By Carole Dwinell

Photo by Rusty Griner

Please don't do this at home..yet. What you are looking for in this photo is how the Cossack loop can benefit a high excerise in a routine. Nobody is actually doing something with the loop that's spectacular but the result of having those legs through the loops makes the resulting spectacular tirple steady and safe (relatively).

Illustrations/Photography by Carole Dwinell unless otherwise noted.

What is Vaulting? The nuts and bolts of it:

For some, the first introduction to vaulting is at a summer camp; others may see a magazine article like this one and become curious. Vaulting is like any other equine sport in that it takes some experienced help, the proper equipment, and of course, a good horse. The horse is the most important ingredient in the vaulting picture. Not just any horse will do. Besides the necessary sweet temperament and willingness, it's also important that Blaze or Star has regular, smooth, even gaits. When you are standing up or doing a shoulder stand, you and the horse must be working together. It is a close relationship.

"Can I pat Bonnie (or Daisy or Charger)?" is one of the first questions the children ask. Of course. It's those pats and carrots the horses earn that keep them interested and happy. Horses need praise for a job well done the same way the vaulter needs cheering when accomplishing something difficult. Positive reinforcement is essential for both vaulter and horse.

In order to start flying around on top of this horse, one needs to first learn how to land and take off. This is where the vaulters do a lot of work on the ground, to get their bodies and minds ready. That practice barrel we talked about last issue is also necessary just to get comfortable with the moves above the ground before doing them on the horse. There is a lot of physicality in vaulting: tumbling and push-ups, pull-ups and running, rope climbing, cartwheels and handstands to build strength, flexibility, fitness, and most important - a total knowledge of what your body can do. Each person develops skills at a pace, slow or fast, that is comfortable. There's no hurry but even new vaulters eager to improve should do a lot of work warming up and then on the barrel at each practice because that makes it more fun and easier on the horse.

Photo by Rusty Griner

There are three different categories of competition and while you're probably not heading for the national championships in your first year, it is helpful to know what competitive vaulters do. They are:

Individual with just one person on the horse doing Compulsories and Kür,

Pas de Deux which is two up, a female and a male vaulter, and features more lifts and dance style movements, much like pairs in figure skating or ballet and consists of two Kürs.

Then there is Team, which requires a little explanation as you, in horror, think of eight people all up on the poor horse at the same time. There can only be three! The team also does Compulsories and Kür. More on that later. In the United States for team, there is a weight limit but no age limit. Internationally, there is no weight limit but there is an age limit of 18. After age 18 you have to vault internationally as an individual or in a Pas de Deux. In the United States, the weight limit is 400 pounds, but if the horse looks like it's carrying too much weight the judge can pull the team. There's a rule about that. If you think about it, though, most of the team horses weigh anywhere from 1600 to 2000 or more pounds, so 400 pounds is only a fourth of its weight. A fit hundred-pound person can easily carry 25 pounds on two legs!

The Saddle


In the eight member Team competition, during the Kür or freestyle routine, the comparison would be acrobatics or cheer leading where there are base people and flyers, stacked moves and holds.


A horse. We touched on that above but it really needs a whole article of its own. It is safe to say though that any horse with a good disposition, a willingness to be longed and climbed all over, will work in the beginning. In making a decision to be competitive, there are some other issues that need to be taken into consideration, such as "What kind of horse?" More on that in a later issue.

Photo by Carole Dwinell

Here the Cossack loop is used as an integral part of the move. The vaulter could not do the move without her heel being in the loop. So its use is multiple.

The horse tack: First, a surcingle. This is a special "saddle" used for vaulting. It is constructed of leather and needs the same kind of care as a saddle would. Note on the drawing the different names of all the parts. You can purchase surcingles and other vaulting tack from Pegasus Vaulting Supply in Soquel, California along with back pads to protect the horse's back. The price for a surcingle is about the same as for a good saddle with different levels of quality reflected by different prices. It's best to purchase the best that you can afford. Sometimes you can find used surcingles for sale. You can check with the American Vaulting Association National Office to see if there are any available. Along with the surcingle, you will need a girth, side reins and a bridle. A longe line and longe whip are used to direct the horse.

Photo by Rusty Griner

Use of the grips in quite a different move. When one does a handstand on the ground, the whole flat palm and fingers of your hand help maintain the balance. Here, Kerith Lemon at the 1998 WEG uses the grips which gives very little help in the balanceing act. The fact that the horse is cantering adds to our sense of awe.


The practice barrel is used to learn compulsories (the vaulting version of skating's school figures), practice routines and to get used to dismounts as well. It saves the horses from being overused, or becoming unhappy with their job. There are several ways to acquire a barrel. You can get one from a club or individual that is no longer vaulting, or you can check out the instructions for making one on the American Vaulting Association Website: New ones are available from several sources. Again, check with the National Office.

Practice Mats: These are important for stretching before you actually get on the barrel or horse, for warming up and stretching, practicing dismounts and rolls, and for placing around the barrels to make for soft landings. Those are available at most large sporting goods stores. Be sure to get thick, heavy duty ones similar to the ones used in gymnastics classes. Old mattresses can be used in a pinch or you can set up a shavings/sand mixture (see "Footing" below) about 10 inches thick around your barrel.

Photo by Rusty Griner

In this photo taken at the 98 WEG, the team is ready to salute the judge. You can see clearly that they are standing tallest to smallest. This is order in which they will performthe Compulsories. However, since the Kür is a creative performance, the tallest to smallest order of go is unimportant. They are only in order for compulsories and the beginning and ending salute to the judge. They run both in and out of the competition arean in that order, left, rightleft,right, to a recording of music that suits their personality and that has a clear beat so everyone can stay in step.

Footing: A word here must be said about footing for your vaulting arena. The usual sand mixture used for riding is not suitable for the many mounts, running and especially dismounts used in vaulting. We will get into various footing formulas in a future article.

Next time: The basics.

Carole Dwinell is an artist and writer, as well as the long-time coach and longeur for the Black Point Vaulters of Martinez, California. She is the owner of four horses at the moment: an Appaloosa/Belgian cross, an Appaloosa/Percheron cross, a registered Percheron, and an Arabian/Pony of the Americas cross. Carole had seen and experienced some adult vaulting as part of her riding lessons and was hooked forever. She is the editor of Vaulting World, the official newsletter of the American Vaulting Association. Her club members have won national championships and have gone on to vault internationally.



Glossary of Vaulting Terms

Coach: A knowledgeable person in charge of the club vaulting activities who has either competitive vaulting experience or has studied and worked with the American Vaulting Association up through to the levels s/he is trying to teach. Is usually responsible for the well-being of the vaulters and the horse during practices and competition.

Compulsories: Seven exercises consisting of the Mount, Basic Riding Seat, Flag, Mill, Scissors, Stand, and Flank (a dismount). These exercises demonstrate to the observer different aspects of the vaulter's skill. Everyone does the same compulsory exercises in the same order. The only difference is between Individuals and Team. An individual mounts and does the remaining six in the above order with no particular time limit though judges discourage wasting time because the horse, of course, is still trotting or cantering. A team (which goes in order of height) does the first four, each going on the horse in turn, then they start all over again with the tallest vaulter and do the last three. The team compulsories are finished when the last vaulter (the smallest) dismounts. The Team Compulsories are timed and must be completed within eight minutes.

Kür: This is the freestyle part of the competition. Vaulters choreograph exciting moves to match their music and personalities as they showcase their dance with the horse. There are different levels of scoring for different kinds of moves and the vaulter has one minute to get it all together. In the team Kür, up to three vaulters can be on the horse at the same time. This can include special mounts, swings up to flying, arabesques, whatever they can do and still be in harmony with the horse and secure in the move's execution. All team members must get on the horse and perform at least once. The team Kür is five minutes.

Longe Line: a long lead rope used for controlling the horse in a 45 - 50 foot circle.

Longe Whip: a horse whip with a long lash that is used as an aid for the longeur to exactly control the speed, gait and size of the circle the horse is traveling.

Longeur: The person who is in charge of controlling the horse, and managing the team as it performs. S/he can stop the motion if there is a problem with the equipment or the horse, or if the music is incorrect. Is also in charge of responding to the judge if that should become necessary.

Surcingle (vaulting): Unlike a plain longeing surcingle, the vaulting surcingle has a tree just like a saddle does, grips that the vaulters use to base their moves and hold onto when necessary, as well as "D" rings for attaching the side reins. There are two "Cossack loops," one on each side, for the vaulter to stand on when performing mounted exercises from the side of the horse.


To find out about vaulting in your area, call, write, or e-mail the AVA:

American Vaulting Association

642 Alford Place

Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

Phone: (206) 780-9353

Fax: (206) 780-9355