Equestrian Vaulting (part IV)



      It does not matter what breed of horse is selected, but horses are the center of any vaulting activity.  Large working or sport horses are used for cantering events.   Given proper handling, the horse can be relied on to be club’s stalwart anchor. Sometimes ponies are ridden in trot events when smaller children are involved.  Whatever their size, vaulting horses are bred and trained to be gentle, durable, hardworking, and obedient.

     The welfare of a team, health of their horses, and safety of the athletic vaulters are interdependent upon one another.  Only horses that have attained maturity, at six years old, are used for vaulting in the United States. 

     All horses reach their adult size at three years old and racehorses seem to peak at this age.  It is said that because racehorses begin hard work before their maturity they generally will have a shorter working life than a horse involved in vaulting.  15 is the milestone of a horse in their senior years and you’ll find many vaulting horses active beyond this age.

Monte of Tambourine Vaulters of Sonoma County


     One of the remarkable prevailing practices of AVA teams is the high regard for their horse and the immediacy and sincerity of praise that vaulters show.  The well being of the horses are the keys to the partnership.

      It seems that the degree of caretaking, costs involved, and bonding between the horse and man increase logarithmically as time passes and the draft horse gets bigger and bigger.  Friendships and relationships grow. 

     It is so important to serve the needs of the horse so that it can respond when called upon by the team or an individual vaulter to perform.  Teammates can help by sharing responsibilities and recognize when the horse requires additional care.

     Communication with the horse is very important in determining vital signs and moods, understanding whether the horse may be apprehensive or in pain, and developing quality relationships. 

     Close study and proper interpretation of the horse’s language ranging from a nudge of their soft nose, neigh of a greeting, throaty whinny of pleasure, the way of standing, to the movement of the ears, nostrils and tail are needed.  The eyes along with the action of the ears will tell a great deal about emotions and what is on the horse’s mind.  In addition to a unique personality, every horse has an acute sense of hearing that enables fine interpretation of human speech. 

Sarah and Ken

      Care might include mucking out stables daily or heaven forbid, staying up one night to help a horse pass through a bad episode of colic.  It is particular important that caregivers are able to recognize when the horse needs additional assistance.

Joanne Eccles at the 2010 WEG


      Think of five primary goals for those involved in properly caring for a vaulting horse.  Successful clubs will facilitate development and facilitate their horses’ fitness, stamina, strength, obedience, and intelligence. 

      Maximum fitness leads to levels of performance to the best of the horse’s ability.  Physical, mental and skill fitness can be enhanced by training and care.  Power, agility, flexibility and balance are physical fitness aspects needed by both the horse and vaulters.  The amazing gentle temperament and willpower of these huge, compliant, hardworking horses can describe mental fitness.  Neuromuscular coordination at the walk, trot, or canter gait is what can be referred to as skill fitness.

      It is essential that the team and horse handlers be aware of horse’s condition.  Passing a vet check is usually required on the day of an event.  During a competition, it is not uncommon for a judge to ring a go to an early conclusion if the horse is not healthy.  There are several indications of ill health[1], for instance:

  • Breathing Irregularities —  One can see and hear labored breathing. The normal minute rate is 10 to 15 breaths.  Rate above 12 times per minute can be observed as the flanks move in and out. 
  • Circulatory Abnormalities  — Resting pulse above or below 40 beats per minute. 
  • High Temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (beyond a normal range of 37.7 to 38.6 degrees Celsius).

Temperament – Vaulting Horses at Their Best

a) Eagerness and decrease of interest in activities,

b) Loss of appetite is one of the first signs of illness,

c) Unusual excitedness,

d) Bad temper cues like pulling ears back, showing teeth, extend head, half raising leg when approached, bucking, bolting, circular stall walking, kicking stable walls, and

e) Swinging head from side to side (also known as weaving). 

  • Coughs and colds are never a good sign.  A temperature and nasal discharge may be present.  Treatment may include ventilating the stable area, giving a laxative diet, rug the horse, or apply eucalyptus inhalations.
  • Mucus membranes inside eyelids, lips, mouth and nostrils are not bright pink or have yellow discharge.
  • Strept throat and nose is called strangles.
  • An illness of the blood that causes swelling of the gums is termed lampers.
  • Urine discolored perhaps due to illness or a low intake of water.
  • Abnormal (very hard or with fluid, undigested food, worms, mucous, blood) droppings or absence of (10-15 per day) droppings.
  • Sweating for no apparent reason.
  • Coat that is dry or harsh and hair is standing on end.
  • Excessive lying down being covered in bedding, rolling around, pawing at the ground, kicking at the belly may indicate abdominal discomfort and possible colic.  Colic involves critical care sometimes including enema, drenching, bedded-down, walking, encouraged to stale, and use of a hot rolled blanket under the belly.
  • Legs lacking good musculoskeletal definition or that are not hard and cool to the touch indicate less than optimal health.
  • Lameness  —  Inability to stand squarely on all four legs. 

     Swelling would indicate a problem.  One can check lameness as a horse trots.  If a hind leg is lame the horse will lift the hip of that leg.  If a fore leg is lame, the horse will nod her good leg as it hits the ground.

     Lameness is a very delicate condition.  Symptoms include tenderness, swelling and heat from the affected area.  Causes include strained or bruised tendons, bad horseshoeing, too much riding on hard surfaces, infections, laminitis, thrush which is an inflammation of frog cleft, poor conditioning program schedule, or founder.  Founding may occur when a hot horse is allowed to stand still.  This is why one will see vaulters walking with their horses after their go.  What is even worse is letting a horse drink much water, then keeping a horse still after a hot workout.

     Daily horse maintenance is essential.  Attentions to grooming and foot care are so important.  The feet need constant care because if left untrimmed they are subject to hoof quartercracking, strained tendons, unbalanced movements and unsound action of the horse.

     Everyone involved in the vaulting club should attend to the needs of their horses.  Ensuring that capable assistance is obtained upon demand from the veterinarian and farrier is critical.  On a daily basis, stable care and animal fitness require special care.

[1] Hawcroft, Tim, The Complete Book of Horse Care, pp. 131-167.


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Posted on January 19, 2011, in Sport and Recreation. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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