Abbotsford’s Besse sisters: Vaulting to greatness at Summer Games

Local siblings heading to Cowichan to compete in equestrian

From a very low point in her life, Abbotsford’s Hailey Besse found solace on the back of a horse and slowly, but surely, rebuilt her confidence and belief in herself.

Bullied as a child, Hailey came home crying nearly every day and suffered from anxiety.

She was unwilling to try new things and wanted to just blend in, but that all changed when her mother took her to an equestrian show.

“I saw a demonstration of vaulting and something just clicked in my head,” she said. “I thought, ‘I want to be one of those girls.’ ”

Vaulting involves gymnastics or dance moves on horseback, and is one of 10 equestrian disciplines recognized by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. It’s a judged sport with the athletes performing choreographed moves to music while riding on the back of a horse.

Athletes are required to do one round of compulsory moves followed by a freestyle performance set to music. They’re judged on technique, harmony with the horse and performance. The horse is judged on obedience, turnout and quality of gait.

It’s also a sport at the Cowichan BC Summer Games, which runs this weekend. Both Hailey and her younger sister Emily will represent the Fraser Valley at the event.

Hailey said she fell in love with the sport after an introductory class.

“I was just instantly hooked,” she said. “I used to have such low self-esteem and anxiety, but vaulting saved me because it gave me a lot of confidence and taught me to believe in myself. It gave me reassurance that I was capable of more than what my mind told me I could do. I really grew through vaulting.”

She qualified for the team based on impressive showings at competitions throughout the province, and heads into the event ranked third in the province in vaulting canter level D.

The Besse sisters train at Triple M Farms in Langley, and practice usually sees both girls ride twice a week. Success is nothing new for the girls, as they’ve both win numerous regional and provincial titles. Hailey said her top achievement was winning a national title in 2017, but getting to compete at the Games alongside her younger sister will be a thrill.

“It’s very humbling that all my hard work and struggle has paid off,” the 2018 St. John Brebeuf grad said. “And to be able to go with my sister, who has always been there for me, is more than I could ask for.”

Hailey heads to the University of Saskatchewan in the fall, but said she wants to keep vaulting and horses in her life somehow.

For younger sister Emily Besse, following in her sibling’s footsteps and hooves has been challenging but fun.

“Basically I usually do a lot of the things Hailey does and when she first started vaulting I wanted do it too,” she said. “But once I got on the horse, I absolutely fell in love with it.”

Emily said the sport helps you focus and helps stress disappear.

“Once you get on the horse, you just forget about everything else and are only concerned with what you’re doing at that moment,” she said, adding she started the sport at the age of 10. “It gave me so much confidence to struggle through a vaulting move and then finally make it.”

But qualifying for the Games wasn’t as easy for Emily, as she struggled through a knee injury that put her on the sidelines for nine months. She returned to the competitive field about four months ago, and managed to collect enough points to make the team. She enters the event ranked fifth in the province in vaulting canter level D.

“I’m just so excited to be on the team and to be able to go with my sister,” she said.

She joked that her goal is to beat Hailey, noting she’s only ever had a higher score than her older sister once at a freestyele event last year.

In addition to their work and training on the horses, Hailey and Emily noted that they also design and create their own costumes for competition. They admitted it can be time-consuming, but they both love having the ability to create their own look.

Emily, who is entering Grade 11 at St. John Brebeuf in the fall, said that her best individual showing was a first place in the trot division at provincials last year. Unlike her sister, Emily will be eligible to compete at the 2020 B.C. Summer Games, and she said she likely will do so.

The girls’ mother, Kelly Besse, who will be making the trip to Cowichan with her daughters, said it’s going to be a unique experience to see her children battle it out for gold.

“I’m just so happy for them,” she said. “It’s going to be such an exciting experience that I think they will remember forever.”

Equestrian competition kicks off today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then runs on Sunday from 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

The Besse sisters are two of a handful of Abbotsford athletes representing the Fraser Valley team at the event. Read Wednesday’s print edition of the Abbotsford News for full details on how all the local athletes fared.

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