Champion Lasse Kristensen reveals the secrets behind this thrilling discipline ahead of this month's FEI World Cup™ Vaulting Final
There are now less than two weeks until the FEI World Cup™ Vaulting Final, when the leading exponents of this thrilling discipline will come together in Dortmund.
Simply described as gymnastics on horseback, Vaulting is a harmonious bond between horse and athlete that creates awe-inspiring acrobatic displays of skill and precision. Watching performers such as Kristina Boe and Lukas Heppler, it’s no surprise this discipline has built up a significant and loyal following around the world.
Looking ahead to this month’s final, which can be viewed live on FEI TV and YouTube from March 22-25, we spoke to 2006 World Equestrian Games (WEG) champion lunger Lasse Kristensen about the specific challenges faced by vaulters.
Vaulting horses need
high self-esteem and
Lasse Kristensen (pictured)
'Unique bond between human and equine athletes'
After more than 20 years in the sport as trainer, lunger and vaulter, Kristensen will be a keen follower of events in Dortmund as his athletes, including James Hocking, Sheena Bendixen and Claire de Ridder, prepare for this year’s WEG. Kristensen also gives his expert view on the unique bond between human and equine athletes…
How did you become involved in Vaulting?
LK: “The appeal of Vaulting has for me always been about the harmony with the horse. The sensation of the extremely powerful energy of the horse is wildly fascinating to me. I especially like the challenge of getting all three, the horse, the vaulter and the lunger, to work together to exploit this power to create harmony.
“I started vaulting at the age of 12. I’d been riding and doing gymnastics beforehand, and vaulting was the perfect combination of the two. Once I started, things escalated quickly. At the age of 16, I spent a year in Southern Germany, where I trained and my interest in lunging started there, too.”
What are the characteristics that make for a successful Vaulting horse?
LK: “A successful Vaulting horse has a good, strong, flexible canter that is easy to vault on. Some of the best Vaulting horses I have worked with have also had an effortless canter; a canter that seemed like it was not hard at all for them.
“It should also be very sensitive toward the signals from the lunger; signals including the ship, the lungeline, the voice and the body movement.
"It should have high self-esteem and self-confidence, and lastly, it should have a great motivation to collaborate with the lunger and connect with the lunger and a high motivation to work hard."
How does training a Vaulting horse differ from other disciplines?
LK: “If we compare with Dressage, the main difference is that Dressage horses should be trained to move away from pressure. Vaulting horses are trained for the exact opposite thing; they should work up against the pressure.
“If a vaulter is doing a one legged-stand in the handle, the horse cannot evade – it must even out the pressure and keep the steady pace below. That is the big difference and the exciting thing to work with Vaulting horses as well.”
Could you tell us about the relationship between the Vaulting athlete and their horse?
LK: “I always, always work from the mantra: First we build the horse, then the vaulter can perform. That is also why I started Kristensen Vaulting Supply, that distributes vaulting equipment with this mantra in mind.
“A vaulter should always design his or her freestyle after the horse’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses. When you focus on building the horse, adjusting the vaulting to the horse, then the harmony between the vaulter and the horse will arise.”
Could you tell us about some of your favourite Vaulting horses?
LK: Leonardo, who Megan Benjamin won her WEG gold medal on in 2006, was one of my first elite Vaulting horses. He was outstanding because he was the first horse that I experienced having a connection and mutual trust with. He could tease me and misbehave, but he knew when it was go-time and he would perform his absolute best.
"He was also special, because he had one of the largest, biggest and smoothiest canters, I have ever experienced, and that canter made almost every vaulter look beautiful on his back.
“Another horse that has made a great impression on me, was Jarl. Jarl was partly owned by my club and partly by Mt. Eden Vaulting Club. He was such a sensitive character and very sensitive on the helpers, the signals from the lunger. One little signal with one finger on the lungeline, he would react on – even in the middle of a team freestyle.
“At the same time, he was incredibly strong and powerful and could carry a whole team freestyle completely effortless. That combination of sensitivity and power was very fascinating to me. But he was also a complicated horse; he needed a great deal of trust in his lunger to be able to perform.
“That demanded a great deal of attention as a lunger to make him feel safe and read the situation, but when we succeeded with that, it was such a great feeling.”
Tune into this year's FEI World Cup™ Vaulting Final on YouTube and FEI TV from March 22-25...
Text by Richard Mulligan
Images by Liz Gregg / Daniel Kaiser / Christophe Tanière