Vaulting. Have you ever tried it? OMG! It is NOT as easy as it looks…

Have you ever watched vaulting?  Not the Mary Lou Retton kind, the horse kind.

Well, I have… During the Horse and Man TV series days, we went to Petaluma and interviewed the famous vaulting team there.

Here was my impression of vaulting as I stood there watching – Little kids balancing on big old draft horses who are hardly moving.  I’m sure it is difficult to balance when they stand up – but how much different than surfing or skateboarding?  I could probably do the basics of this…

Then they asked me if I wanted to try it…

Looks easy, doesn't it...


So they put me on the biggest, easiest, quietest, most lumbering and evenly balanced draft monster that they had there.  I think his name was Steady Eddie.  If it wasn’t, it should have been.

Anyway, I was thinking that this should be a piece of cake…  How hard could it be?

So, they catapulted me up on his back and I sat there.  Oh crap.  This horse was very wide.  My little legs were hardly able to fit around him.  And, I was high up.  Higher than I wanted to be.  I was not comfortable AT ALL.

Then the trainer said for me to just sit there while the horse moved forward.


Well, he moved forward and with each rear leg movement I was practically unseated.  Those hips were BIG.  So, here I was, sitting on this huge, barely moving horse and I wanted to hold onto his mane soooo badly.  In fact, I really wanted to grab him like a crab would but, I didn’t want to look like a complete doofus so I tried to smile and relax.

Through gritted teeth I willed myself to stay onboard.  I was sure I was going to fall off.  But, I sat there and decided  to just go with it and trust that this horse would take care of the sack of potatoes on his back.  After all, what an opportunity, right?!

Then the trainer asked me if I would put both of my arms out.


You want me to what?  Put my arms out to the side?  Out to the side?  The side?  Really?  Both arms?  Both? Right now?  Are you sure?  You are?  Well, I’m not so sure…  Yes, I know that I should have a balanced seat already… Out to the side, eh?  To the side?

Well, you can imagine my performance.  Not too impressive.  Then she asked me to close my eyes and trust.

Oy.  I was sure I would slide right off and fall 100 feet down off of this building sized horse.

I didn’t!  Having my arms out and closing my eyes was really quite liberating.  Steady Eddie let out a big sigh as well.  I’m sure I was all edges and points on his back, poor guy.  Anyway, it was at this time that I started humming (I can’t sing, either) and really getting into it.  Yeah.  I can do this.  This isn’t so bad…

And then she asked him to trot…

Holy Mother of Velcro, I was bounced so high I could hear angels singing (or laughing, I wasn’t sure).  OMG!  Trotting without a saddle (in shiny cargo pants) on a huge prehistoric horse with a very wide girth, my arms out and my eyes closed was almost more than I could handle.  Good thing there were little kids watching or I would have cried out, “Please let me off this ride, Mommy!…”


After the humiliation of the trot, she had the gall to ask me to turn around on the boat hull I was riding and sit it backwards.

Try it sometime…

Suffice it to say that the lesson ended shortly after that.


Through it all, I gained the utmost respect for vaulting.  It is tough.  It takes lots and lots of practice and those kids are brave.  Lemme tell you, falling from that height can be very intimidating.  Especially when you are in a handstand or some other contortionist position.

And the horses… oh my!  They are saints.  These beauties go around and around at the most even gait, always compensating for whatever flippy flop is happening on their backs.  They are gems. Pure gems.

So, take it from me…


I thought I would show you some photos taken by Martina Vanelli.  She was at the WEG Games this past September and shot these vaulting teams.  Wow.  Amazing.  If you don’t think so, I dare you to try it.

This is the South African team

This is Argentina


Sweden - a smaller horse, I noted

This is France. Look at the little kids spikey hair! I love that!

Le Tour Eiffel!

Doesn't he look like Nadia Comaneci up there?!

This is the American team. I don't know what he is doing... maybe praying

The Americans did a little variation with some trick riding techniques

Slovakia - another light horse



Y’know, this is one of those sports that people sometimes perceive like synchronized swimming.  You feel kinda odd if you like it but somehow it is captivating.  From my point of view, I have incredible respect and admiration for those lithe beings that balance on top of living, breathing, with many moving parts equine extraodinaires – each one of them worth their draft weight in gold.   Amazing.  Really.

(And, lemme tell you, if you’ve ever try synchronized swimming, you will have a heavy respect for those Ester Williamses too!)

Little squirts make it look so easy...

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4 comments have been posted...

  1. Janie

    I Love this sport! It is amazing.
    Have you seen the movie Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken? ..a real life true story about vaulting and diving horses. The dove in Atlantic City NJ. (not really all about vaulting but some of it is…the training parts)

  2. Sheri Pederson

    Isn’t vaulting AMAZING? There was a vaulting group at Flying Cloud Farm in Petaluma when I was there for a class. I thought it looked SO cool, but too scary for me, being Miss Uncoordinated!
    If you look around a bit, I’m sure you can find the video of the US teams WEG freestyle. They’re entering for that in the photo you have here I think….it was a very ethereal piece, so I imagine the team leader is trying to get the crowd to shush a bit so they can stay ‘in the mood’. It was stunning. definitely worth looking for it !

  3. Linda Horn

    What an experience! There was a Corrales, NM, vaulting horse at the WEG. His name is BHR John Boy Joe (“Joe”). I watched, and figured I couldn’t miss him, because he’s a striking PINTO draft. Unfortunately I was watching the wrong team. I thought he’d be competing for the USA, but he was on loan to the South African Men’s Team. They fell in love with him, and want to take him home. No dice from the proud owner, so he’s back Corrales at Timberlane Vaulters.

    Here’s a photo of Joe and Bongani Mvumvu (Try saying THAT three times, fast!) from the WEG.

    This is a video. Never tried it, and, at my age, never will, although I have ridden backwards on a VERY confused horse!

    And, since I’d never seen or heard of a Pinto Draft, this is their registry. There’s a photo of Joe in competition at the lower right.

  4. Kathy

    So glad you found this sport and did a post on it! I used to coach this (and still train horses for it, but looking for team members again). It is SO rewarding for everyone involved. Thanks for getting more word out there!

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