Learn about Vaulting

When I was a child I used to enjoy going to the circus each Christmas and especially enjoyed seeing the ladies in glittering costumes performing elegant acrobatics on the back of a beautiful, steady “rosinback”. As the horse cantered around the ring, the rider performed gravity-defying feats such as leaps and somersaults on the horse’s back. Nowadays, these same moves are part of the sport of vaulting, which is commonly defined as gymnastics on the back of a horse.


The history of vaulting goes back approximately 2000 years, with some historians tracing the roots back to the Roman games and others to the bull dancers of ancient Crete.

Vaulting is one of the six equestrian disciplines recognized by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). As in figure skating, competitors are judged in a series of compulsory moves and also a freestyle competition.

The American Vaulting Association promotes the sport of Vaulting by sponsoring competitions and exhibitions, producing books and videos on Vaulting and has established a Rule Book for Vaulting in the United States, which is consistent with International Rules. It also trains judges and has formulated standards for testing vaulters for medals at five different levels.

Beginning vaulters learn their basic skills on a vaulting barrel before performing the moves on the back of a horse. There are a number of compulsory moves, of which the AVA has details and photographs on their Web site. These range from the “Vault On” (the mount” through the “Mill” and the “Scissors” to the “Flank” (the dismount)

Speaking of the vaulting horse, he is indeed a special animal. If you, like me, cringe at the idea of riding bareback with memories of bouncy trots and bony backs, you have an idea of what is desirable in a vaulting horse! Probably the most important traits in a vaulting horse are a mild temperament and an even gait. These horses have to put up with some pretty strange antics on their backs and horses which spook or speed up and slow down are going to scatter their riders like confetti.

If you are interested in finding out more about vaulting, or whether there is a vaulting club near you, visit the American Vaulting Association web site.

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