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A Horse,
of Course

with Don Blazer

A Horse of Course

Twenty-five years ago I predicted vaulting would be a very big sport in America.

I was wrong.

Vaulting could be described as the art of gymnastics on a moving horse. It is a big sport in Europe and it is one of the six equestrian disciplines recognized by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). In America, however, vaulting is a dinky little sport which never gained the popularity it should enjoy, and that’s an embarrassment to me.

How can you have something as challenging as gymnastics combined with something as spectacular as grace on the back of a moving horse that isn’t the rage all over this country? We’ve got every kind of team sport you can think of--vaulting can and is a team sport. And we’ve got extreme sports which require dedicated practice and are dangerous--vaulting is all that and then some.

I just don’t understand it; unless it’s the fact vaulting sort of requires a big, fat, wide-backed draft horse. (It’s really hard to do a flag, mill or scissors on the backbone of an American mustang. That would be similar to doing gymnastic floor exercises on the balance beam.)

Vaulting, according to the American Vaulting Association (AVA), has a history dating back to the Roman Empire when it was a means by which soldiers were trained to ride. During the middle ages, knights practiced vaulting as a practical way of improving their balance and timing. Vaulting got its formal start as a competition in Germany. Competitions are now held worldwide, and quite naturally Germany has the most active vaulters, about 60,000, says Vicki Smith, AVA national office manager.

The US has about 900 active vaulters participating in competition, Smith reports.

Vaulters are judged on both a set of compulsory moves, and in free style competition called a "kur."

The big, fat draft horse is longed in a circle, and the first real test for a vaulter is to run along side the moving horse, and then to vault onto the horse’s back. Not being able to do that, I was also not able to perform the basic seat, the flag or the stand, all of which are considered to be "static" exercises. Each of the static exercises is held for four canter strides. The other four compulsories, not being static, are, of course, much more dynamic. The vault on is exciting, while the mill, the scissors and the flank (dismount) can be pretty flashy.

Vaulters usually learn their exercises and warm-up drills on a practice barrel, which is sort of like riding a mechanical bull. The barrel allows the beginning vaulter to learn competition-required exercises at the very steady gait of a standstill.

While the beginning vaulter is learning, so is the horse. You want a horse with a very good disposition. The horse must be taught to work a longe line upon voice command and maintain a smooth, steady pace. When horse and rider have the basics under control, let the partnership begin.

Vaulting is good for any rider, since as a by-product of the practice, vaulters gain better body control, more rhythm and timing, and greater balance and suppleness.

Joni Fitts who has a school of horsemanship in Scottsdale, Arizona, has started teaching vaulting as a way to improve the talents of both her English and western riders.

"Vaulting is a wonderful way to keep a young rider’s level of enthusiasm high, and to teach courage and determination," Joni says.

So now that Joni has four or five new vaulters learning the skills, maybe vaulting will take off in this country.

International competitions are held annually and the World Vaulting Championships are held every other year.

And once an American wins the gold, I predict vaulting will become a very big sport in this country.

Don Blazer
Visit Don Blazer's Web Site

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"A Horse, Of Course"
Monthly Column
by Don Blazer

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