Gymnastics Horse Vault (what is it?)

I am often asked about the various apparatus and techniques used in competitive gymnastics. One of the most iconic and well-known events in gymnastics is the vault.

In this article, we delve into the history and evolution of the gymnastics horse vault, discussing its similarities to the pommel horse, why it’s called the “vaulting horse,” and why competitive gymnasts get two attempts on the apparatus.

Table of Contents

vault horse

What is the horse called in gymnastics?

The horse used in the gymnastics vault is simply called the “vaulting horse.” It is important to note that the term “horse” is often used interchangeably with the word “apparatus” in gymnastics, and in this context, both terms refer to the equipment used for the vaulting event.

In the 90s and noughties, the vaulting horse was replaced with the vaulting table and as a result, the term horse is used much less frequently in gymnastics nowadays.

What is the history of vaulting horse?

The vaulting horse, also known as the gymnastics horse vault, has a rich history that dates back to the early 19th century. Initially, the horse was designed as a simple wooden box with a leather cover, and it was used primarily for training and conditioning purposes. As gymnastics evolved, so did the horse. It became more refined, with padded sides and a non-slip surface, to provide a better grip and reduce the risk of injury.

The shape and size of the apparatus resembled the rear of a real horse but it is unclear who or when exactly the term ‘horse’ was attributed to the vault.

Read my complete guide to the Gymnastics Vault here.

Is the vault horse similar to pommel horse?

The vault horse is often confused with the pommel horse, as both apparatuses look very similar in design. However, there are distinct differences between the two. The pommel horse is smaller and has two handles whereas the vault horse has no handles. The pommel horse is primarily used for circular and scissor-like routines, with gymnasts shifting their weight from one handle to the other.

The pommel horse requires precise movements and a number of skills are linked together to create a routine.

Meanwhile, the vaulting horse is used for more powerful and explosive movements like Handspring, Tsukahara and Yurchenko vaults.

Why did the vault horse change in gymnastics?

Over the years, the design of the vaulting horse has undergone significant changes to improve the safety and performance of the gymnasts. In the past, the horse had a rigid wooden construction, which made it difficult for gymnasts to generate the necessary power for their vaults. Additionally, the lack of padding made the apparatus quite dangerous, increasing the risk of injury during training and competition.

There were several high-profile accidents involving the old-style vaulting horse in the 80s and 90s and authorities started to look into ways to improve safety on the vault.

The modern vaulting table is designed with a padded top and non-slip sides, which provide gymnasts with a safe and secure surface to launch their vaults. The area for gymnasts to place their hands is much larger and as a result, their hands are less likely to slip off.

Why do gymnasts get two vaults?

In gymnastics competitions, each gymnast is given two attempts at the vault. The scores from both attempts are then averaged to determine their final score for the event. The two attempts provide gymnasts with a chance to showcase their skills and also act as a safety measure, as the second attempt allows them to correct any mistakes made on the first attempt. Additionally, the two attempts help to eliminate any discrepancies that may arise due to equipment malfunctions or other external factors that may affect a gymnast’s performance.

Learn 8 basic vaults in gymnastics here.


In conclusion, the gymnastics vault is an exciting and challenging event in the world of gymnastics. Its history and evolution have made it an essential part of the sport, and the use of the modern version of the vaulting horse continues to inspire athletes and coaches alike. With proper training and equipment, gymnasts can continue to push the boundaries of what is possible on the new style vaulting table and showcase their skills on the world stage.