Worldsport

Acrobatics on horses

Published 11:03 AM ET, Tue May 20, 2014
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Joanne Eccles on her way to victory at the 2012 FEI World Vaulting Championship in France, competing on her family's horse W.H. Bentley. JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images/file
Eccles also competed in the "pas de deux" pairs discipline with her younger sister Hannah at the same event in Yvre-L'Eveque. JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images/file
Their father John -- pictured right -- serves as Joanne's lunger, directing the horse from the center of the circle while his daughter competes on its back. Kit Houghton/FEI
The British equestrian rider won her first vaulting world title in 2010, also on W.H. Bentley. Dirk Caremans/FEI
Italy's Anna Cavallaro, seen competing at a vaulting World Cup in the German city of Leipzig, is expected to challenge Eccles for world gold this year. Daniel Kaiser/FEI
Germany has long been the world's leading vaulting nation. In 2013 the Germans won the European team event, which involves six vaulters, up to three of whom may touch the horse at any moment. Daniel Kaiser/FEI
In 2006, U.S. rider Megan Benjamin became the first non-German in vaulting history to win women's gold at the World Equestrian Games. Alex Thomas Photography
Benjamin performs a split leap. Vaulting's trickiest move may be the shoot-up mount, where the vaulter springs onto the horse while facing its tail, using a combined backflip and reverse-handstand motion. B Barwig Photography
Benjamin retired from vaulting in 2012. Her relieved mother says there will be "no stress" watching August's World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. Lynne Owen Photography
Male vaulters are in short supply in some nations, though France has a strong men's team. Jacques Ferrari, pictured, won European gold last year. Daniel Kaiser/FEI
As well as individual and team contests, the pas de deux allows a pair of vaulters to compete at the same time. Austria, pictured, won the 2013 European title with this performance. Daniel Kaiser/FEI