One of the amazing things about attending the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games for Horse & Hound is the opportunity to watch some sports that I don’t normally see.
Eventing is my speciality, I follow the other Olympic disciplines and I’ve been driving and endurance editor at H&H for 18 months, but I have to admit, today is my very first time watch a vaulting competition live.
So many things about it are interesting and surprising. I knew that this morning was a team competition, but what I didn’t understand was how much team co-ordination is needed, even though the vaulters are performing compulsory movements individually today. The teams all entered in a formation, they ran in sync (above left), they lined up in height order with their arms in identical positions (below right).
A mobile platform
The horse is basically a cantering platform. It’s reasonably common for competitors to use a borrowed horse to save money — I’m currently watching South African Kegan Smith, who is performing on Smokin Joe, also being “ridden” by Canada’s Colin Schmidt.
The lunger is obviously a massive part of the team — keeping the horse going smoothly and rhythmically is crucial, not just so the vaulters can do their stuff, but also because two of the six judges are marking the horse.
The common link between the horses is that they are all pretty large — rather worryingly, it’s a long way to vault up, dismount at a canter, and, god forbid, fall — and they all have a nice flat back. A calm temperament seems pretty crucial too.
The Swedish horse this morning was spooky and kept going in towards the lunger from his prescribed 15m circle, and that made it very tricky for the vaulters. They were trying to time movements for the steadier parts of the circle, but they ran out of time and one person didn’t even get to complete all her movements. Imagine coming all this way for that to happen — no wonder there were tears.
I developed a soft spot for the Slovakians. When they finished they were all desperate to give their horse Vilam a pat — good on them, personally, I wouldn’t get too close to those enormous feet if I was wearing those little soft shoes. The flyer — the little one who later in the week will be up the top of a three-person formation — almost got squashed out and had to settle for patting his tummy.
Being read the riot act
When I arrived this morning, the press officer politely read us the riot act about when we could move and where photographers can stand. It sounded a bit excessive, but actually it makes sense. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for disturbing that cantering horse while someone’s standing on their hands on its back.
One more thing I have to mention is the clothes. The vaulters basically wear lycra suits all over, in national colours, all very co-ordinated and streamlined. The girls have matching make-up — actually, I reckon the boys might too — and hair dos. The Swiss girls all had a white Swiss cross on their buns and a sort of red sparkly hairpiece.
I’d better go and concentrate — I’ve a few more hours of vaulting to watch, including British star Joanne Eccles, then this evening it’s back to showjumping (no sparkly hairpieces, you’re lucky if they wear hairnets). It’s the team final, and while Britain aren’t in the running for a medal, it’s great to have them competing in this last round. We’ll be in the stands cheering them on.
Log back on through the week for updates on the vaulting. Full report in H&H, out 14 October.