If you're feeling fit, flexible and brave, you might fancy trying your hand at vaulting. Vaulting is basically gymnastics on horseback and was first included as a discipline in the World Equestrian Games in 1983.
Vaulters compete as individuals, pairs (pas-de-deux) and teams. When learning the discipline, vaulters compete at just walk or trot. Once more experienced, canter is introduced. The vaulting horse is lunged on a 15 metre circle as directed by the lunger, or "longeur". Initially, the vaulter is judged on their performance but if there is a tie between competitors, the horse is also judged.
As in dressage, competitions consist of seven compulsory exercises and freestyle programs performed to music. Each exercise is scored from 0 to 10. The horses are judged on the quality of their movement and their behaviour during the vaulter's routine.
The exciting freestyle performances (Kur) may include mounts and dismounts, handstands, jumps, leaps and tumbling skills. Teams may also carry, lift or even toss another vaulter in the air. Performances are assessed on technique, performance, form, degree of difficulty, balance, serenity and consideration of the horse.
Horses wear a roller and a thick back pad. The roller has special handles which aid the vaulter in performing some of the moves and also has leather loops called, "cossack stirrups". The horse wears a bridle and side reins, the lunge line being attached to the inside bit ring. The majority of the work typically takes place on the left rein although many vaulting clubs work evenly in both directions as this is clearly better for both horse and vaulter.
Although a minority sport, vaulting is extremely popular. World and Continental Championships are held biannually and the discipline features in the World Equestrian Games (WEG) held every four years. Internationally, vaulting clubs organise local, regional and national events annually and in 2011 there were at least 24 countries with such organisations.
Vaulting dates back to 1500 BC and stone paintings from this time have been found in Southern Scandinavia depicting horses with people standing upright on them. "Artistic Riding" was also part of the competition in the Grecian Classical Olympics.
There was vaulting at Roman games some 2000 years ago where acrobatic and dance movements were performed on the backs of cantering horses. During the Middle Ages vaulting was used as part of the education for knights and noblemen. Baroque times saw vaulting used as an expression of wealth and good taste and the term "vaulting" is in fact derived from the French, "La Voltige" from this period.
In the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, vaulting was included as "Artistic Riding" and cavalry officers were the competitors. Belgium took gold, followed by France and Sweden. Post-war Germany saw the emergence of modern vaulting as a means of introducing children to equestrian sports. The sport moved to neighbouring countries in the sixties and then on the United States.
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