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Harmony on Horseback: Local Teen Competes for Spot on U.S. Equestrian Team

It seems like a circus act, but it's in a barn. It looks like gymnastics, but there's no mat. It feels like figure skating, but it's on dirt. It's kind of like dancing, but it's on a horse.

For an equestrian competition that's been going on for centuries, horse vaulting is tough to describe to those who don't know about it. But for Longbranch native Genna Downen, it was an easy sell.

Genna is one of the top junior-level vaulters in the country and is one of eight finalists competing to be part of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Junior Team. She'll find out later this month if she makes the team that's scheduled to compete in the 2023 FEI World Vaulting Championships in Sweden next month.

The home-schooled 17-year-old has been part of the Harbor View Vaulters team at Four Winds Riding Center near Gateway Park since 2015. She discovered the unique sport eight years ago when she saw a demonstration at the riding center during the Key Peninsula Farm Tour.

"She's a horse girl and a Key Pen farm kid in the most stereotypical sense," Genna's mom, Anna Downen, said. "When I saw that look in her eye (while watching the demonstration), I just knew."

Genna's pathway to horse vaulting is common. She took gymnastics as a toddler and spent four years doing ballet, tap and jazz dancing. And she always had a love of horses.

Lori Robison, co-owner of Four Winds Riding Center and coach of the Harbor View Vaulters said, "That's the perfect marriage for anyone getting into vaulting," Robison helped start the team 15 years ago.

Part sport, part performance art, vaulting is gaining popularity across rural areas in the Pacific Northwest. It takes raw strength and performers must be in top physical shape to maintain balance while executing both graceful and athletic movements.

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