Trick riding, also know as stunt riding, is an exciting equestrian discipline in which riders perform a series of dangerous and exciting stunts on horseback while moving at rapid speeds. Similar to vaulting, the trick riders are strong, yet graceful and perform incredible movements on horseback. Vaulting differs in more than a few ways, however, and the two are distinct and unique horse sports.


Trick riding originated as battle technique. The Russian Cossacks adopted the riding skills of the Caucasus people. The riders were so skilled on their horses that they rarely were defeated in battles. Because the riders were not confined to sitting astride the horse’s back, they were able to duck and dodge attacks.

The skilled warriors were eventually forced to migrate west to North America where other riders were deeply impressed by these skills. Trick riding began to show up in rodeos and as a form of entertainment. The sport interested many female riders who combined their grace in movement with extreme bravery.

Trick Riding in Australia

In Australia, trick riding is extremely popular. The riders spread across the many ranches in Australia were incredibly talented at trick riding and as the horse shows began to grow and rodeos were organized, the Australian riders began to showcase their talents. In the 1990’s, there was a large resurgence of trick riding. Many Australian trick riding associations are made up of female riders.


Many trick riding competitions consist of two sections: the compulsories and the freestyle section. Important compulsories are the horizontal layover, the reverse fender, the spritz and the hippodrome. The horizontal layover, which is a test of balance, is a movement in which the rider lays horizontally across the back of the horse, perpendicular to the horse’s body. The rider must stretch out the movement, with straight legs, pointed toes, one pointed arm and one arm to hold on to the trick saddle.

The spritz movement is a one-footed stand that also tests the balance of the rider. The reverse fender is a move that dates back to Cossacks. In the drag move, the rider hangs horizontally over the side of the horse. The hippodrome is a standing maneuver in which the rider must balance while the horse travels at a full gallop.

The compulsory section of a trick riding competition is scored out of 40 points for each move. 10 points are scored for the technical aspects of the trick and the duration of the trick. 10 points are awarded depending upon how smooth the transitions are between tricks. The horsemanship aspect carries another 10 points of the score. The rider must have obvious control of the horse and the speed and ability of the horse are also incorporated.

The final 10 points of the compulsories are based upon showmanship. Trick riders will often wear bright and glittering costumes. Additionally, the horse and gear must be in top shape. The rider’s interaction with the crowd also plays a role in the showmanship score.


During the freestyle section of a competition, each rider is given four opportunities to perform. In each run, riders have the option of performing one trick, or a series of tricks. The tricks can be awarded extra points based upon the degree of difficulty. The freestyle section is scored out of 50 points.


There are also a number of overall scoring aspects for both sections that will be taken into account in the final scores. Competitors must understand how much space they have to work within the arena and tricks should be placed accordingly. Riders should be able to maintain any tricks performed around the corners, as the horse is turning. The speed of the horse during the trick, and particularly as the trick is finished is an important factor.

Presentation is always an essential part of trick riding. Trick riders must be as graceful as they are strong. In the presentation, many elements of gymnastics and ballet are incorporated, including fluid movements, flexibility, pointed toes and extended limbs. Trick riders are expected to challenge themselves during the freestyle competition. Performing more tricks around turns is always impressive as well as performing at high speeds with quick transitions.

As in most equestrian disciplines, riders can be penalized for a number of failures. If a rider falls off of the horse, points will be deducted. It is important for trick riders to understand their abilities and their horse, as a fall not only loses points but can be downright dangerous. If the rider prematurely ends a trick, points are deducted as well as riders who avoid using the entire arena in the performance. Riders who slow their horses will lose points. Only tricks utilizing the straps are allowed to be staged prior to the event. Any rider that begins a stunt other than a strap trick loses points for beginning the trick too early.

Trick riding is an important part of Australian culture. Premiere trick riding rodeo events can be found all across the country. There is even a separate trick riding competition as part of the Equitana show, which celebrates many equestrian disciplines.

Trick Riding Horses

Horse riding is a sport that is open all people and all breeds of horses. Typically, a rider should look for a horse with a very even gait and smooth transitions when changing speed. Since the rider is often balancing on a cantering or galloping horse, a horse that does not change pace rapidly is best. Also, as the rider is often in different locations on the horse and shifting weight, a horse with an even temperament makes the best horse for this sport. A horse that is easily frightened or high spirited will not be steady or safe enough for trick riding. The size of the horse is somewhat dependent on the rider. A child will not be able to vault onto a very large horse, and the vaults will not be as spectacular if a rider is on a horse that seems too small.

No matter what kind of horse is used, the rider and horse must have a strong relationship. The rider and horse must trust each other implicitly in order to have success in the arena. In this regard, trick riding is another equestrian discipline that represents the harmony of relationship between a horse and a rider.