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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Oregon and Washington, kids are leaping onto the backs of galloping horses. This isn't a new incarnation of cow-tipping, it's the sport of equestrian vaulting. The Northwest News Network's Anna King decided to check it out.

ANNA KING, BYLINE: Seth Rouhier's mom cues up the freestyle vaulting music on a boombox.

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KING: Seth is 9 years old and a paperweight of 55 pounds. It's a blustery afternoon in this sand-filled arena here in central Washington.

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KING: 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. Whoa. 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. There are local clubs and national and world competitions. But Seth isn't doing it to get a fancy ribbon.

SETH ROUHIER: It's about, like, learning. 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.

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

BOBI MCALEXANDER: When we get home from vaulting he is much calmer. We can actually sit and eat dinner and he's not standing up talking a mile a minute. He's sitting there eating dinner and focused on the conversation.

TEREESA WENTLAND: OK. Now, we'll give you some momentum.

KING: Tereesa Wentland is Seth's coach and the mother of two other vaulters here this afternoon.

WENTLAND: You can do this, yes. Oh.

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

WENTLAND: They suddenly can come out and be with this horse and they can vault. 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.

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

ROUHIER: I just like the excitement and all the swirl and all the adrenaline.

KING: 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. For NPR News, I'm Anna King in Moses Lake, Washington.

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MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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