Vaulting Horse Gymnastics (what is it?)

One of the most iconic and well-known events in gymnastics is the vault. The modern vault is shaped like a table, however, vaulting originally mimicked the longer shape of a horse and has evolved much in recent years.

In this article, we delve into the history and evolution of the vaulting horse in gymnastics, 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 the vaulting horse?

Gymnastics, as a sport, has its roots in ancient civilizations. The ancient Greeks practiced a form of gymnastics that included exercises on the vaulting horse as part of their military training. This early form of the vaulting horse was likely a simple wooden contraption, used to train soldiers in jumping over obstacles during warfare.

Initially, the horse was designed as a simple rectangular 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.

19th Century Developments

As gymnastics evolved into a modern sport during the late 19th century, the vaulting horse became a standard apparatus in men’s artistic gymnastics. Early versions of the modern vaulting horse had a cylindrical body with a flat top and two pommels (handles) on top. Male gymnasts would perform exercises that involved swinging their legs over the horse while holding onto the pommels. This developed into the Pommel Horse which today is still an apparatus competed in Men’s Artistic gymnastics.

Whilst the Pommel Horse developed into its own apparatus, the Vault also became a standalone event.

The Vault used the same rectangular wooden apparatus but without the handles. This allowed gymnasts to jump and flip over the equipment by placing their hands on top without colliding with the handles.

Women were also using the Vaulting Horse from early in the 20th century making the Vault a core apparatus for both genders as opposed to the Pommel which has traditionally been a male-only event.

Read my complete guide to the Gymnastics Vault here.

Pommel Horse v Vault

Pommel Horse v Vault

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.

Today, the vaulting table is the standard apparatus for both men’s and women’s gymnastics. The evolution of the vaulting horse to the vaulting table reflects the broader trend in gymnastics towards increasing technical difficulty, athleticism, and innovation.

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 vaulting horse gymnastics 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.

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Andrew Payne

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *