Equestrian Vaulting is the performance by a rider of gymnastic and dance-like movements to music on a moving horse. The horse is guided on a circle of 12-15 meters (or more) via a lunge line controlled by a handler called the lunger and wears a surcingle around its belly that goes over a back pad and features two hand grips and foot loops for the vaulter to use during moves. Sidereins are attached to the bridle to maintain the horse’s head position.
There is no single specific breed of horse that is best for vaulting, but rather a ‘type’ ‒ strong and calm, with steady gaits. The ideal vaulting horses has a wide chest, strong legs and a short, thick neck, as some of the exercises are done up on the neck. A fairly broad back is also required, making drafts, draft-crosses, and warmbloods well-suited to the sport, although Morgans, Appaloosas, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and other breeds have also been used. Vaulting horses must be very fit and be able to maintain a smooth canter for long periods of time, as well as have the strength to easily support more than one vaulter at a time.
When training a vaulting horse, it is crucial that it is responsive to the lunger’s commands, stopping and starting immediately when asked, and maintaining an even pace on a perfect circle both directions on the lunge line. The horse should have a steady temperament and not be startled by movement on its back, or act up if the rider makes a mistake or falls off.
History of Vaulting
The roots of this sport go back a couple of thousand years to ancient Roman festivals and later knight training, while noblemen during the Renaissance period enjoyed showing off athletic riding skills they had mastered. In 1920, the equestrian events at the Olympic Games included “artistic riding” where military officers (the only ones allowed to compete in equestrian events at that time) were judged on their vaulting skills. The first national team vaulting championship was held in 1963 in Germany, with an individual championship taking place two decades later. The sport of vaulting was brought to North America by a Californian visiting Germany in 1956, leading to the American Vaulting Association being established in 1966.
The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) made vaulting one of its official sports in 1983. Since then, FEI-sanctioned competitions have taken place all over the globe, with a World Cup league and World and Continental Championships held every two years, as well as the World Equestrian Games taking place every four years.
Vaulting movements begin with simple kneeling poses such as the Flag, the Mill (full rotation), and standing, and progress to more difficult exercises such as the Scissors, handstands, rolls and flips. Vaulting can be performed individually, as a pas-de-deux (two vaulters of any gender), or as a squad of six vaulters riding up to three at a time. In competition, individual vaulters perform compulsory movements and all three divisions perform a freestyle where artistic interpretation is considered as well as ability. They may also be required to complete a technical test, which is a mixture of compulsory and freestyle.
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