What is Horse Vaulting

What is Horse Vaulting?

by | Jul 28, 2023 | Blog

“Equestrian vaulting – now that’s a sport with flair! Think about the acrobatic finesse of gymnastics meeting the raw power of horse riding, all sprinkled with the grace of a dance performance. And voila! You have vaulting. It’s not something you come across every day, but believe me, once you see it, you can’t forget it.

A Glimpse into the Past

Like many great things, vaulting has its roots firmly planted in history. Picture ancient Roman games with daring acrobats flaunting their agility atop galloping horses – this was probably the earliest form of vaulting. Some folks even argue that the sport originated in ancient Crete, with their tradition of bull-leaping. Now, whether it’s Rome or Crete, the fact is, this sport has been turning heads for over 2,000 years.

By the time of the Renaissance, vaulting – or ‘la voltige’ as they called it, became a popular exercise to train cavalry riders. Talk about agile knights!

The version of vaulting we see today mainly took shape in post-war Germany. It was seen as a way to introduce children to equestrian sports, and hey, who wouldn’t love learning horse riding with a dash of gymnastics? It caught the eye of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) and became an official discipline in 1983. And since its introduction in the US around the 1950s and 60s, the sport has found a particularly fond audience in the northeast region.

Beyond the Normal Saddle

Vaulting wouldn’t be the same without its special gear. For starters, the horse doesn’t wear a regular saddle. Instead, it’s fitted with a vaulting surcingle – a strap with special handles to aid the vaulter’s performance. And for comfort, a thick back pad is used. When I first started, I found the Pessoa Lunging Training System to be an ideal pick for beginners, thanks to its quality surcingle and back pad.

And instead of regular stirrups, vaulters use something known as “cossack stirrups”, essentially leather loops for support. The horse also dons a bridle and side reins. The lunge line, which is the long lead attached to the horse’s bridle, is usually hooked to the inside bit ring. In my experience, the Tough 1 Nylon Side Reins are quite durable and user-friendly.

The Vaulter’s Wardrobe

While a cowboy hat and boots might sound appealing, when it comes to vaulting, the attire is more about form and function than fashion. The FEI mandates that vaulters must wear form-fitting uniforms – typically unitards that neither conceal the vaulter’s body line and form nor hinder their movement. After trying a few options, I found that GK Unitards offer a fine blend of style, comfort, and flexibility.

So, you see, vaulting is not just about equestrian skills. It’s an elegant blend of strength, balance, and creativity, expressed through an intricate dance on horseback. But what does that dance look like? Let’s delve deeper into the techniques of horse vaulting.”

Making the Moves

In vaulting, it’s all about the moves. Imagine a vaulter performing a series of exercises on a horse’s back as it circles the arena. Sounds intimidating, right? But the beauty of vaulting is that it starts simple. Beginners might start with exercises at a walk or trot, while the pros perform at a canter.

Every vaulter, no matter their level, has a set of compulsory exercises to perform. The number of these exercises varies based on class, but typically involves seven or eight of them. These moves have intriguing names like “vault on”, “basic seat”, “flag”, “mill”, “scissors”, and “stand”.

To give you a taste, the “vault on” is the basic mount – swift and elegant. The “basic seat” is just sitting like a conventional rider. “Flag” requires the vaulter to extend one leg straight out while on their knees, much like a flag waving in the wind. The “mill” is a graceful movement of the legs over the horse’s neck and croup. “Scissors” is quite a spectacle, involving a handstand and a skillful flip of the legs to change direction. And the “stand” – as the name suggests, is standing upright on the horse’s back. To train for these, I found a thick exercise mat to be a very helpful tool.

And how are these performances judged, you ask? The criteria include technique, performance, form, difficulty, balance, security, and yes, consideration of the horse, who also scores 25% of the total.

Dressed to Vault

As I mentioned before, competitors must stick to a specific dress code. This is regulated by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI), and they update the guidelines every 2-3 years. The uniform has to be form-fitting and not hinder movement. So, if you were thinking of adding a hat or a cape to your ensemble, you might have to rethink. What you need is a good unitard that offers comfort, flexibility, and a snug fit. Again, from my experience GK Unitards for women are excellent choices.


But vaulting isn’t just a sport, it’s also a therapy and a form of recreation. In therapeutic settings, the interaction with the horse and the team, plus executing simple movements with the help of “spotters” can significantly benefit individuals with disabilities.

Related: Unveiling the Power of Equine Therapy

Recreational vaulting is a favorite at local parades or horse shows. It’s inclusive, letting vaulters of all ages and abilities participate, from the very young to the older enthusiasts. The shared spirit of fun, community, and love for horses brings everyone together.

As you see, vaulting is a delightful mix of athleticism, artistry, and equestrian skills. Whether you’re watching an international competition or participating in a local community event, vaulting will leave you fascinated. With its rising popularity, it’s opening doors for individuals of all ages and abilities to explore this unique equestrian pursuit. And who knows? The next time you see a vaulting performance, you might be the one on horseback.

About The Author

<a href="https://www.equiniction.com/author/emily-wilson/" target="_self">Emily Wilson</a>

Emily Wilson

I'm from the very heart of Kentucky, you know, the place folks think of when they talk about horse love. Had the luck of growing up smack dab in the middle of some of the most awesome horse spots you'd ever see. Can't imagine starting my day any other way than being in that homely barn, waist-deep in horse stuff. My routine? It's a bit of everything really - taking care of the horses, bonding with them, you name it.

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