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As of May 26, 2020 we are still open and operating with limited staff. Click here for more information.

Tumbl Talk

Have you ever seen a Vaulting Horse?

Posted on 6/19/2019

VAULTING  is one of the oldest forms of Equestrian Sports.  Yup, you read that right - Equestrian. As in, horses!  I’m not talking about the kind of leather bound “horse” Mary Lou Retton won her gold on...I’m talking about the trotting, four-legged, impressive animal whose teammate is a dancer/gymnast performing on it’s back.

Welcome to the world of Vaulting!

Abbey Sommerville is a 7th grader on the JS Equestrian Team who started competing when she was just 2 years old.  She’s got an infectious energy and maturity beyond her years. Abbey recently reached out to Tumbl Trak to share her passion for Vaulting and to teach us a few things about her cool sport!

TT:  What is Horse Vaulting?  How does it work?

Abbey: The official name of the sport is actually Vaulting, but we know that can be confusing.  So, sometimes it’s referred to as Equestrian Vaulting.Basically, it combines elements of dance and gymnastics performed on the back of a moving horse.  The horse is guided around a ring by a “Lunger” who has the horse on a rope and controls the horses speed and gate while the performer completes the routine.

TT:  Do you have competitions?

Abbey: Competitive Vaulting is similar to gymnastics in many ways.  Athletes begin at the compulsory level with a choreographed routine of basic skills.  Beginner routines have the horse moving at a walking gait. More advanced levels progress to trotting and the highest levels perform on a cantering horse.  Judges score the routine offering points for performance, difficulty, content and as well, the horses score. The horses performance is up to 25% of your score!

TT: Is Vaulting an Olympic sport?

Abbey: The last time Vaulting was in the Olympic Games was 1920.  The sport is on the rise in European countries but in the US it is difficult to find active clubs.  Like other Equestrian sports, it’s expensive, especially the costs of competing.

TT:  Do most Vaulters have a background in gymnastics?  Dance? Are there similarities to the training progressions?

Abbey: Many Vaulters come from a background in either dance or gymnastics.  I did gymnastics when I was young and that training helped in my transition to Vaulting.  Much of the work we do on the ground in preparation for competition, similar to gymnastics involves a lot of strength and conditioning.  We practice our skills on a training tool called a “barrel” that mechanically mimics a moving horse. Skills and routines are drilled on the barrel until they are perfect and then, we move them to the horse.

TT:  Tell me about the horses you train with!

Abbey: The horse is a member of your team.   Higher level teams will have 2-3 horses to train on.  Sometimes, if competitions are far away, teams will “rent” a horse to compete on which can be challenging.  A good vault horse has a broad back and are commonly draft horses, (similar to the Clydesdale). It is important that they have a smooth gate and the right temperament.

Many people ask questions about whether our routines hurt the horse.  As a rule of thumb, riders should be no more than 20% of a horse’s weight.  We are far below that percentage. Much of our training happens on the ground so we do not over train the horses.

People also ask why we don’t wear helmets when we compete.  Of all the equestrian sports, Vaulting has the lowest rate of injury because it’s such a controlled movement.  We learn many progressions for safe dismounting, landings and falling to prepare us. In Vaulting, when the athlete falls, the athlete alone is falling, as opposed to other equestrian sports where there are dangers of the horse falling on the athlete.

TT:  Can you share a moment in your Vaulting career you feel most proud of?

Abbey: We lost our horse to injury this year so training for competitions has been difficult.  At our most recent (world level) competition, we were having trouble finding horses to compete on, but secured a horse at the last minute.  With only 15 minutes to warm up on the new horse, I was not sure how I would compete. I ended up scoring my personal best and placed on several events!

To learn more about Vaulting and Abbey’s program in Washington State, find them on Facebook/ JS Equestrian Sports or Instagram @js_equestrian_sports.