Ever Wonder What It’s Like to Vault?
Vaulting isn’t riding. It’s dancing on the back of a moving horse. And there’s nothing else like it.
By Dusti Hausman in America's Horse | September 25, 2010
Eight years ago, I was in gymnastics, and I was also showing horses. I liked both sports, but I wasn’t in love with them. They weren’t challenging enough, I guess.
My dad wanted me to take a riding lesson at a place about 15 minutes from our house. I wasn’t really excited about the lesson, but I went anyway. That’s when I discovered that the people at that barn also gave vaulting lessons. It was so cool. I even got to try vaulting that day. During my first ride, I got to kneel on a cantering horse. I was hooked.
Mom wasn’t too sold on it, though, so it took me a couple of months to convince her and Dad to let me try vaulting. But once I got them convinced, I really got into it.
Combining riding and gymnastics presented more of a challenge. They say the first thing a vaulter learns is how to fall off a horse. Vaulting definitely helped me develop my balance, coordination and strength, and helped me learn to ride with my horse, not against him.
Some people compare vaulting to trick riding, but vaulting is much more graceful. In vaulting, the horse canters on a 20-meter longe line, controlled by a person in the center, while the vaulter performs his or her routine on the horse’s back.
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After I started vaulting, I began going to some small competitions, then I moved on to larger and larger events. Today, I’m participating at the second-highest level of competition in the United States with a team called the Silver Star Vaulters. I compete as an individual, as well as a member of a seven-person team that does a four-minute freestyle routine (with as many as three people on the horse’s back at a time) and a compulsory routine.
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A vaulting competition is kind of like an ice skating competition; vaulters are judged on a set of seven technical compulsory exercises and on a one-minute freestyle routine.
The seven compulsory moves range from a seat position with the arm stretched out to swinging into a handstand and flipping over to reverse seat. Each move is designed to help your riding by learning balance, suppleness, strength and rhythm. Each move is performed to an exact standard and graded from one to 10. The freestyle allows a little more creativity. The vaulter makes up her own one-minute choreographed dance, with her own music, costumes and unique moves. Gymnastics exercises like cartwheels and handstands are balanced by the dancing and the music.
The music you choose depends on you and your horse’s cantering style. My music is remixed classical – you know, Beethoven and Mozart, with a beat. Everyone has a totally different style, and that’s what makes vaulting so interesting to watch.
You won’t see contestants at a vaulting competition wearing cowboy hats and spurs. Vaulters wear colorful one-piece leotards and soft-soled slippers. The horse is on a longe line and wears a dressage bridle with side reins and a surcingle, and what looks like a large western saddle pad.
This sport also requires that you have a forgiving, patient partner. I’ve worked with Filibird Too, an appendix Quarter Horse, for a year now. “Raleigh,” who is 17.1 hands tall, is perfect for vaulting and lets me do anything. When I started working with him, we started with ground work, then I began doing simple exercises on his back at a walk, then a trot. After about six months, I began doing exercises on his back at a canter.
I’ve been vaulting for nine years, and my goals just keep growing. My biggest goal is to earn a medal at the vaulting “worlds,” which are sanctioned by the Federation Equestrian Internationale. They’re held every two years, and you have to be one of the top three in the country to make it. The top three vaulters who go to worlds are automatically part of the United States Equestrian Team.