The excellent ten: A matter of point of view?

During the past weeks, we have introduced a discussion about the vaulting scoring system. We have talked about the possibility of someone actually scoring an “excellent ten” in our sport.

Well, we decided to dig deeper and ask for FEI’s opinion on the matter. Bettina de Rham, FEI’s director for Vaulting, Driving and Reigning, has has kindly offered to aswer a few of our questions. But before we present her answers, let’s consider some things:

On the subjective evaluation of art

Vaulting is becoming more and more subjective every day.

If you compare this freestyle from 2002 and this one from 2016, you’ll see that our sport has changed a lot. The scoring system has also changed: Today the horse scores and artistic scores have a much higher value.

But how do we judge that?

I am just a vaulting fan, but let’s pretend for a minute that I am a judge. Noroc comes into the ring and I decide that I don’t really like their modern bird aesthetics (which the real me vaulting fan loves, BTW). I give them a lower artistic score. But that’s based solely on my opinion and on what I think is cool and what isn’t.

That’s very subjective because at times what the vaulters are trying to express and what the judge enjoys and expects are not the same thing. So vaulters might start to do what they think the judges will like, not what they want to do for real.

This was a problem in gymnastics and they solved it in 2006 by creating a new scoring system that tries to be absolutely objective. They ended most possibilities of art in Olympic Gymnastics by creating a code of points and technical requirements for every routine. That’s why if you watch a modern gymnastics beam routine, you might find the athletes kind of look like very flexible (and amazing) robots.

Vaulting seems to be heading the other way. We get more artistic each year. We are creating new moves, and breaking new artistic boundaries.


Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 – France’s Jacques Ferrari wins gold with his horse Poivre Vert in the Vaulting men’s individual free programme Mandatory Credit: FEI / Arnd Bronkhorst / Pool Pic Livepic

Another solution to this artistic problem is called diversity. If you have judges with different opinions and different cultural backgrounds, suddenly the discussion on what is beautiful and what isn’t gets more interesting because you have different people deciding. So you get one judge that likes Ingelsberg’s traditional catsuits and one that likes the fact that Noroc is flying into the arena. Not only this is fair for everyone, but it also enriches the discussion.

And that would be a cool way for us to have leeway for more and more different artistic expressions and opinions.

This year during the Oscar’s Ceremony, the Academy realized something interesting: 70% of the people judging the movies were white men older than 70 years old. So, for the next editions of the Oscars the goal is to bring more people into the Academy so the judging system is more diverse. That’s an interesting way to accommodate the changes in our society.

Is the perfect ten possible in vaulting- (2)

The FEI doesn’t agree with me. Check out their answers:

  1. We’ve seen many performances reach scores over 9 points in the past years (such as Neuss, or the Austrian PDD). Do you think the “perfect 10” exists in vaulting?

The “perfect ten” for a single routine in artistic gymnastics was once thought to be unattainable, particularly at the Olympic Games, yet many of us will still remember the moment Nadia Comăneci became the first to achieve this at the 1976 Games in Montreal. This score has since been attained several times.

While the perfect ten has also been achieved several times on the artistic score in Vaulting, it has yet to be accomplished for the final score.

A final score of ten would actually be incredibly difficult to achieve, given our very specific differences to the likes of gymnastics.

For this to happen, the competitive unit in Vaulting – the vaulter, the horse and the lunger – would all have to receive the highest scores possible, and the vaulter would also have to achieve the highest possible scores across the different elements covering the entire structure and choreography of the routine.

We can never say never, but what we can say outright is that any score over nine points is an incredible achievement, given the scope of how many athletes are involved in achieving the score and what needs to be achieved within the routine to reach nine and surpass it!


  1. Vaulting is a sport that’s growing more and more subjective each year. Vaulters may be turning into artists rather than athletes. How do you judge a presentation that is artistical and subjective? How do you choose which one is better and how does the scoring system ensures that this judging is fair?

 The scoring in Vaulting ensures complete focus on the sport.

While there is a creative score opportunity, it is relatively small – the maximum creative score achievable is 10% of the Freestyle score, which in total accounts for 25% of the overall score.

While many vaulters do invest time and effort in an artistic performance, vaulting routines are judged objectively and the FEI Guidelines for Vaulting Judges here are designed to help judges make these objective decisions.

One incredibly artistic vaulter is the now-retired Jacques Ferrari. The French vaulter was well known for his love of the artistic side of vaulting, but his success was always down to his technical brilliance. His individual gold medal at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy followed several major successes.

  1. How does the compulsories and tech test fit inside the modern vaulting? Some people question if the compulsories should be eliminated from vaulting competitions. What’s FEI point of view on that? Do they still serve the same function they did years ago?

The FEI Vaulting Committee is listening to the views of the global Vaulting community.

Compulsory tests are vital to maintaining levels of training, competition standards and venue familiarity for everyone – the vaulter, the horse and the lunger.


I am a 27 years old psychologist from Brazil, although I have graduated in psychology I work with media and communications, with a focus on data analysis. I am currently heading towards a master's degree at the London School of Economics (LSE). I am not vaulting anymore, but I did for over 10 years. As it very often happens in our sport, I never really left, I taught at a social project for a few years and have been working on VN since 2014.