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Vaulting horses?

What’s the story with the horses in vaulting? Are they owned by the team/country and each brought to the games? It appeared that some were shared between teams.

We watched a little of the compulsories the other night and they did a pretty good job of explaining what was going on, and they mentioned that the team gets a horse score. And she talked about how some horses were better for the compulsories, some for the freetstyle and how the way the horses moved could affect the moves of the vaulter.

There was a wide variety of types too - some were quite drafty looking and others not so much but they all were metronomic (to the Left, I wonder if they ever go right?)

I believe the commentator said that some of the horses were brought with the teams, and some were borrowed since the horses were already here. She also said that they practice in both directions, even though they only go to the left at competitions. I had wondered about that as well.

To to be fair, the commentator comes from a jumper background, so I would imagine she was probably mostly just reading from notes on the subject of vaulting.

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I watched team compulsories on the Olympics channel, and one of the commentators had been a top competitor herself, maybe from Scotland? She was great, pointed out for each movement what the judges would look for, what deductions were, and the importance of the horse. With six vaulters per team going one right after another, and each team following on, it was easy to compare performance and really learn what was good and what not. I really enjoyed it. As MHM said, some horses are brought and others borrowed, and they train both ways for horse and vaulter symmetry. The lungers are sometimes borrowed with the horses. She mentioned that it takes a lot of training to produce a horse with such a metronome canter, and the horse is 25% of the total score. I think two of the 8 judges only score the horse. I learned a lot about a sport I’ve never watched before. Saw just a couple Pas de Deux teams, wish I could have seen squad freestyle, with 3-4 people on the horse at once!



Squad freestyle will be on fei.tv at 5:00 EST. Very impressive athletes and horses.

Hi, sorry late to the discussion - flying out. Yes, many of the horses are borrowed.

I’m a bit distressed that the overall impression is that the horses are like automatons which just go along with a perfect cadence no matter what. There is a huge amount of reliance on the lunger … the unsung team member. The horses DO react to everything from the shifts in vaulter weight (esp in team and pair) to the heat and the environment.

For instance, when in a high triple (flyer above a standing base head) the horses will frequently start lugging and breaking to trot could be disastrous. But the lunger can’t send the horse forward without the same disastrous change in momentum … so they would have had to ‘catch’ the horse when they start reacting to that triple coming on or going up. The lunger is working every step of the go … but the job is to make it as subtle as possible. :wink:

I don’t know if you were able to see some of the horse bobbles - in a way, seeing the vaulter(s) have to deal with when it doesn’t go right makes the understanding of how this is truly an equestrian sport. One team actually had the horse break. There was a gal kneeling on the croup while the horse did a canter-trot-canter transition … yeah, no riding skill there, lol.

Re: horse type … drafty horses don’t tend to score as well since they don’t have the fancy gaits (think dressage) but they can make it up with cadence, pace and being absolutely out at the end of the lungeline without dropping in to the lunger anywhere on the circle. All the drafty horses were from the US (carrying non-US vaulters) where they tend to be more affordable than big warmbloods and they offer great size to carry team.

Ok. That’s what I have for now. Ask more!!


Oh I didn’t meant to imply that the lunger was just a prop!! Do they get scored as well? Just like riding, you aren’t supposed to see what the person is doing to affect the horse, so a good lunger and a good horse make it appear that the horse is an automaton.

Does the person go with the horse or is s/he part of the team? How integrated are they with the vaulters? Can they talk with them.

They are supposed to be metronomic, but they are horses!

Thank you for the insights!

Do different horses go on a bigger circle than others? It looked like the footing showed pretty much one lunging track.

Frankly, I’m less than impressed. There is a local vaulting club near me that has been in the big time for awhile. My experience is that the vaulters spend a lot of time stretching and taking care of themselves, but leave the care of the horses to others. Much of the resources of the whole equestrian program have been funneled towards vaulting, but the other facets of the program pick up the slack on grooming, mucking and feeding. None of the vaulters volunteer for any of this. Both the costs and the work are absorbed by other parts of the program to the detriment of the other disciplines. The vaulters leave the arena trashed with water bottles ad garbage when they are done, leaving others at the barn to pick up before they can pick use the arena.

I know this is only my view on this, and it’s been the only program I’ve been around. But given my experience, the horse is a means to an end, and it’s far more gymnastics than horsemanship. Why this is an FEI horse sport is beyond me. The vaulters I’ve been around have very little to do with the horses, and less interest in equine education.

Granted, my view is slanted, but that is my first hand experience, and has colored my whole view of vaulting.


I don’t dispute that these horses are impressive - to be that regular and handle all the weight change and adjustment is truly impressive.

That being said - it certainly seems on the part of the athletes that it is more about the gymnastics and less about the relationship with the horse. I do have to kind of agree that I don’t quite see why this is an FEI sport.

And no, i have no personal experience with vaulting, so no slant either way for me,


@Thoroughbred1201 - I am totally sending you a PM … dying to know which club! Although, I am sorry to hear that they are not good neighbors in the stables. Sounds to me like it’s an issue with that particular culture and supervision?

Yes, vaulters are CONSTANTLY conditioning and stretching. They tend to be very good riders due to core strength and body control (one of our ex-vaulters won the state dressage young rider championships for 2nd level at 14, one from a different club was in the US Pony Championships and was in a COTH article, etc.) LOL - I digress. The vaulters need to give the horse lots of breaks, so that’s built in.

The relationship with the horse is key, it’s just not very easy to see. I mean, do you still remember your favorite school/lesson horse from way back when?

Here are a couple of videos featuring 1) Kristina Boe, the world champion from Germany (who is also a medical doctor) and 2) Jamie Hocking, a really cool vaulter from Australia. If you have the time, please take a look. Jamie’s video features one of the best lungers in the world. When he talks about training the horse, he talks about “adding pressure” which means taking the horse to these super-electric environments with jumbotrons and cheering crowds, and then going back to little local shows.

Both videos feature the vaulters (independently) talking about how the relationship with the horse allows them to TRUST the horse, which in turn allows them to do these actually pretty dangerous moves.

Kristina Boe:

Jamie Hocking:

@MHM - the holy grail of lunging is a 20-meter circle. Smaller than that, it will be reflected in the horse score. Bigger than that, a little bit OK, too much and it will be reflected in the score.

@Hilary - the lunger/horse are typically a team. The person lunging MUST know and have a total relationship with the horse. There can be multiple people with that relationship, but each person will have put in hours building that relationship. You’ll notice that none of the highest finishing vaulters were using borrowed horses. It’s something that is done in the sport but doesn’t allow for that level of trust that a longer relationship allows.


M’al, thanks.

Did I see somewhere that the vaulting doctor is a surgeon? She must really love the sport to risk her hands every day.

Yes, and she is the absolute nicest person in real life!

I’m hoping (well, the whole US vaulting community) is hoping that more exposure will drum up more support within the horse community in the US. Right now, it’s a bit depressing to have to explain what vaulting is, when the modern roots are actually cavalry training and hours on the lunge to develop a seat which will allow the officer to ride in any crazy battlefield position plus rescue other soldiers by lifting them onto the horse at gait. (Or, if you’re getting rescued, vault on at gait when someone offers a hand.)

@Thoroughbred1201 I’m sorry you’ve experienced such unpleasant behavior from your local team- it sounds like a case of terrible oversight/instruction/guidance (or lack thereof entirely) on the part of their coaches/leaders/parents. We were not permitted to leave things laying around after practice- be it sweats, shoes, water bottles…not only did our coach simply not allow it, personally my parents would have lit into me if I had left trash somewhere. I wish the culture with your local team was different.

Vaulting was my gateway sport, and I’d like to share my experience and thoughts because I know it is a bit obscure.

  • I was introduced to vaulting at a county fair, and it was slightly less expensive than riding lessons, which is how I convinced my parents to go for it, I was 7 when I started. All the kids on my team got involved because of horses- some were pony club or 4H members who had their own horses, some were simply horse crazy like me, and some were horse crazy gymnasts combining interests.

  • The horses were the draw, even though it doesn’t require as much teamwork with the horse as actual riding, it was absolutely about being around the horses. I don’t know any gymnasts who though “Hey, I’m a good gymnast, I’ll bet I could do this on a horse and beat a lot of people” if they weren’t already a horse nut. In fact, as our team grew, we had to institute groups to come early or stay late to groom/tack/untack the horses because EVERYONE wanted to groom at the beginning and end and there were simply too many kids around to be safe.

  • Wow, this helped my riding so much! I am not a naturally well-balanced person, I have to work at it, and I think vaulting for a couple years before riding really helped my balance and body awareness. I don’t think there’s an easier, more natural way to learn to go with a horse’s motion and feel their step than using a vaulting pad and surcingle, and switching to a saddle after that was very easy.

  • As has been discussed about, the lunger/horse relationship and vaulter/horse relationship is so important. I would liken it to watching a great hunter or eq round- you don’t see them touch the reins or move up, but you know there’s work going on. Likewise, the vaulter has to trust the horse and the horse has to be well schooled to trust that what’s going on above them isn’t going to cause them harm.

  • The horses are (in my experience at two nationally competitive teams) treated very well. A lot of times they were warmed up before sessions by someone riding them around the ring, doing a long and low warm up and a little work in collection, both directions. Then, on the line, we warmed up at the walk, trot and canter to the right, often without side reins at the walk and trot. Then the horse was put on the circle to the left. There were many breaks with the side reins off, changing to the right a few times, to keep everyone from getting over conditioned to the left. Additionally, most of these horses school very correct med/high level dressage with a focus on maintaining strength and even conditioning to the left and right. (And yes, while the horse is being warmed up or having a break, the vaulters are likely stretching or practicing on the barrel, because even young limber people have to take care of their bodies.)

  • Training a vaulting horse is incredible! It is such a process, dictated by the horse’s comfort level, from running down the line and just talking to and patting the horse at the walk, trot and canter, to getting legs up at the walk and sitting as the horse is brought up to a trot and canter and talking to and patting them more…just moving around on top of them at the walk, and building up to the trot and canter, adding more movement, it is a process and so important to do it slowly and correctly. No horse is born thinking it’s cool that someone runs up to them and jumps up into a shoulder stand on their neck, it’s testament to a lot of work and correct foundations.

  • I don’t know what to think about how theatrical vaulting is nowadays. I did it in the 90’s, we wore unitards with chevrons and stripes and matching scrunchies, and our parents complained about the cost when we had to get new ones every couple years. I shudder to think how expensive the custom ones everyone wears now are, yikes! I think the costumes and makeup are a little much, and take away from some of the artistry rather than enhance it, but that’s just me being an oldish curmudgeon.

If you read this far, bravo! It’s a great sport, if you or your kids are interested, I highly recommend checking it out.


Thanks to the vaulters who explained how they feel! I appreciate the varying options. I’ve never doubted the horses were special. The local vaulting club I talked about have very few people who actually ride. It’s wonderful to see that there are some clubs where it is about the horse. Thank you for a fresh perspective!

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Also, just for interest, they have done studies and the vaulters do not have to wear helmets as they feel the helmet can get in the way when minute tolerances can make or break a trip. The era my daughter vaulted was much more grass roots and the leotards were a different class altogether! It is a wonderful sport and I’m sorry to hear the negatives.
Our kids all worked with ‘their’ horse, a very special boy with a nice broad bum. The horse does not have to do all the work all the time…warm-ups, routines and beginners are done on a barrel horse. The horse is also warmed up on the other rein.

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As someone who watched vaulting for pretty much the first time at WEG I was initially impressed by the relationship with the horse. Pretty much every single vaulter patted or hugged the horse after leaving the ring. Not just a compulsory I have to do this but a thank you to the horse. The trust the horse has in the vaulter flipping and landing on them is inane you can tell they are very well trained. The man who won the mens vaulting was especially special to watch. He was the last to go and started with patting his horse and giving her affection before the performance started. He finished and ran straight to them crying and hugging them. To me it was so touching to watch that his first instinct was to thank the horse. It might have been a special scenario because his Dad was the lunger and I think they owned the horse but it was really special to see. Still his reaction wasn’t to cry and hug his dad but the horse. Basically from watching the vaulting at WEG my friend and I are going to look up vaulting locally to go see it there as well.


Its an awesome sport… The french guy you mention is a particularly brilliant vaulter… for many years he vaulted for Mauritius, but has since taken out French citizenship and based himself there… He, of all people would have a great experience and knowledge about the ‘value’ of a good vaulting horse, due to them not being all that common on Mauritius.Lambert actually won the FEI young rising start award a few years ago and watching his rise in the sport has been amazing.
A big part of his emotion and of all thise present was that “Poivre Vert” , his horse , was retiring… it was his last competition vaulting at this level, and he had won individual medal at the previous WEG with another vaulter… very much the end of an era, and a horse of that caliber will be very hard to replace.

Yes, I remember the first pony I ever rode, a grey named Molly; the first horse I ever rode, a chestnut named Prince; my first favorite lesson horse, a chestnut named Apple Jack; my second favorite lesson horse, a bay named Red …

I imagine many other horse people remember their favorite lesson horses – as well as the lesson horse to be avoided at all costs!

Thank you for this information it gave me goosebumps! Now it makes more sense as to the emotion he was showing.

Since you watched the vaulting and know more about it we saw two girls fall in the pas de deux on the first night and one was injured. She grabbed her knee and had to be carried out. They were wearing red, we figured out the name the next day because they weren’t competing but googling I wasn’t able to find out anything. I don’t have the order of go anymore so I don’t remember who it was. Do you know if she’s ok? I was really hoping it was something easy to recover from.

Heya… Yes,that was Anna Pakott frpm Hungary…I am not sure how she is doing, but she wasnt around the stables etc for the next few day.