Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

An Afternoon of Vaulting

by,  Sara Nicholson

Imagine you are at your urban stable or barn on a quiet afternoon tending to your horse and going about your chores. Somewhere in the near distance you can hear music, chatter, laughter, and the voices of instructors encouraging their students. It doesn’t strike you as odd, the barn is always full of kids in the afternoon, and as you walk closer to the source, you see the students.  They are not wearing boots, helmets, jeans or breeches, they are wearing leggings, t-shirts, and gymnastic shoes. They are girls and boys, young and not-so-young, all shapes and sizes, and they are taking turns Vaulting on the back of a large friendly horse.

One of the coaches sees you and waves you over. You’ve been curious about the vaulting lessons, but have hesitated because you thought it was only for kids. But you see that someone in their 50’s is out there vaulting and you are encouraged.

The coach offers, “Why don’t you come out to our free lesson on Sunday?”

You take the invitation seriously because you have heard how much Vaulting has helped riders across the world develop confidence, balance, strength, and coordination. You also know that the team’s two coaches have a combined horse riding/training background of 50 years, and Vaulting background of over 30.

The Vaulting team is run by ‘horse’ people; and you like that!

You watch the lesson in progress: A mother and her daughters, an archaeologist, a grad student, a handful of middle-school girls, an autistic man, a gymnast, a yoga enthusiast, a drill-team rider, and a tri-athlete are lined up against the far railing. Three vaulters keep the lunger, who is the Head Coach, company inside the lunging circle. Their job is to quietly listen, watch, and encourage their teammate aboard “Max” until it’s their turn to vault. And when each vaulter completes their ‘go’ and safely dismounts, the group on the railing welcomes them back to the line up with high fives and cheers!

This is a sport full of regular people, not super-star athletes, who offer a lot of moral support, and you like that!

You notice the vaulters waiting to run into the circle aren’t idle. They practice cartwheels, stretch and talk about how they want to fix their routine, or about the best hairstyle for the upcoming demonstration. The coach that you’re talking to is making sure they are safe and paying attention.

She explains how this all works, “When you come to your lesson, you’ll learn all the basics on the barrel first, and then we’ll put you on the horse. OK?”

The curious look on your face prompts her further, “The barrel is built and padded to simulate a horse, and is the best training tool. You learn how to control your body and correct any mistakes there first, and when you’re ready, then you vault on the horse, not by yourself, but with two spotters on either side of you the entire time.”

This is a sport where safety comes first, and you like that!

Casting your eyes to the center of the ring, the Head Coach asks “Max” to trot, and the more advanced vaulters move lightly along side and mount without assistance and begin their compulsory exercises.

The coach continues, “We all learn the same thing, whether we’re World Champions, like the USA team that won at WEG 2010, or if we’re at summer camp, or even if we’re Vaulting in Australia. These compulsory elements expand into freestyle routines that can be done with one, two or three people on the horse at a time. That’s what you’ll see next.”

Within a few minutes, those same trot vaulters are ready to perform their individual and double freestyle routines, and someone turns up the music that has been playing softly in the background. The coach explains that each vaulter chooses music that helps best express themselves. While one may select Flight of the Bumblebee, another may play something from Tijuana Brass, Beethoven’s 5th ,or possibly Kool and the Gang!

This sport encourages individuality and creativity, and you like that!

You notice a few spectators just a few feet away from you. They are families of the younger vaulters, and while they are not required to be there, they love to watch and cheer on the lesson-goers, especially the students their own age!

The coach confides how much she likes having this large mixed group, “There is constant role-modeling happening here, I am so glad we have them together! Each of these families have donated their time and talents in one way or another without expecting anything in return. Without them, we’d have to hire trucks, trailers, seamstresses, hairstylists, and even gymnastic coaches. These are all people who love horses, but can’t own one, and Vaulting is a terrific substitute. It’s how we also keep costs down, therefore making vaulting very affordable.”

This low-cost sport creates a supportive community, and you like that!

Your eyes have not left the vaulters performing their routines, and you notice that each is so different.

“Each routine is composed in a way to highlight their specific talents: flexibility, strength, long lines, bounce, grace, whatever makes that person special, that’s what we encourage them to do. But we don’t make them do something that scares them. If they don’t want to stand or sit reverse, they don’t have to. It’s best to let them feel their way through their comfort zone. There’s no rush here.”

This sport is sympathetic and dynamic, and you like that!

You enjoy watching all the vaulters go through their paces, some at the walk, some at the trot, some with spotters, some without, but they all get the same amount of horse time and coaching. You remember seeing vaulting on youtube done at the canter, but no one is doing that today, so you ask.

The coach smiles at you, “Not yet! “Max” is still training, he goes better to the right than to the left, and he needs to be more balanced. The Head Coach trains him outside the regular lesson in addition to training another horse we are starting to use.”

She points up the hill to a gorgeous chestnut gelding, “Pepper”, who appears to also be watching the Vaulting lesson.

“The little mare we use, “Delilah”, is perfect for our first time vaulters who have never been on a horse. But since you have a developed riding seat, we can put you on “Max”.”

The coaches are realistic and know how to uses their horses, and you like that!

The Head Coach wraps up the lesson, and automatically the entire group of vaulters surround the big black horse and pat and hug him enthusiastically to a soft chorus of “Goood boyyyyy!”.  They undo the side reins, and loosen the girth of the surcingle. He stretches his shaggy head and shakes, licks his lips, and accepts more love from this smiling group.

The horse is happy, and you like that!

To learn more about how to have Vaulting be a part of your Training program in the US and UK, contact the American Vaulting Association at http://www.americanvaulting.org, or the British Equestrian Vaulting at http://www.vaulting.org.uk. Vaulting is found throughout Europe, the Americas, and Australia.

Thank you Sara for your article and for sharing vaulting with the reader’s of Tack and Talk.  Great article and great pictures!




  Lyn wrote @

Wow such a good article Sara! Interesting, we have a horse here at Sydney Vaulting Group who also loves to watch. Do you think horses can be visual learners?

  Sara Nicholson wrote @

Larissa, thank you SO much for giving me an opportunity to share what vaulting is REALLY like with your readers! Also, I completely forgot about the Vaulters in South Africa, my apologies!

My personal mission this year is to create a minimum of 6 new clubs in my part of San Diego this year, not to be uber-star athletes, but regular equestrians who will gain better balance, rhythm, confidence and joy while being on the back of a horse this way 🙂

Thank you again!

  Barb wrote @

Very interesting article, well written and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for posting

  Siglia wrote @

Great article Sara. It gave a very good idea about this sport, its healthy atmosphere, the sense of community and how people from all ages and background can benefit from it.
Thank you for writing tt, very well done.


  Meghan Brady wrote @

Great article! You just got me so excited to try this out! My only fear is that I’ll be hooked! Looking forward to my first lesson.

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