Vaulting Horses (5th in a series)

Goliath of Portola Valley, California



      Of the approximately 200 recognized horse breeds, one will notice a predominance of five cold-blooded purebreds and a multitude of interesting crossbreeds utilized in vaulting.  Very large working or sport horses most often are used for team cantering events.  These go’s last five minutes and the horse may have to carry a dynamic load of 400 pounds at any one time.

Warm-blooded horses are a modern mix between hotbloods and cold- bloods or a cross between two warmbloods.  This hot-warm-cold reference has to do with the origins and traits of the horse, not their body temperature (which incidentally is the same).  The name hotblood is attributed to breeds like Arabians and Thoroughbreds because they are quick to react, have high spirits, and their ancestors came from the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. The sport horses are either hotbloods or warmbloods.  Many breeders have crossed a Thoroughbred with a draft horse to create a fine warm-blooded vaulting horse.  Keep in mind that whatever the type of horse, there are big individuals and smaller ones.

The major cold-blooded breeds in the U.S. are the Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire, and Suffolk.  In sharp contrast with the hotbloods, these are the massive animals with big bones and a calm, stolid, placid character.

These more even-tempered varieties are descended from the tundra and steppe horse of the northern forest.  Their stockier builds are naturally better suited for the cold of northern winters.  These horse varieties were originally bred to be successful in warfare wearing metal skirts and heavy headgear.  Just like the sport of vaulting, these varieties originated in Europe and were imported to America.

Each coldblood breed came to the U. S. when an emphasis was placed on finding useful means of accomplishing agricultural work.  These horse’s have the same circulatory temperature that hot-blooded and warmblood horses, but they are designated as such because of their cool, phelemic temperament.  Compare the fact that there were 27 million draft horses in this country in 1918 and less than 3 million now.[1]


Clydesdales are very impressive with a substantial underpinning and are consistently the tallest breed of draft horse.  Their date of origin is about 1715 when a Flemish or Dutch stallion was bred in the County of Lank, Scotland, near the river Clyde.  Clydesdales are bay or brown and on the average grow to 16-18 hh and 1600 to 1900 pounds.

They are esteemed for their character, high-stepping gait, hairy legs, power, temperament, beauty, and style.  Gaiety with an even disposition is displayed.  They are relatively easy to train, too.  Now they rank third in population among the draft horses in the U.S.  The Scotch probably imported the first horses into North America during the early 1870’s.  Now there are many pure Clydesdales and Clydesdale Crosses active in AVA activities.


There are few Suffolk and Shire breeds engaged in vaulting in the United States.  In England, these are more common and highly regarded.  The Suffolk is almost always chestnut colored and is also characterized by its compactness and hardy constitution.  Suffolk Punch horses have big heads, wide foreheads, thick shoulders and neck, and are agile.  They lack a high trotting leg action.  This breed generally grows to be the shortest of draft horses at 15.2 to 16.2 hands high (hh) and weighs 1600 to 2000 pounds.

Suffolk horses were first brought into the U. S. during the 1880’s and the origin of this distinctive breed was in 1506 in Suffolk County.  Owners find that like the Belgian they are among the easiest of the draft horses to maintain.


The Shire actually is believed to pre-date any written records around 1755 because knights likely used them.   Draft stallions came from the low-lying Fen country of Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire, England.  1853 marked the year that Shires were imported into the U.S.

They distinctively have white markings on their feet and legs and feathers on fetlocks finer and silkier than that found on Clydesdales.  Shires have many fine qualities like adaptability, strength, stamina, constitution, immense power, kind-naturedness and docility.

Consistently, this is the largest breed of modern horse with a male standing from 17 to 17.1 hh (170-200 cm) and 2200 pounds at maturity.  They can be described as having a commanding appearance with a very masculine head and a long arched neck.  It was the Shire that was used by knights to carry them and their heavily armored bodies.

The head is lean in proportion to the body.  Shires have a good crest with sloping shoulders running well into the back that is short and well coupled into the loins.  They have a wealth of hair or “feathers” on the lower legs.  The ribs are well sprung with good middle.  Both head and tail are carried erect.  The tallest horse that ever lived, Nebraska Queen, was a Shire that weighed more than 3100 pounds.[2]


The most popular, a Belgian is the heavy draft horse breed with Old World origins.  The progenitors are the huge Flemish horse, the Brabancon from Brussels, and the faster and smaller Ardennes.  Although originally black, Belgians now are typically chestnut or roan but may be dun-colored.  More rare is the Dun-colored Belgian.  Mature horses range from 15.3 to 17hh and 1700 to 2200 pounds.  They are thicker than Percherons.

owned by D. A. Dailey

The largest horse Jepsen ever saw was a 19.5 hh Belgian, named Brooklyn Supreme, weighing in at 3200 pounds at the Ohio State Fair during the late 1930’s.  This Belgian required a 40-inch collar, was 6 ft. 6 in. tall at the withers (shoulders), and measured 10 ft. 2 in. around the body.[3]

The same author reported of “Big John”, another Belgian, raised in New Jersey.  He weighed 2640 pounds, stood 19.2 hh at the withers, 8.5 ft. tall from the ground to the ears, 10 ft. 6 in. long from nose to tail.  Big John ate 2 bales of hay and 30 quarts of oats each day.


Percherons are said to have Arabian, Barb, Turkish, French and Belgian bloodlines and hail from the ancient district of La Perche in the Province of Normandy France.  They were first imported into the United States in 1839.  Due to the eastern origins their form is referred to as refined, sleek, graceful, quick, and smoothly proportioned.

White Percheron

Percherons are compact with short but strong legs.  The chest is deep and broad, loins muscular, and neck thick and well crested.  Almost all are coal black or light or dark dappled grey.  A docile Percheron’s size could be 17 hh and 1900 to 2100 pounds.

Mt. Tabor Vaulting Club of Virginia


      Clubs in the American Vaulting Association were utilizing more than a hundred horses with the following bloodlines in 1995:

  • American Baskar Curly
  • Andalusian/Thoroughbred Mix
  • Appaloosa and Appaloosa/Quarter Horse
  • Full Arabian and Arabian/Dutch Warmblood Cross
  • Belgian (Full 100%) and Belgian Cross
  • Belgian/Appaloosa
  • Belgian/Percheron Appaloosa
  • Belgian Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred
  • Cleveland Bay/Thoroughbred
  • Full Clydesdale or Clydesdale/Hackney Cross

    Chestnut Sorrel

  • Clydesdale/Thoroughbred
  • Draft Cross, Draft-Irish, and Grade Draft
  • Grade Quarter Horse
  • Hackney/Arab
  • Halflinger
  • Hanoverian or Hanoverian/Trakehner Cross
  • Hanoverian/Quarter Horse
  • Morgan or Morgan/Appaloosa Cross
  • Morgan/Percheron or Morgan/Quarter Horse
  • Mule
  • Registered Percheron or Percheron Cobb
  • Percheron Appaloosa or Percheron/Morgan
  • Percheron/Standard Bred or Percheron/Thoroughbred
  • Pinto
  • Pony of America
  • Full Quarter Horse or Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred Cross
  • Shire
  • Suffolk Cross
  • Full Thoroughbred or Thoroughbred/Arabian Cross
  • Thoroughbred/Hanoverian
  • Trakehner.
  • Warmblood Crosses: Bavarian, Belgian, Dutch, German, Polish or Swedish Warmbloods

Warm-blooded horses are a mix between hotbloods and coldbloods or a cross of two warmbloods.  Many instances have bred a thoroughbred with a draft horse to create a fine vaulting horse.  Examples of warm-blooded horses include the Quarter Horse and Hanoverian.


Very different both physically and behaviorally from the cold-blooded draft horse is the hot-blooded Thoroughbred.  “Bulle Rock” was the first horse of record that immigrated to America in 1730.

The Thoroughbred was created in England with much human intervention between 1690 and 1765.  Three horses that provided bloodlines for this fast, beautiful and powerful horse were the Darley Arabian, Byerley Turk, and Godolphin Barb.  Centuries of breeding for speed have produced a horse of immense stamina and courage.  The modern Thoroughbred remains harder to control and high strung.

On the average this very elegant looking breed are 15.3 hh to 16.1 hh.  Compared to the cold-blooded horses, these hotbloods have a refined slenderness and relatively long body parts.  They have proportionately long backs.  For a good vaulting horse, this breed are crossbred with others.



The Quarter Horse began to be bred in Virginia and the Carolinas about 1665.  These are a cross between the European Thoroughbreds and the native Spaniard mares.  This breed has become the most popular in North America and takes it name from the quarter mile races they competed so adeptly.  The Quarter Horse’s inherent ability also becam manifest in cutting out cattle and performing well in rodeo contests.  They mature to 14.2 to 15.2 hh and 1,000 to 1,300 lbs.  One notices that they are usually a chestnut color.

They are fine vaulting horses because of their very athletic, agile, and calm nature.  Quarter Horses are popular warmbloods noted for their muscular legs, great balance, and especially strong and wide hindquarters.


The Standard Bred breed was created in Orange County, New York, in 1849, when the leading foundation sire Hambletonian was foaled.  Since then, they have become famous as trotters and being used to help create novel American bloodlines.

From New England and New York, Standard Breds were moved to Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana contributing to the development of the American Saddle Horse and the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Very similar to the Thoroughbred, it has heavier bones, harder shoulders and legs, greater endurance, and the medium-long back.  They are shorter than a Thoroughbred growing to between 14.2 and 16.1 hh and 800 to 1,250 lbs.  Bay, brown, black and chestnut are their predominant colors.  The Standard Bred Horses are powerful, durable, courageous, and well known for breeding refinements making it among the world’s fastest harness trotting and pace horses.


This warm-blooded breed had its beginnings in Massachusetts during the 1790’s.  Various bloodlines, including the Welsh Cobb, Thoroughbred, and Arabian, were crossed.  The stallion Justin Morgan was the progenitor of this breed.  Not only was Justin Morgan a superior draft horse but he outran and outwalked any horse of his day between Vermont, Springfield, Massachusetts, and St. Lawrence County, New York.

Morgan Horse

Their attributes that set them apart are intelligence, stamina, and ease of handling.  Ears are short, wide apart and alertly carried.  Morgans grow to 14.0 to 15.2 hh and 1,000 to 1,200 lbs. Morgans may be bay, black, brown, or chestnut.


This warmblood breed was established in Ellington, Connecticut, and recognized in 1963.  A Pinto is a piebald (black-and-white) or skewbald (other colors) “painted” American Western horse of Spanish origin.  The Spanish conquistadors and Native American Indian tribes have favored pintos.  Nowadays, this color type is selectively bred like the Albino is.  Although relatively small, a pinto is undemanding, quick, hardy, and full of stamina.

Pinto pattern markings may appear in a horse of any color.  Overo patterned pintos have a dark coat with patchy white areas that seem to start on the underside and extend upward on the horse.  On a Tobiano pinto the white appears to originate from the top line of the horse, its spots are larger, and markings are more sharply defined.  The Tobiano is dominant (gene) genetically and results in a phenotype white coat with dark patches of color.


Originally this pony (POA) breed is a cross between an Appaloosa mare and the American Shetland Pony stallion.  The breed was founded in the 1950’s and is one of three ponies – the Chincoteague and American Shetland are the others – indigenous to the United States.

Approximately 11.2 to 13 hh (130 cm; 46 to 52 inches) tall, the POA is wonderful for shorter, younger vaulters.  One will find this breed in any of seven beautifully distinctive spotted or mottled coat patterns.  It’s distinctive look has a head with large eyes and small, pointed ears sloping through the well-laid shoulder and withers to a full, wide chest and deep body with well rounded quarters, loins short and well muscled, and a tail set high.  Confirmation is between an Arab and a Quarter Horse. The POA is appreciated for its compliant and undemanding manner, hardiness and stamina.


This is a very popular breed in the American vaulting community.  The “a Palouse horse” origin is distinctively western and native North American.  The Nez Perce Tribe in the Palouse Valley of the land that is now Washington state first bred appaloosas.  Their beautiful spotted coats may have any combination of six (e.g. marbleized, dot, snowflake, blanket pattern) color varieties.

The warm-blooded Appaloosas mature between 14.2 to 15.2 hh and weigh 950 to 1,300 pounds.  Their unique eyes are encircled by white sclera and parti-coloured skin capped off with parti-coloured hoofs.  They are great for vaulting because of their agility, constitution, and easy handling.  In addition, they are very athletic horses with a high degree of stamina.


Other distinctive American horses such as the Tennessee Walking Horse, Mustang, Palomino, Missouri Fox Trotter, Hackney, and American Saddle Horse have not yet been bred to create a horse used in vaulting.

The American Horse Shows Association defines the Palomino warm blood as having “the color of a newly coined U.S. gold coin …Mane and tail shall be white with not over 15% dark or chestnut hair … Those with pinto markings, stripes on legs, shoulders or down the back, or bleached mane or tail shall be disqualified.  Eyes shall be dark or hazel and of the same color.”

It is believed that the explorer Cortez introduced horses of palomino color into the New World.  The Palomino confirmation may be Quarter Horse, Morgan or other breed.

The Mustang is a feral, by definition neither domestic nor wild, horse with a Spanish-American origin.  Crossbreeding was done with high endurance Norse Duns and compact Libyan Barbs to create a sure-footed, adaptable horse. Coronado and DeSoto took great numbers of these “Jennet” from breeding farms in Haiti and other Caribbean islands to lands now known as Mississippi and Arizona.

Contemporary laws have led to adopt-a-horse initiatives and four reserves near Nellis AFB, Nevada, Oshoto, Wyoming, Grand Junction, Colorado, and Assateague Island, Virginia.  The Mustang is a lightweight horse standing between 14 and 15 hh.  Mustangs fortunate to still be alive are warmbloods descending from the wild herds of the Great Plains and California Central Valley that existed in the 1840’s.

What we are probably more likely to see more of in this country for vaulting purposes are more crossbreeding with some of the many European warmbloods in the future.

[1] 1960 United States Farm Census.

[2] Jepsen, Stanley M., The Gentle Giants, pp. 88-97.

[3] Ibid. page 35.


copyright 2011 – Max’s Scout Services & Communications, LLC –

Woodside, California U.S.A.

About Max's Scout Services and Communications of the Americas, LLC


Posted on January 19, 2011, in Sport and Recreation. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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