaulters, one of the top vaulting clubs in the nation.
Sharing time between school and competition became difficult. With the help of her teachers at Legend, she was able to miss significant school time while keeping her grades up.
In the 2016 Le Mans senior-division games, her first international competition, she finished 11th.
Smith eventually made the full move out west in the middle of her senior year at Legend and completed online classes to get her diploma.
“I’d say the biggest struggle with that was leaving my friends behind,” Smith said. “My high school friends and football games and homecoming — all that stuff. But I never regretted moving.”
But even then, no amount of hard work guarantees success. Smith missed the qualifying cut for the 2017 junior world competition in Austria.
After her disappointing run in 2017, Smith, as the saying goes, got right back on the horse — a new horse, Diva.
“I knew that I was going to have to step up my game because this year a lot of vaulters are eager to go to the equestrian games, so I knew I had to build my strength training,” Smith said. “Just my overall I knew I had to be a lot better.”
Now, Smith finds herself at the pinnacle of the sport. The FEI World Championships is the highest level of international competition for the sport. Leaders in the sport are pushing to get vaulting into the Olympics; however, for now, vaulting will have to remain on the fringes of obscurity.
Smith is one of those leaders — albeit, a young one. Her dedication to the sport is transmitted to everyone she encounters, whether in competition or in training. She helps train younger riders and give back to the sport she gave everything too.
“Every sport needs to have those super motivated, passionate youth that are willing to do all that extra stuff beyond competing or themselves to help their sport grow,” said Emma Seely, of Pacific Coast Vaulting. “She’s really embraced the whole thing.”
For Smith, the competition will be the toughest of her career. As the event draws closer, her nerves grew. The World Equestrian Games only comes around once every four years.
When she’s finished she can relax with a bag of spicy Cheetos. Until then, like the tireless months of training — missing prom, homecoming and everything in between her senior year — Smith is making every second count.
“Every day,” she said, “we’re preparing as much as we possibly can.”
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