Vaulting is basically gymnastics and dance on horseback; and it can be done non-competitively or competitively.
Olivia practicing on the horse
during her equestrian vaulting lesson.
Vaulting has a long history. According to Wikipedia, "It is believed by some that the origins of vaulting could be traced to the ancient Roman games, where acrobats usually displayed their skills on cantering horses.
"Others, however, believe that vaulting originated in ancient Crete, where Bull-leaping was prevalent. In either case, people have been performing acrobatic and dance-like movements on (or over) the backs of moving horses/animals for more than 2,000 years."
During the Renaissance and Middle Ages, there are many references to vaulting or similar activities. The name "vaulting" to describe the sport comes from the French word "La Voltige." This was a term used during the Renaissance when vaulting was a form of agility exercise and riding drills for noblemen and knights.
Modern vaulting was developed in post-war Germany as a way to introduce children to equestrian sports.
Vaulting was first introduced in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. It was limited to California and other areas of the west coast. More recently, it has been spreading eastward and gaining popularity in other parts of the United States.
Beginning vaulters compete at the walk or trot while experienced vaulters compete at the canter. Both Sophia and Olivia have moved to the trotting stage at this point.
The vaulting horse moves in a 15-metre circle (about a 50-foot circle) and is directed by a lunger (or "longeur") who stands in the center of the circle. When the girls are practicing, the circle is much smaller because of the limited space in the riding arena.
Vaulting competitions consist of compulsory exercises and choreographed freestyle exercises done to music. There are seven compulsory exercises: mount, basic seat, flag, mill, scissors, stand, and flank. Each exercise is scored on a scale from 0–10. Horses also receive a score and are judged on the quality of their movement as well as their behavior.
At this point, Sophia and Olivia have learned how to do the seven compulsory exercises as well as some freestyle exercises. They both are able to stand on the horse's back while it is moving. They also are working on teams - which means that two or more vaulters are on the horse at one time and do exercises together.
Vaulting horses are not saddled. Rather, they wear something called a surcingle (or a roller) and a thick back pad. The surcingle has special handles which help the vaulter in performing particular moves as well as leather loops called "cossack stirrups." The horse also wears side reins and a bridle. Usually, the lunge line is attached to the inside bit ring.
The American Vaulting Association has some interesting pictures and videos of vaulting competitions that are worth checking out.