What’s a pommel horse?

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The pommel horse is a men’s gymnastics apparatus made of plastic or metal covered in leather or synthetic materials. It has two metal pommels and is 160cm wide, 35cm wide, and 115cm high. It was originally used to train soldiers to mount and dismount horses and became a gymnastics event in the mid-19th century. It is currently a male-only sport and requires strength and artistry to perform. The difficulty of the routine determines the base score. The pommel horse was also used for vaulting until it was replaced by the vaulting board.

Pommel horse is a men’s gymnastic sport and the apparatus upon which the sport is performed. It is a long beam, made of plastic or metal, covered with leather or synthetic materials. By today’s judging standards, which are given in metric measurements, the crotch section is exactly 160 centimeters (about 63 inches) wide and 35 centimeters (13.78 inches) wide. Two metal pommels or handles are placed on the crotch near the center and can be adjusted to a distance of 40-45cm (15.75-17.72in) apart. The height of the beam above the ground is 115 cm (45.38 inches).

The pommel horse name is a reference to actual horses, and versions of this apparatus were used more than a millennium ago. There are records of Roman soldiers being trained on a mock horse so they could learn to mount and dismount with ease. Some early versions of this apparatus also include horse features such as a head and tail. This was abandoned in the mid-19th century, when the horse became not only a practice for riding a horse, but also a venue for demonstrating gymnastic skills. At the first modern Olympics in 1896, male gymnasts competed on the pommel horse.

Although male and female gymnasts perform some of the same sports, such as vaulting and floor exercises, pommel horse is currently a male-only sport. The amount of force required to work the horse through a series of continuous movements is significant. Moves include scissors, leg swings, circles, handstands and must be performed with perfect form to score high in this event. Breaks in form are penalized, as are falling from a horse or failing to execute a perfect descent. In most cases the men are not seated on the horse, but instead use the strength of their arms to keep their upper body above the horse, as they travel back and forth from one end of the horse to the other, with complicated leg and skillful moves.

Strength and artistry are both required for this sport. The men must perform certain elements, but how these elements are performed and the ability to include more challenging elements is up to each competitor. Increasing the difficulty of the elements in a routine increases the base score.

Another use for the pommel horse, minus the pommels, was in vaulting. Both men and women used the pommel horse until it was replaced internationally by the vaulting board in the early 2000s. The pommel horse is considered a safer device for vaulting.

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