And Ling Yang Beisecker, a second-semester freshman at William & Mary, will be right in the middle of the World Equestrian Games.
Beisecker will represent China in the equestrian vault, a combination of gymnastics and dance that is performed to music while standing, sitting, straddling – even standing upside down on -- a cantering horse. Opening ceremonies are Sept. 25; competition in her event begins on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
“I’ve kind of been preparing for this my whole life,” said Beisecker, who came to the United States from China when she was three years old and enjoys dual citizenship. “It’s like you’re training for this one main, Olympic-type sport.”
Beisecker and her 20-year-old Percheron mare, Ashlea, will first be judged on a series of seven elemental, compulsory moves. Then she will unveil her “freestyle” routine in which she melds 10-15 moves that she has put to music.
Beisecker created the freestyle routine herself, though she has two coaches – her mother, Kim, and a part-time trainer and ballet instructor who once danced professionally. She has just added her most difficult freestyle trick. She will end her routine by doing a cartwheel off the horse.
“It took a little while to get used to where to put my hands on Ashlea’s butt so that I didn’t slide off of her one way or the other,” she said. “But we’ve gotten to the point where we’re doing it very soft, very smooth.”
Her best trick, she says, is the one-legged stand. Vaulting horses don’t wear saddles; instead they are fitted with something called a surcingle, a roller that has special handles. They also wear special stirrups and when Ling is balanced on one leg on the horse, she looks to be on the edge of danger.
She’s not, she insists.
“Vaulting is not dangerous at all, and I’ve never really gotten hurt in the sport,” she said. “The most injuries I ever had were caused by running in high school. One of the first things you learn is how to get off the horse safely. You take really easy simple steps until you feel comfortable and then go from there.
“It’s the safest horse sport because the horse is controlled by a lunger in the center.”
Ashlea was purchased 10 years ago by Ling’s father, who stables several horses at his Blacksburg, Va., farm. They’ve worked together ever since, and Ling says that while she performs on other horses, she and Ashlea have the best “harmony” and work the best together.
“To compete at my level, people train horses for four or five years, at least,” she said. “Ashlea has been at it for ten years, and this will be one of the biggest events of her career”
After finishing her first semester last year on the Dean’s List, Beisecker took the spring off to prepare for competitions in South Africa and British Columbia. She will return to the College in time for the spring semester.
She kept in shape by working out at the College Recreation Center, and would return home a couple of times a month to work with her horses.
She has received lots of support from her fellow students. Some of them have told her they are going to throw viewing parties in their dorm on the nights she competes. Portions of the Games will be shown on NBC and on the internet.
“I know some people on the track team, and I was telling them that I was just doing this for the experience, that I just wanted to have fun,” she said. “The more competitive among them said to me, ‘Ling, don’t settle, reach for the best you can do.’
“It was really motivating. I have the full support of all of them.”