What is the Equestrian Sport of Vaulting?

Horse with vaulting tack

The equestrian sport of vaulting is often described as gymnastics on horseback.  Vaulting has a history that can stretch back a least two thousand years.  It is believed that vaulting started in the Roman games, where acrobats performed on the back of cantering horses.  Still others believe that vaulting started in ancient Crete during the tradition of bull leaping.  The present name is from the French term “La Voltige” which was acquired during the Renaissance as a form of drill and agility riding.  Modern vaulting was developed in post war Germany as a way to encourage children into equestrian sports.  In 1983, vaulting became a recognized equestrian sport by the FEI.  While vaulting is most popular in Europe, its polarity in the United States has been increasing in recent years. 


In the sport of vaulting, you can compete as teams, pairs, or individually.  Vaulters typically range in age from 3 to 30.  When just starting out beginner vaulters compete at the walk and the trot.   While the more experienced vaulters compete at the canter.  As a result the vaulting horse must be very smooth and fluid to aid the vaulters.  The horse moves on a lunge line in a 15 meter circle, typically to the left.  The vaulters are scored from 1-10, 10 being the highest.  If two vaulting teams tie then the resulting teams’ horses are judged to break the tie.  The horse is judged on quality of movement and overall behavior. 


The vaulters perform a freestyle to music called a Kur.  There are seven moves that are incorporated into the program.  These movements are the mount, basic seat, flag, mill, scissors, stand, and flank.  In a freestyle other movements such as jumps, leaps, handstands, and kneeling may also be seen.  Each movement is scored from 1-10, much like dressage, with 10 being the highest.   


Horses are not saddled.  They wear a surcingle and a thick pad.  The surcingle has specially designed handles and leather loops (called Cossack stirrups) to aid the vaulter in their performance.  The horse also wears a bridle with side reins. 


Vaulters adhere to a dress code when performing.  They wear form fitting uniforms that do not conceal the form of their body.  These uniforms also should not hinder the vaulter during their performance.  This is why capes and hats are not seen. The most common uniform seen while vaulting is the unitard.


So if you are interested in gymnastics and horseback riding, you have found the perfect combination of the two in the equestrian sport of vaulting!