Rosie Howard vaulted & competed internationally during her childhood. She loved the sport so much, that she has her own vaulting show now.
As a child you competed with the British vaulting team. What made you quit this strict, trying to be perfect and really correct world? Could you imagine to compete again?
I did my last competition at the age of twenty-one (Saumur CVI 2004), and almost immediately afterwards started a new job with an equestrian stunt team. Here I learnt how to trick ride, and was soon performing in shows all over the country. This kept me very busy, and also kept my interest. I trained one of the horses at work to take vaulting, and performed a freestyle act on him in all the on-site shows we did. As such, I didn’t really have time to miss training and competing! I was still working hard and keeping fit, and there was no competition pressure which I had sometimes struggled with. Although there was always pressure to perform well in a show, there is a clapping and cheering audience rather than judges, so it’s just more fun! Besides all this, I was working at something new which I loved, and getting paid for it!! As for competing again, I really can’t see it happening. I occasionally go to competitions, and always have a slight yearning to get up and have a go, but then I remember the hard work, expense and heartache involved and decide to stick to the shows. Never say never though, but I am nearly thirty-two now!
You adopted a lot of that world. There are many Wild West horse shows but your show is the opposite. Your exercises, their realization & the equipment are similar to the FEI rules. Why did you decide to stay that close to the discipline?
I am, and always have been, a vaulter as opposed to a rider. Although I love performing in ridden shows such as Wild West Shows and Cossack Trick Riding Shows I am a vaulter at heart. There are very few people who have managed to make the transition from competition vaulting to show vaulting, but those who have are passionate about it. In this country the sport has changed hugely since I last competed, and is growing in popularity. However, it is still a minority sport and very often people at shows tell me they have never seen anything like it. I always do my best to promote the sport wherever I can and to raise awareness, as it truly is the most amazing sport to pursue. I hope through the shows to have inspired some vaulters of the future.
The only thing you never use is a lunge & lunger. Isn’t it necessary in vaulting?
No! I have three horses now and all of them work free on a circle without a lunger. It takes some training but they all picked it up quite quickly. In the shows we set up a 20m circle using eight bases and a reel of bunting (cones and rope for practice at home!), and the horses work in there. The only difference tack wise is that they keep their reins on, which are just looped over the handles out of the way, but there if you need them. However, one of my horses works with out his bridle on at all – no side reins or anything! Sometimes we don’t even vault in the circle, but go out around the full size of the arena. This takes a bit of getting used to, but as long as you time your moves to coincide with corners etc then it’s great fun, and the crowds always love it! It obviously makes it more difficult being in charge of the horse as well. As a competition vaulter you don’t really have to worry about the horse, as he is the lungers responsibility. In show vaulting you are responsible for the horse as well as yourself. As such, the relationship you have with the horse has to be deeper. I know and trust my horses completely, and can read them and their behavior at shows and alter what I do accordingly. Sometimes when I’m teaching I put them on the lunge, but it’s quite different for them as they’re more used to the free circle so they always look a bit confused!
How would you describe the shows with which you two, Rosie & Helen, together with the two horses amaze the audience?
Galloping Acrobatics present flamboyant vaulting based shows. There is plenty of vaulting in all our performances, but lots of other tricks both with and on the horses thrown in as well. We have skipping horses, dog agility horses, Roman riding, mathematician horses and exquisite equestrian dances. We are a very family friendly show, and perform at many different kinds of events and venues all over the UK.
During your performances the horses & you present a lot of stunning tricks. How many are Casper & Tinker capable of?
Tinker and Casper both have a large repertoire of tricks – I’m not sure I’ve ever counted them up! They both do lots of the same, but they both also do things the other can’t. Character wise they are very different, so I have taught them different tricks accordingly. Between them they can do so much, such as: nodding yes and shaking head no, crossing their front legs both ways, reversing with me behind them, Spanish walk, drunkards walk, kiss, catch, fetch, pirouette both ways, hug, rear up, bow down, jump through a giant hoop, push up cones, slalom cones, whisper in my ear, skip, do mathematics, smile, stand on pedestals and wave a flag – and probably some more that I have forgotten!
How long does it take to train these tricks & where do you get your ideas for calculation, rope skipping or acrobatics? What trick took the longest to train?
It doesn’t take Tinker and Casper very long to pick up new tricks. They know so many, that if I ask them for something new they soon realise that they don’t know what I’m asking for. They then will start throwing out lots of different things, and when they hit on a movement that is similar to what I want I will reward them. From then on it’s just a case of repetition, repetition, repetition. And lots of carrots! I would think to get a new trick up to show standard would take about a week to ten days if we trained every day. A horse new to trick training would take a bit longer, but Tinker and Casper have now learnt to learn so the whole process is accelerated. I currently have a horse in training, and having been working with him since the spring I am hoping he will be ready to perform in the shows next year. If you get a sensible horse I would think about a year to train the vaulting, a good dance and the skipping at least. I couldn’t say which trick took the longest to learn, but it was probably one of the ones I taught them at the beginning. Spanish walk is quite a tricky one for them to grasp and was also one of the early ones. They usually understand that they have to lift one leg up quite easily, but they have four legs and have to move forward at the same time so it becomes difficult for them! Inspiration can come from anywhere, but I try and see what other people have done with their trick horses in the past, old circus footage, books, youtube etc, as well as what’s happening now – there are more people out there training horses to different things than you can possibly imagine!
Is it possible to earn enough money with the program to pay the horses, drives & materials or could you even live of it?
Yes! Anyone who says you can’t make money from vaulting is mistaken. There is a bit more to it than that obviously, but this is my livelihood and my sole source of income. I have two girls who work with me, and although they both have other jobs they are very reliable and always put the shows first! We charge a set rate per day for the show, with a travel charge on top. If we are within budget then the show will book us. We travel all over the country from April through to October performing most weekends at game fairs, country shows, agricultural shows, carnivals, fêtes and private parties – basically any event that books us! During the winter months I do a bit of teaching, and also perform at a couple of indoor events. I spend a lot of time doing all the admin work for the shows and getting everything written and prepared for the coming season. It’s a fantastic lifestyle and I absolutely love it. I feel so lucky to be able to do something that I love for a living, and help raise the profile of the sport that I adore. I hope that we are contributing to the growth and popularity of the sport in this country – the more people who know about vaulting the better!