Gymnastics and dancing—on horseback?

Equestrian vaulter and North Sanpete High School freshman Shaylee Swapp practices an “equestrian vaulting” routine on one of the horses she uses for the half gymnastics, half horse-riding sport. She says she would rather be on the back of a horse than almost anywhere else in the world.


Gymnastics and dancing—on horseback?

Girl fulfills ‘trick riding’ dream with vaulting

Linda Petersen

Staff writer


FAIRVIEW—Like many Sanpete County girls, Shaylee Swapp lives to ride horses.

But Shaylee, 14, doesn’t just ride them. As an equestrian vaulter, she performs complex routines on the backs of moving horses. It’s something she has been doing for more than three years.

It all started when Shaylee’s mom Cheryl looked out the back window of their house and saw Shaylee standing on the back of her horse, Princess Chloe, while the horse was in motion.

When she ran out and asked Shaylee just what she was doing, her daughter replied, “I’m going to be a trick rider.”

Deciding that if Shaylee was going to be a trick rider she was going to do it right (and safely), Cheryl began to look at training options. Her research on that subject led them to Oak Hills stables in Salem, just one of two programs in Utah (the other is in Salt Lake City) that offer equestrian vaulting.

Equestrian vaulting is a combination of dancing and gymnastics performed while the horse is in motion. From the beginning, Shaylee absolutely loved it.

“I started at a walk. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” she said.

Like Shaylee, beginning vaulters perfect their routines, which can include rolling, standing, standing backward and even sideways, on a walking horse. They then move up to working on a trotting horse. Beyond that there are four levels (copper, bronze, silver and gold) to be accomplished where the horse canters. The vaulter is then known as a canter vaulter.

Shaylee, who is coached by Kylynn James, recently moved up to bronze from copper more quickly than is typical. She is always practicing and learning new moves. Shaylee generally works with two horses, Loki, a draft horse, and Peterbilt, a warm blood. Costumes for the sport are designed to be formfitting so as not to hinder the movements of either rider or horse. Generally, they’re made of spandex, Shaylee said.

Shaylee has competed in several competitions across the country and is currently preparing to participate in the Canada Cup, May 25-28. She also plans to compete in the vault in Spanish Fork (where she took fourth overall last year), Wintergreen in Colorado and the American Vaulting Association competition in South Jordan in August.

All that traveling and training can be expensive, so Shaylee has come up with some fundraisers that can be found on her Facebook page, “Shaylee’s going international.” She hopes to raise $4,500 to be able to compete in all four competitions—all as part of her path to what she hopes is world status. She hopes to be able to compete for the world cup at the World Junior Vaulting Championships in 2018.

In the meantime, Shaylee, a freshman at North Sanpete High School, spends her Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings curled up on the back of a horse instead of a couch, not checking her texts or reading a book, but perfecting new techniques. And on Tuesday evenings she coaches younger vaulters.

“I like helping them come up with new moves and techniques to improve,” she said.

When she isn’t vaulting, at school, or doing homework Shaylee spends every moment she can with one of her three horses, Spark, CeeCee and Abby, barrel racing or training them at the Contoy Arena in Mt. Pleasant.

“It’s just a fun little time to go and have fun,” she said of her barrel racing every other Monday.

Cheryl Swapp, who has three other kids, James, 19, Cassie, 17 (Sanpete County Fair Rodeo Sweetheart 2016) and Thomas, 11, and also has primary responsibility for getting Shaylee to and from practices, said it’s just part of what she does to support her kids.

“If my kids take an interest in stuff, I do what I can to support them,” she said. “I want her to succeed, to reach her goals.”