Adventures in Vaulting

Ever since I watched a vaulting demo this past spring I have really wanted to try vaulting. Not only does it look like a ton of fun, but I also read it can help improve your seat and balance on a horse (which I’m always looking to improve).

Learn what vaulting is by clicking this sentence.

So last Saturday I decided to take the plunge. I was nervous. Really nervous! I went by myself. I felt out of place. I felt too old. I felt too fat. I was worried I’d make a fool of myself, and that I’d have preteen girls laughing manically at me if I fell off a horse attached to a lunge line. I fretted about it the entire hour drive to the place.

I had called ahead to ask what to wear. I wore the comfy yoga type pants, loosely fitted t-shirt, and tennis shoes that the lady recommended I wear. I felt oddly dressed for a riding lesson…. it felt so wrong with tennis shoes on!

When I got to the place, there were 3 young girls talking to the instructor. I fervently hoped they weren’t all staying for the Open vaulting session. I was in luck. Two of them left. The remaining girl, a powerfully built young lady, was going to be my guide for learning the movements on the barrel.

I was taller than my guide – an unusual occurrence.

The instructor asked the young girl (from here on out designated as M) to run me through a short warm-up and then show me the barrel exercises. M took off around the arena at a brisk pace. She mercifully slowed when she realized I lagged behind. We did one lap, and as I wheezed my way back to the front of the arena, M stopped and waited.

M hopped up onto a barrel with ease. I dragged a chair over to my barrel and clumsily heaved myself up. She ran through 5 moves for me to practice on the barrel. I watched intently and then set about replicating them as best I could.

After a very short period of time, my young barrel guide got bored and began doing handstands and intricate airborne dismounts from her barrel.

I did not try to replicate these.

Before I knew it, the instructor walked in leading a big, stoic looking gelding adorned with handle bars (I will figure out what these are called).

The instructor had M jump on the horse first. And by jump, I mean from the ground. Did I mention M is shorter than me? I’m short. I’m 4’11”. This teeny little kid bounced onto the back of a 16 hand horse from the ground. How freaking cool is that?!?!

M said she’s been vaulting for 3 years now. While I was there, M and the instructor were working on M doing around the world standing up at trot and canter. Then M practiced hand stands as the horse trotted and cantered. It was amazing to watch. I could’ve watched all day.

Then it was my turn.

They let me use the mounting block (Thank GOD!). The gelding was kind of a lumbering dude. The massively thick pad they use on his back made him feel extremely wide.The handle bars were very sturdy, and almost felt like a roll cage in front of me. It felt really safe.

At first the instructor just had me do the 5 exercises I practiced on the barrel at the walk. Basically, sit normal and hold your hands at shoulder height. Then stand on your knees (put your hands wherever). Then turn to face backwards (that was really disconcerting to me. Getting turned around was easy, but seeing the world move away from you was weird). Then you lay your chest against the horses rump. And final move was to sit sideways on the horse and jump down to land facing in the direction of travel.

Those were pretty simple at the walk. I think a lot of us have done some semblance of all of those at one time or another.

Except, then the instructor had the horse TROT!!!

The standing on your knee’s was pretty easy. Smooth horse. Nice flat, consistent trot. I still had a hard time letting go of the handle bars though. That instinct for self-preservation was strong. I felt balanced. I felt like I would be fine letting go… but I had to really concentrate and make my hand let go. lol!

The instructor even let me try some of the moves at the canter. I did let go of the handle bars while standing on my knee’s but I misjudged the stride and started loosing my balance at one point. Kind of scared me! I thought I was going to fall off. I didn’t, but really made me aware of how high up I was. After that the instructor let me try “The Flag” pose. It was SO AWESOME!!

Flag pose is where you have one knee on the horse’s back and the other leg straight out behind you. One arm on handle bar and the other straight out in front of you.

I successfully completed that pose (not elegantly, but I got ‘er done), and then the instructor brought the horse back to a walk and I dismounted. I was shocked how wobbly my legs and arms were after that. My shoulders especially were tired. It took a lot more upper body strength then I had assumed it would (for the low level of difficulty for the poses I did). It’s not like I was doing hand stands, or holding myself up with my arms. It was mostly sit and kneel stuff.
Anyway, I totally enjoyed it and can’t wait to go again. It’s something I would highly recommend to at least try once. Most of the vaulting facilities I’ve researched offer beginner friendly classes, you don’t need to buy any special clothes, the classes are reasonable priced (even for poor folk), and adults are welcomed. I never once felt self-concious once the lesson started and even the 8 year old made me feel welcomed. So give it a try sometime!

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