Gymnastics on Horseback: Learn Vaulting!

Recently a friend and I tried a beautiful new sport we had heard about but didn’t know we could actually try. It’s called vaulting and basically it is gymnastics on the broad back of a large horse.

Vaulting horse
Duke the Amazing Vaulting Horse

Vaulting horses wear a bridle with side reins, surcingle and a thick back pad. The surcingle has special handles and leather loops which aid the vaulter in performing certain moves.

Vaulting trainer

These moves include the vault on, mill, scissors, stand and swing off. Competitive vaulters usually wear unitards which show the line and form of the body, and allow ease and safety of movement. Vaulting horses can be any breed, but large ones with strength, a calm temperament, and steady gaits are the most popular.

Vaulting practice
Reagan Dyer and Beginning Vaulter Helga Stein

We started our lesson with basic stretches to limber up for the moves we would practice first on a barrel shaped vault with handles that are similar to the surcingle on the horse. The first and most important move is learning how to mount the horse from the ground while it is walking.

Vaulting
Learning the Moves

Essentially, you swing one leg up and lean your body forward while your partner helps push up your hip. It is awkward and super intimidating but amazingly- easier if the horse is at a trot because you can use the animal’s momentum to swing up faster.

Vaulting knee stand

Our instructor at The Houston Polo Club, with Flanders Riding and Polo Lessons, Reagan Dyer really pushed us in our one hour lesson to try things we NEVER thought we could do. Reagan’s instruction was easy to follow and actually do-able. Reagan also taught us how to dismount the horse while it is at a trot and a walk. This to me was the scariest because you always need to swing your body away from the horse’s enormous hooves. Vaulters dismount from the side and believe it or not, the back of the horse.

Vaulting candlestick
Candlestick Maneuver

Mounting and dismounting were the most intimidating parts of vaulting for me, but I could see with a few more lessons, it would become automatic. The rest of vaulting is a matter of finding your balance, engaging your core, and doing yoga poses.

Vaulting scissor kick
Heel Click Maneuver

Vaulters do not ride the horse, Reagan explains, they are passengers. I loved the physical challenge of vaulting as well as the opportunity to be graceful and work on my form. Pointed toes, pretty hands and grace are emphasized as you move from one maneuver to another.

The lesson was affordable and it was so satisfying to actually be able to perform some of the moves I had seen online that I NEVER thought I could do. Grab some friends, take a lesson and see what you can do!

Vaulting rider

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