Think Soccer Is Tough? Try Handstands On A Horse

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Simone Wiegele of Germany riding "Arkansas" in action during a 2011 competition in Leipzig, Germany. The sport is becoming more popular in the American northwest, and parents of kids who learn horse vaulting say it helps teach concentration and confidence. i i

hide captionSimone Wiegele of Germany riding "Arkansas" in action during a 2011 competition in Leipzig, Germany. The sport is becoming more popular in the American northwest, and parents of kids who learn horse vaulting say it helps teach concentration and confidence.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Simone Wiegele of Germany riding "Arkansas" in action during a 2011 competition in Leipzig, Germany. The sport is becoming more popular in the American northwest, and parents of kids who learn horse vaulting say it helps teach concentration and confidence.

Simone Wiegele of Germany riding "Arkansas" in action during a 2011 competition in Leipzig, Germany. The sport is becoming more popular in the American northwest, and parents of kids who learn horse vaulting say it helps teach concentration and confidence.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Some kids play soccer, others play chess and some stand on the backs of galloping horses. Lately, equestrian vaulting is finding a foothold with children in Oregon and Washington. Parents say like any sport, it teaches concentration and gives kids a boost of confidence.

Seth Rouhier is 9-years-old and a paperweight of 55 pounds. It's a blustery afternoon in this sand-filled arena here in central Washington. Seth's mom cues up the freestyle vaulting music on a boom box.

A Quarter horse named Mo is running in a giant circle around the arena. Seth is wearing a black and red spandex bodysuit. When he gets the "go" from his trainer he doesn't hesitate. He runs from the center of the circle and leaps onto the horse's back.

What happens next looks like an Olympic pommel horse routine. This is horse vaulting. It's sort of like dance-meets-gymnastics on the back of a moving horse.

Vaulting draws its roots from ancient Greece and probably Asia too. Now, there are local clubs and national and world competitions. But Seth isn't doing it to get a fancy ribbon.

"It's about like, learning," he says. "You learn about horses a bit. You learn how to balance yourself sometimes. 'Cause if you are standing up on a moving horse you have to have balance, so you won't fall off."

Clearly, horse vaulting can be dangerous. But Seth's mom Bobi McAlexander says her home-schooled, only child needs a sport like this.

"When we get home from vaulting he is much calmer," McAlexander says. "We can actually sit and eat dinner and he's not standing up talking a mile a minute and wanting to go do something else. He's sitting there eating dinner and focused on the conversation. And that's amazing right there in itself."

 Jazmyn Wentland, 10, and another vaulter on her team warm up with stretches and practice on a barrel before they do their routines on horses in Moses Lake, Wash. i i

hide caption Jazmyn Wentland, 10, and another vaulter on her team warm up with stretches and practice on a barrel before they do their routines on horses in Moses Lake, Wash.

Anna King/Northwest News Network
 Jazmyn Wentland, 10, and another vaulter on her team warm up with stretches and practice on a barrel before they do their routines on horses in Moses Lake, Wash.

Jazmyn Wentland, 10, and another vaulter on her team warm up with stretches and practice on a barrel before they do their routines on horses in Moses Lake, Wash.

Anna King/Northwest News Network

"You can do this, yes," Seth's coach, Tereesa Wentland, cheers him on. "Oh you missed it, do it again, do it again! Good job buddy!"

Wentland is also the mother of two other vaulters here this afternoon.

These kids don't just start by jumping on a galloping horse. They practice on stationary equipment first. Still, they don't even wear helmets. Wentland admits that sometimes she has heart-in-the-throat moments.

"That's very scary, that's very scary," Wentland says.

dtuna42/YouTube

A very small girl competes in a horse vaulting competition in Colorado in 2007.

But still, she's trained several kids who have low self esteem or are overweight. And she says this is a sport where they fit in.

"They suddenly can come out and be with this horse and they can vault," Wentland says. "And they can be around other kids that love them. And they walk away from here with some confidence and something that makes them feel important."

Tiny Seth is now working on a move where he runs backwards toward Mo and then pulls himself up onto the horse's back.

"I just like the excitement and all the swirl and all the adrenaline," Seth says.

Near the end of practice, Seth is working on his dismount. He slides down Mo's shoulder, lands on his feet and flashes a big smile.

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