Would you try gymnastics - on horseback?

Amanda Melton, a former national and international equine vaulting competitor, competed in the World

Amanda Melton, a former national and international equine vaulting competitor, competed in the World Championships 30 years ago, aged 10. Picture: Amanda Melton - Credit: Nick Butcher

Thirty years ago, Amanda Melton was the youngest member of the British team at the World Equestrian Vaulting Championships. Now aged 40, she’s still able to impress. Sheena Grant finds out more ahead of this month’s British Vaulting Championships.

Amanda Melton demonstrates equine vaulting with her horse, Billy.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Amanda Melton demonstrates equine vaulting with her horse, Billy. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

It’s 30 years since a then 10-year-old Amanda Melton competed in the World Vaulting Championships with two other children from her mother Sarah Robertson’s equestrian centre team.

In those days they were among the pioneers of the sport in the UK, where vaulting was almost unheard of before Sarah began promoting it.

Three decades on, Amanda is an instructor at Valley Farm, Wickham Market, and although she can still perform some impressive gymnastic feats on the back of a moving horse, she admits the sport has moved on since those early days and her own time as part of the British team.

Valley Farm still runs vaulting classes but there are also now clubs in Norfolk, Essex and across the country, many of which will be taking part in the British Championships, being held in Wales on October 20 and 21.

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Sarah says: “We competed nationally and internationally for more than eight years but our club, which meets on the last Saturday of every month, is now more of a grass-roots club these days.

“The sport appeals to a variety of people as you need both equine and gymnastic skills but I would say it’s mainly done by horsey people who want to have a go at something different.

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“Contrary to what many people might think I would say it’s actually safer than many forms of riding as you’re on a soft surface and there is someone controlling the horse with a lunge line, meaning all the rider has to concentrate on is themselves and their moves. They are all taught how to get off the horse safely as well before they learn anything too complicated.

“You can have three people on the horse at any one time. It’s amazing the sort of skills that current equestrian vaulters have. When I look back to when we competed the sport has really developed, as all sports do.”

Sarah first learned vaulting in South Africa and when she moved to Valley Farm in the mid 1970s soon began to think about promoting it in the UK.

“Amanda was in the British Equestrian Vaulting Team and we travelled to competitions all over the UK and Europe. We also hosted many international vaulting competitions at Valley Farm,” she says

Amanda, who is also a gymnastics coach as well as riding and vaulting instructor and enjoys circus skills such as unicycling and juggling in her spare time, was the youngest member of the British team at those world championships, held 30 years ago in Austria.

“She was only 10 and I was very proud of her,” says Sarah. “Despite her age, she got the highest marks out of the whole team so, in theory, at that time she was Britain’s best.”

More about equestrian vaulting

Otherwise known as gymnastics on horseback, vaulting was popular in Roman times. These days, vaulting, sometimes known as voltige, is an international sport supported by the FEI, which combines dance and gymnastics on a moving horse.

It’s a great, fun way for all riders to improve their confidence and balance, and is especially good for developing a deep seat in canter. It can also be a good way for non-riders to get used to horses and riding.

What does it involve?

The sport involves individuals or groups of up to three people performing movements on a horse. Starting off with simple moves, like sitting with the arms out, while the horse is walking, to shoulder stands, forward rolls and, for the really experienced, backward flips in canter.

All the moves are taught on a tin/wooden horse before moving on to the real thing and are practised in walk before moving on to canter. You can progress at your own speed, and need only do moves you feel confident with, so don’t let the antics of some professionals scare you off.

Who is it for?

Anyone can vault. There are competitive teams and individuals, but lots of people vault just for fun or to improve their riding. The handles and soft pad used for vaulting can be beneficial for helpful for people who have less mobility in their legs, allowing them to feel the enjoyment of riding while being able to hold on securely with their hands.

It is a great way to develop coordination, strength, balance and creativity whilst working in harmony with the horse. Vaulters also develop self-confidence, trust, responsibility, and learn to work in a team.

If you are interested in developing your vaulting or riding skills or are just looking for a fun way to keep fit then vaulting could be for you. If you love horses, dance, gymnastics then you will love vaulting. And it’s not just for children. Adults can have a go too.

You don’t even have to be able to ride because the horse is controlled by an experienced lunger. Sarah Robertson says vaulting can greatly improve riding and in many countries children are encouraged to learn to vault before they try riding.

Valley Farm Equestrian Leisure offers group of private vaulting lessons and during school holidays often includes vaulting in its children’s activity days. Visit www.valleyfarm.co.uk or call 01728 746916. There are also vaulting clubs in west Norfolk and North Tuddenham, near Dereham as well as at Harwich and Cambridge. To find out more visit www.britishvaulting.org.

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