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Top Ten Reasons Why Every Rider Should Vault

By Elizabeth Whillock, DC Kimberwicke Pony Club, Coach Northern Lakes Vaulters

People have been performing acrobatic and dance-like movements on the backs of moving horses for more than 2,000 years. Long before we had saddles and stirrups, early humans had to “vault on” to their horses. Perhaps vaulting's most prominent recognition as a form of equestrian sport in more recent times was its inclusion in the 1920 Olympic Games as "Artistic Riding". Modern vaulting was developed in post-war Germany to introduce children to equestrian sports. In 1983, vaulting became one of only seven equestrian disciplines recognized by the FEI, and the first World Vaulting Championships were held in Switzerland in 1986. American vaulting can be traced to 1956, when Elizabeth Searle first saw the sport during a visit to Europe. Seeing a potential application for her pony club in California's Santa Cruz County, she obtained a 16mm film of the basic exercises, and took it back to America. In 1966, the American Vaulting Association was founded . Today the AVA has more than 1,000 members in 100 AVA clubs and affiliates. Vaulting also remains one of the many recognized disciplines within the United State Pony Club.

But why should your average rider consider learning how to vault? Many people see the acrobatic skills demonstrated by upper level vaulters and think – no way am I ever going to do that! However, basic vaulting is focused on training the vaulter to be light and to move in harmony with their horse without the use of acrobatics. These introductory vaulting skills can benefit any rider at anytime. So here are my top ten reasons why every rider should vault regardless of their primary riding discipline:

It is the SAFEST equestrian sport: Yes, it is true. Our accident incident rate is lower than the sport of golf. Beginning vaulting moves are usually in contact with the vaulting surcingle, so if an unanticipated dismount is required, the rider usually ends up head up and feet down. The progression of skills learned also promotes safety – for instance, the Bronze canter class is the first class to allow jumping on the horse – so riskier skills are not attempted too soon for the safety of both the vaulter and the horse.

Vaulting is an easy way to learn how to ride: Used for centuries by cavalry and riding instructors worldwide, vaulting is the time-tested, safe way to introduce new riders to the art and joy of riding. Vaulting horses are handled by the lunger/instructor, allowing the rider to fully focus on their own skills.

Vaulting promotes balance:  Vaulting creates the ability to be comfortably off-center and easily recover back to the center of the horse.

Vaulting is economical: Many vaulters can share one vaulting horse, unlike most traditional riding disciplines. This is one reason why many European riding schools have vaulting programs for their beginning students – it is an easy entry into the world of equestrian sport. The tack required is minimal- primarily a vaulting surcingle, vaulting pad (western pads will do in a pinch), and standard lunging equipment - and this can also be shared amongst many vaulters.

Vaulting is versatile: Any breed or size of horse can be used as long as it has a calm temperament, has balanced and steady gaits, can be lunged, and is of appropriate size for the vaulter.

Vaulting improves a rider’s seat: Vaulting teaches the rider to support their own weight and not merely sit on the horse. Vaulting is also the surest way to enhance an experienced riders’ expertise by improving their suppleness, teaching a rider how to move with their horse with balance and in harmony with the horse’s movement.

Vaulting can be a lifelong sport: There is no minimum or maximum age for competitive vaulting. It is a sport that promotes both flexibility and strength, think of it like pilates on horseback!

Vaulting is fun, which makes learning riding skills easier: It trains the rider to be the athlete, emphasizing and developing correct posture and carriage. Vaulting quickly builds confidence and comfort level with a horse.

Vaulting rapidly increases balance:  naturally developing harmony with the horse.

Vaulting promotes safe riding: The vaulting drills have specific and direct benefit for rider safety. They teach correct and safe emergency dismounts. Vaulting drills develop security in all positions on a horse, without the use of stirrups.