Catonsville sisters bond as elite equestrians

Left to right: Catonsville sisters Alex Volta and Tori Manger with their horses, Lover Boy and Charakter, at the Washington International Horse Show.

While sitting in her anatomy class at Georgetown, Tori Manger received the text she had been waiting for.

The 25-year-old graduate student had qualified for the Washington International Horse Show, a top indoor equestrian event that accepts just 30 horses and riders out of hundreds vying for a spot in the Adult Amateur Jumper Championship.


Alex Volta, who gave her the news, was just as excited. It meant another chance to compete together on a national stage as best friends, training partners and, most importantly, as sisters.

"It was a lot more exciting finding out that she was going to make it," said Volta, who also qualified and is two years younger. "We've been competing together on and off our whole lives."


The Catonsville siblings have shown horses for more than 15 years. Volta, a James Madison graduate and CPA at Ernst & Young, was ranked seventh in the WIHS standings, but Manger was considered a borderline qualifier after finishing 38th. She made the cut, though, and competed for the championship Wednesday night.

"Even though we are both competitive, I am really excited when she shows [well]," Manger said. "It doesn't feel the same when we aren't at the same shows together."

The sisters have built a friendship along their path through the sport, regardless of the results.

Manger discovered her love for horses after attending a camp with a childhood pal. She was only 8 years old, but she was hooked. Volta followed suit and together they rattled through shows until they outgrew the competition.

Following the advice of their trainer, Willow Wood Farm's Kim Williams, the sisters transitioned from hunters to jumpers while attending high school at Mount de Sales.

The biggest difference between show hunters and jumpers is the way they are judged. Jumpers are scored based on a defined system, while hunters are judged subjectively based on the horse's style and movement.

"When you become an adult, there is not as much out there in the hunters, unless you are on the road all the time, so I suggested they try the jumpers," Williams said. "There is more money to be won doing the jumps than the hunters at their level."

Williams said the sisters have been open to new techniques and exercises, and practice at late hours around work and school schedules. She admired how the two have supported each other, despite often competing in the same shows.


"I don't see any sibling rivalry," said Williams, who has trained them for nine years. "When I was younger, I showed against my sister and I couldn't stand to lose to her."

If anything, their family encourages them to train harder. Both sisters described their personalities as "Type A," competitors at heart who knew from a young age that they could find success in the sport.

"We don't like to lose and we don't just do it for the fun of it," Volta said. "When I knew that it was something that wasn't just fun, but something I was also good at, I strove to be the best."

Manger shares that drive to succeed.

"It's funny how we both have a competitive advantage," she said. "We love watching together and critiquing."

Just reaching the WIHS stage is rewarding for Manger, who broke her ankle this summer during a practice jump and wasn't able to compete for months. She won't get many chances to ride in the near future, because her postgraduate classes in nurse anesthesia began this fall.


"You don't know how important something is for you until you lose it for a while," Manger said. "My end goal is to be able to ride consistently again, when school is over."

The sisters will share horse riding even after their competition days end. When they aren't together, they send each other videos from their sessions, sometimes to critique, sometimes to share.

Both said they couldn't imagine giving up the sport that has consumed almost two-thirds of their lives, while contributing immeasurably to their relationship.

"Honestly, I'm trying to think of how to put it into words," Manger said. "It's indescribable."


The Washington International Horse Show (WIHS)


The nation's premier indoor metropolitan equestrian event, celebrating its 55th year in 2013. It attracts 500 horses and top riders from the United States and around the world, including Olympic medalists, and the current reigning World Cup champion, Beezie Madden.


Tuesday through Saturday (Oct. 22-27). Daytime competition begins at 7 a.m., evening sessions begin at 7 p.m. Sunday runs 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m.



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