In 2008, while teaching 4-H classes
near Madisonville, something happened that made Joanne Martinsen say, "Hold your horses." Literally.
"I was teaching the kids about
horses, but it just seemed boring to them," said 76-year-old
Martinsen, an equestrian trainer who moved to Monroe County from
California. "They were so unfamiliar with them. I thought I really
needed to get them to touch a horse."
Growing up in California, Martinsen
became a equestrian vaulter as a teenager, something she continued
until she was in her 50s.
Often unheard of as a sport in
Tennessee, horse vaulting is a competitive blend of gymnastics and
horseback riding. Vaulters perform acrobatic and dance movements on
the backs of moving horses.
"I told them about it at the 4-H club
and it was something they'd never heard of before," said Martinsen,
who asked the students to bring their parents and come to a
demonstration at her home.
Martinsen and her friend waited
anxiously to see if any students would show up.
"They all came," she recalled. "And
so did their parents."
Just like that, Martinsen turned her
farm into a classroom and the Monroe County Vaulting Club was formed,
becoming the first competitive team in the state of Tennessee.
Now, five years later, the
not-for-profit organization continues to grow.
"We have about 20 kids now," said
Martinsen. "A lot of our original members have graduated and moved
on to college so we have a lot of younger kids right now--a new
Martinsen said the members range in age
from five to 35, with some mothers participating as well.
"The kids all help each other," she
said. "They don't have to have a horse. They don't have to know how
to ride, how to dance, or how to do gymnastics. They just have to
want to learn."
In fact, most students who show up for
their first equestrian vaulting meeting have no prior dance or
gymnastics experience, and most have not been around horses often.
"We make it so they don't feel like
they can't do it," said Martinsen. "They learn a lot, have fun
and have to depend on each other for help. It's a great life lesson."
Only a handful of other horse vaulting
clubs exist across the state.
"It's a newer sport in Tennessee," said Martinsen. "But, it's becoming more popular."
See full story in the Wednesday, July 17, edition of The Advocate & Democrat.
On Saturday, July 20, at Sequoyah High
School, there will be a sky-high fundraiser for the Monroe County
From 4:30 to 9 p.m., trainer Joanne Martinsen's
husband and his friend will give hot air balloon rides for $5 per
person. In addition, the Monroe County Vaulting Club will put on
demonstrations of their performances and provide information on how
to join the club.
"We're not going to bring the horse
because of the hot air balloon, but the girls will demonstrate on
barrels that are made to simulate the horses," said Martinsen. "They each have specific things that they have to do and each
design their own dance they do on their horse, called a freestyle,
which is set to music."
In the case of rain or inclement
weather, the rain plan for the event is Sunday, July 21.
"If it rains the next day too, we'll
have to make another plan," said Martinsen.