FEI Seeks to Improve Vaulting Horse Welfare

FEI Seeks to Improve Vaulting Horse Welfare

The FEI says back pads must be capable of supporting the impact of the vaulter’s body on the horse.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The vaulting discipline involves human acrobatic movement on a longed horse's back. As the sports gains popularity, and as vaulters' movements become more complex, the continued welfare of the vaulting horse is becoming an important issue for international governing body of equestrian sports. And recently, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) proposed some rule changes to help ensure vaulting horse welfare.

In particular, back pads must be capable of supporting the impact of the vaulter’s body on the horse, and other pieces of equipment particular to the discipline—surcingles and handles (or grips), for example—should evolve to ensure the welfare of the horse, an FEI representative said.

“The FEI constantly monitors horse welfare across the disciplines it governs,” explained Bettina de Rham, FEI director of vaulting, driving, and reining. “As vaulting grows, the equipment is changing to allow for more technical performances. We are currently in discussions with our national federations on proposed updates to the current vaulting rules on equipment, to allow for its evolution while ensuring it is comfortable and safe for horses and vaulters.”

At the FEI Sports Forum, held June 10 in Lausanne, Switzerland, attendees of the vaulting round table discussion agreed it was necessary to update the current guidelines for vaulting back pads. Currently, article 719.2 of the FEI vaulting guidelines states that a back pad is required, that it must be made of an “elastic/springy material,” that it can be accompanied by a gel pad. The article also gives specific size requirements for length and width as well as placement on the horse’s back, but not for thickness or construction. New rules would aim towards optimal protection of the horse’s back and muscle protection, the attendees stated.

“We are working with vaulting specialists within our national federations and considering research into new technology and materials for these pads,” de Rham said.

“It is the FEI’s responsibility to ensure the disciplines it governs constantly evolves, while protecting horse welfare,” she said. “We are therefore using this opportunity to fully assess the development of equipment used in vaulting, so that we can establish a more specific equipment rule for the sport that suits all of our equine and human athletes.”

The vaulting round table members will also be evaluating how new back pad technology could allow vaulters to increase the difficulty of their acrobatic movements, she added. However, the horse’s welfare will remain priority.

“It is essential that new technology used in back pads and vaulting grips evolves positively for the horse,” said de Rham.

The vaulting round table members also included Erich Breiter of Austria, vice chair of the vaulting technical committee, and vaulting committee members Gaby Benz (Italy), Ulla Ramge (Germany), and John Eccles (United Kingdom).

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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