Give Vaulting a whirl !

As promised in the last newsletter, we will be giving you a short presentation of one of the eight official disciplines of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy: equestrian vaulting. A highly demanding sport for its athletes, it requires a solid grounding in equestrianism along with the skills of a gymnast.

Give Vaulting a whirl !
© Kit Houghton / FEI

The art of vaulting can be traced all the way back to antiquity. In Roman times, it formed part of the military exercises used to train the cavalry. Vaulting has always been used as a tactic of warfare, underpinning cavalry battles…well when those fighting weren’t wearing armour of course! The Cossacks and the Native Americans were real experts in this domain.  Vaulting first made its appearance in circuses in the twelfth century. After World War II, Germany started to organise it into a proper equestrian sports discipline … indeed it’s in this great vaulting country that the discipline is regarded as the basis to learning to ride a horse.

Below, Davy Delaire, the French national trainer, speaks of his passion for the sport. A former vaulter himself, he keeps a watchful eye on fellow vaulters at the National Institute of Saumur; the centre for French vaulters. Vaulting has, for many years, been successful in terms of the number of medals won for France: Matthias Lang was crowned the 2002 World Champion at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera, and Nicolas Andreani (picture), the 2009 European Champion, brought back a bronze medal from the WEG in Lexington in 2010.


Seeing as vaulting isn’t an Olympic discipline, it has its own World Championships every two years (unlike jumping, dressage and eventing which have theirs every four years, alternating with the Olympic Games). Fifty per cent of the time, this worldwide event takes place as part of the World Equestrian Games. “From a competitive, sporting standpoint, the World Championships are no different, whether they are part of the WEG or not, explained Davy Delaire. But The World Equestrian Games are, to an extent, our Olympic Games! There is more pressure, a bigger audience, more media coverage…We’re really looking forward to the 2014 edition where we’ll be playing at home !”

At the World Championships, vaulting is divided into three categories: female, male and team. The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy will see the addition of another category, the “Pas-de-Deux”, which as its names suggests, is performed in twos, with mixed or same-gender pairs.

The circular arena is 25 to 30 metres in diameter. Eight judges are positioned around it. Six of whom judge the vaulter(s), with the other two focusing on the horse and the quality of its gait and bearing. Vaulters receive a score for their technical merit and artistic impression.

A vaulting team is made up of six vaulters, male and female, and a longeur who gets the horse to circle. Like rugby, there is a place for everyone, irrespective of their physical characteristics: the “porter” has a strong physique whilst the “flyer”, who jumps around at the top of the pyramid, has to be small and lightweight. A typical vaulting team has athletes of anywhere between ten and thirty years of age…The youngest athlete in the Lexington World Equestrian Games was the young French boy, Robin Krause, who was barely nine at the time !

The competition lasts several days: “Individuals” have to perform a number of compulsory exercises in quick succession, followed by “freestyle” tests, a more “technical” round and finishing with one last “freestyle” test. During the two freestyle tests, which can be the same if desired, vaulters get to express their artistic talent and showcase the figures that they are best at. “The compulsory” exercises, are on the other hand, the same for everyone. “The technical” exercises are a succession of five mandatory figures, that the vaulter may demonstrate in any order, allowing them to add their own personal touch. The team competition, however, requires one compulsory round of moves and two freestyle.


It’s both a gentle giant and a little gem! It has to be strong enough to carry weight, with a long back which allows vaulters enough space to move. The top-level vaulting horse rarely measures less than 1.75 metres at shoulder height (at the neckline). The horses in the French team at the last World Equestrian Games were an impressive 1.80 metres tall! There are not, however, any particular breeds or race of horse more suited to vaulting. Though it must be said that draught horses, which are too heavy with an uneven gait, are not particularly ideal for top-level vaulting. Watriano R, the French vaulting team mount, is a 13-year-old Belgian horse. Its sire, the stallion, Kannan, achieved a lot of success in jumping competitions; a discipline in which it was known as one of the best horses in the world !


Philippe Rossi is in charge of this discipline for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy. With some thirty years of experience in running major jumping competitions, he recently had the opportunity of organising the 2011 European Vaulting Championships at the European Horse Institute based near Le Mans. That was all it took for him to fall under the charm of this discipline: “I really like the spirit of camaraderie that exists and I get great pleasure out of watching the freestyle rounds. It’s all quick-paced, intense and there is something for everyone.”

The World Equestrian Games vaulting competitions will take place from 2 to 5 September 2014 at the Zénith exhibition centre in Caen: “We will be at the very heart of the event’s village and we’ll be able to make the most of the atmosphere and everything that’s going on there!” I hope the discipline will attract attention,  as it isn’t usually the most visible and well-covered event media wise. We have a fantastic project in 2014, as we will provide the spectators with a little radio station. They’ll be able to listen to expert commentary that will help, even those new to the discipline, to understand what’s going on in the arena.  It will unlock the secrets of the sport.” Philippe Rossi, who is also behind the 2012 Vaulting World Championships (see below), hopes to “draw from my experience at the World Equestrian Games in 2014 !”


In vaulting, the longeur also gets a medal, fair recognition for this key role. The longeur is the person who sets the horse’s rhythm, who knows how to change the way the horse moves, if for example, a vaulter loses their balance … The longeur is very often the vaulting horse’s rider, as it also needs to be worked out, just like any other top-level riding horse.

To find out more about this discipline :

The Vaulting World Championships will be taking place this year in France, near Le Mans, from 16 to 19 August. So join in the fun! “Pôle européen du cheval », 72 530 Yvré L’Evêque, France.

Information and ticketing : (00 33) (0)2 43 89 66 93.

Specialist vaulting website:




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