In this article you can find everything you need to improve your swings and scissors forward! We interviewed Manon Swanenburg (NED) to have her best coaching tips about these vaulting moves.
About Manon Swanenburg
Manon Swanenburg has been a vaulting trainer and lunger for over 20 years in the Netherlands. You have maybe heard of the talented vaulters who she trains or has trained like Lotte Geelhoed, Joske van Koelen or Anouk Bangamu Arachchige. Manon is the head trainer at vaulting club Groenendaal. She also gives training to the young vaulting talents from the Netherlands. Her goal is to raise the level of vaulting in the Netherlands, and give young talents the opportunity to grow. Aside from her passion for vaulting she graduated as a veterinarian and now works as veterinary epidemiologist in a research institute.
Where it all started
I have started with vaulting a long time ago, in the early 90s. In a very simple way, we started with the pony we had then with my sister. And we started without any knowledge about vaulting. We learned it by watching at competitions and meeting other people. I followed a program to become a vaulting instructor. That was back then when we trained at Leiderdorp, at the riding club Liethorp. In 1996 I stopped vaulting there and moved to Amersfoort where I started the vaulting club where I am currently training which is called Groenendaal, and is located in the Groenendaal riding school.
A skyrocking vaulting club
At that time we were still training with my pony Ringo, but I wanted to get further into the sport, so we decided to look for a new horse. From then it went really fast! Within five years time we went from E to A level which was back then the national levels in the Netherlands would be from B to ZZ today. The club expanded to the point that we had four horses, three teams, some individuals, and a lot of trainings during the week. At a certain moment one of our individuals was also training in the National Team. When our team was at ZZ level they were also part of the National Team. That was the moment when we started with international competitions.
Taking the club to the top
In 2008 we got qualified with the squad for the World Championships in Brno Czech Republic. Then in 2009 for the European Championships in Sweden. We also competed twice in Aachen in 2009 and 2010. But in 2010 a few of the girls and 2 horses left the team, so we didn’t compete internationally for a while after that. Of course this was not the end of the vaulting club since we still had individuals and some other teams. At that point we were able to use two horses from the riding club which both had a lot of potential. Thanks to that we could compete at some international competitions with our squad until around 2017.
In 2015 I bought the horse Kjeld, just as a try out for myself. He wasn’t even meant to do vaulting. Anyhow, he did it quite well and because of that we got quite far with some individuals, such as Joske van Koelen, Lotte Geelhoed and also Anouk Bangamu Arachchige.
In 2018, I competed with Lotte Geelhoed at the FEI Vaulting European Championships for Juniors. Last year she also qualified but broke her wrist, just a week before the competition. I was able to train with the horses from the riding club for around four years. However the riding club also needed the horses for their own lessons. Because of that the team I had went to vaulting club De Burght and I started to focus more on individuals. I’m still training the team on Monday evenings at the barrel.
When did you start teaching vaulting?
Quite much from the start. I was already 20 years old when we started and you need a coach/trainer for vaulting of course. So I stepped into that role quite quickly. Around 1992 I followed the vaulting instructor program from Heddy Boelsma, the pioneer of vaulting in the Netherlands. I have only vaulted myself for a few years, I’m not that flexible and I like better to train people. During these years I learned a lot from international trainers because our team was part of the National Team.
What do you like the most about teaching vaulting?
What I like a lot is working with the vaulters and that you can see them progressing over time. However, I also enjoy training the horses. I like dressage for instance but also behavior training like working on loading the horse on the trailer.
I just love to see the progress over time. The vaulters come in at an age around 6 or 10 years old and some stay until they are 25 years old. For me it is beautiful to see that they progress not only as a vaulter but also as a person. However, I’m an ambitious person, so I like to see them train hard to accomplish their goals.
According to the FEI Vaulting Guidelines, this movement should be done this way:
“From seat astride the stretched legs swing upward to reach nearly a handstand position (legs closed), with arms extended to attain maximum elevation. Without interruption in the movement, at the point of maximum elevation, the Vaulter returns softly to seat astride.
Note: A straight axis of the body which reaches the vertical is the essence of the optimal mechanics of this exercise. A straight line continues throughout the body from the arms to the feet. A straight body axis is the main criteria for judging, as an arched back can be deceiving and can simulate a higher elevation.“
Manon’s best tips to swing forward properly
Can you describe the right technique to swing forward in your own words?
I would like to stress that there are many ways to train a swing into handstand. There is not one method that always should be used. I learned from a lot of trainers, and selected the exercises and methods that worked for me and my vaulters. You cannot use the same method for all vaulters, but always should evaluate what works for each individual. Don’t be afraid to try out something different when there is no more progress.
- Sitting properly before starting the movement
Firstly I assume that you are sitting correctly, and you lift your legs a little to go into the swing. I know opinions about how you lift or swing your legs forward differ from trainer to trainer. My opinion is that you should go with what works for you. But I prefer lifting them a little.
- Bowing to handstand
From that point you move your legs backwards until you get a “bow tension”. When you are in bow tension you basically roll towards shoulder stand and when you are almost there you push up.
This is kind of how I would describe it, but I would still prefer to let the vaulter feel the movement of what swinging up is supposed to feel.
Some vaulters get the exercise by watching but you can also help by doing this in slow motion with two helpers.
Forward swing is mostly about getting the right timing and speed, you don’t need to be really strong to be able to get to full handstand. For me you don’t need to do endless push-ups or weightlifting, even though a good conditioning is necessary.
What do you recommend to get prepared?
- Hard working on the barrel
- Mastering Handstand
- Physical preparation
- What I think the “big secret” is, is that you should train a lot on the barrel. In our club, we don’t let the vaulters just “roll” around on the barrel while they wait to get on the horse, they are really asked to work there. Forward swing is my favorite exercise to train, so we do it a lot. Practice it a lot in the right way on the barrel so that you can get a feeling for it, because the movement has to get into your motoric memory. I would rather be there when they train on the barrel, rather than letting them practice the movement in a wrong way a lot of times without me. We work with helpers, which means that we help the vaulter to the handstand by pushing the shoulders up, so that the vaulter gets the full movement.
- What is really important to practice is the handstand, practice it against the wall, on the barrel, with blocks, and so on. It is the base of the movement. Vary in the way you get there, like starting with left or right leg, go into handstand with boths legs together, or from kneelling, etc.
- Physical preparation:
- Core stability
What is really important to me is that you have a good core stability. This means exercises like planking and other stability exercises, with somebody else checking that you do it correctly..
- Speed with the legs
The second point is to work on speed with your legs, which you can gain by sprinting exercises or fast downward leg swings. What we do is tossing really fast against a thick mat in handstand or helper, although they often swing so fast that it almost breaks the helper’s arms!
What kind of mistakes do you focus on for forward swing?
This can be two different things depending on which “mistake” you make in forward swing.
- Correcting the hollow mistake
In my opinion, the most common mistake you see is a wrong body position. What I mean by that is that the vaulter is too hollow. This is because vaulters are often quite flexible, and they should work on keeping the body straight.
If you tend to go hollow it works to think of putting your belly towards the ears of the horse when you are in shoulderstand.
- Correcting the alignment
Some people who are a little nervous might let their legs drop back to the horse way too soon. What can also happen is that the hips go forward but the legs don’t come with. It is best to think of feet to the ears of the horse when in shoulder stand. Because when you do that you stay straight and your centre of mass is at the right place.
- The “push” moment
Another mistake I see quite a lot is the following: pushing too early or too late. By doing that you lose a lot of momentum to get to that handstand.
Actually, when you swing you bring your shoulders over the handles and what you want to happen is that when you are nearly upside down you push the shoulders back (towards the tail) and your feet go forward (to the ears).
A good exercise is to let the vaulters swing towards shoulder stand only, because what I often see is that vaulters push way before they are upside down. But if you swing a few times to shoulder stand, you know where you have to be before you push out. You can do this in walk or canter on the horse too. For most people this exercise works really well to get to the right handstand position.
Whereas for some people it doesn’t work because they don’t push up anymore. Actually they cannot find the right timing to push out. If that is the case I prefer to let them push a little too early so that they can still get some height.
Forward swing on the barrel
Body position & timing
I would definitely focus on the body position, which means tight core and hips straight. Furthermore, work on your timing, try not to dive or push too early. And for people who do not have someone who can help them to swing to handstand I recommend training handstands on the floor. For instance, you can do the exercise of reverse swing. This means that you start in handstand or shoulderstand and either someone helps you to slowly go down. You can also use the wall.
You can also train handstands on the barrel, and also practice with twisting your hips; do the same exercises as on the ground. You want to be able to do a handstand on the barrel, for a good forward swing. Because it is really difficult to do the forward swing when you are afraid of the end position.
Swing forward on the horse
Getting the feeling
Get a feeling for the rhythm. Know when to swing your legs forward and when to swing up. Watch other vaulters do the swing. You only have one canter stride to do the swing in. You can maybe use the next stride to push up, but when you are too late in handstand you get pushed back.
Trying to repeat what has been learned on the barrel
Also try to do the same on the horse as you do on the barrel. I know this is quite difficult since the barrel is not exactly the same as the horse. On the barrel you want to make sure that you are going far enough forward to get over the handles when you are on the horse. Some vaulters don’t go far enough when swinging on the horse. They actually see the neck and this can be kind of scary. You just need to work and practice on this so it’s not a mental barrier to go handstand.
According to the FEI Vaulting Guidelines, this move should be done this way:
“The movement of the Scissors is a rotation around the vertical body axis with a simultaneous reciprocal stretched movement of legs. From seat astride, the stretched legs swing upward to reach nearly a handstand position with the arms extended to attain maximum elevation. Without interruption in this movement, the pelvis turn to the left by a quarter of a turn (90 degrees) and so the legs pass closely at an equal distance from the ground by nearly the point of maximum elevation. The first part is fulfilled by landing softly, erect and centred in seat backward.“
How do you teach forward scissors?
To me, there is a difference between teaching the right movement, following the FEI guidelines, and trying to get a decent result for my vaulters, in order to make them feel what is required. Actually, teaching the right move is something that I do for top vaulters who are able to get this level of subtlety.
For others who are not yet at this level, we start by swinging up with the legs almost closed. I teach them to turn a quarter so their belly is turned towards the lunger with the legs opened around 30cm apart when they arrive in handstand. I mainly focus on the hips, not on the legs in the end. Because I think what you want is to make sure that the hips are turned when you go up. So that vaulters don’t turn too early or too late.
What kind of mistakes do you focus on for forward scissors?
What I often see in scissors is that the vaulter goes straight up, and on their way down they let their right leg down, and then they lower the rest of the body. But what you want is that you are turned when you are in handstand. Then, you start your landing with both legs coming down and not by dropping your right leg to the left side to turn around.
I think it is essential to work on pre-scissor exercises on the barrel. I teach my vaulters on the barrel and on the horse to swing up to handstand with their belly turned towards the lunger, and then land astride. Because what happens when you ask them to do scissors without a pre-exercise is that you often see the vaulter turning when they are in handstand which is too late. You want to get a feeling for turning in the way up.
What do you recommend to coaches when teaching forward swing & scissors?
Back to basics
I think that a lot of trainers do a lot of horse training. But we should train on the barrel, if the basics are not there. What I have seen in some clubs is that the kids have been taught to get to a shoulder stand. However they just dive forward and put their hips up which is the exact opposite of how you should do a forward swing.
Say it in another way
When a trainer says the same instruction over and over again, I think it is wise to try to say it in another way. The thing is, I think a lot of trainers know how it is supposed to be. However they don’t see what goes wrong or what the vaulter can improve. Because that is the most difficult part of training someone, everyone knows how it is supposed to be. Nevertheless, understanding how the exercise works, and where to improve or correct your vaulter is what makes the difference.
EXERCICES & TIPS
PHYSICAL PREPARATION EXERCISES
What you can also do is that the “swinger” lies on her/his belly with straight arms and lifts the legs up for some centimeters. The idea is that the vaulter won’t let go the core stability. You want to aim for good body tension, everything stretched out. Your hips actually slightly over stretched which I call bow tension.
You can think of variations of swinging up towards handstand, using a big fitness ball.
With this bow tension I do not mean that you should go hollow. When you go hollow you use different muscles than when you are in bow tension.
Breathe in when you lift your legs, and breathe out until you are in handstand.
It is very common for people to hold their breath or breathe out everything when they are only ¼ on the way up. Then you have nothing left anymore to do the leftover ¾ with. Keep your arm and shoulder muscles relaxed when breathing in.
The exercise in which you can practice this is for instance swinging to plank: breathe in when you lift your legs, and breathe out all the way until you are in plank.
You can even practice this with push-ups: breathe in when you go down and breathe out when you push up.
If you want to go further and understand how these moves are scored, please refer to the FEI Vaulting Guidelines, which are updated on a regular basis.