History of Pommel horse
The oldest description of gymnastics on an artificial horse is over 600 years old. It was written by a Renatus Vegetius , who, in his four volume “Overview of the Roman Army”, describes soldiers using a wooden horse for practice. In the 17th century a drill- instructor developed the art of equestrian acrobatics from this description. In the early 19th century the wooden pommels were replaced by a biegel, and the wooden horse developed into a schwingel' covered in leather.
Today’s exciting pommel horse routines with their fascinating dynamics are hardly reminiscent of the early routines on this piece of apparatus…


From wooden horse via schwingel to ultramodern pommel horse routines
(Based upon information from "Geschichte der Turngeräte" by J. Göhler, 1989)


A look at the history of the vaulting horse shows us that it developed from the wooden horse with pommels. (See "From wooden horse to Pegases")

Even Alexander the Great and his Macedonians are said to have practised mounting and dismounting on a wooden horse. In the 4th century Vegetius describes Roman soldiers using wooden horses for practice in his “Overview of the Roman Army". Somebody must have remembered Vegetius' work in the 17th century and expanded what was originally part of military training into a sporting activity. Equestrian acrobatics was an important part of the education at academies for knights and fencing schools up until the late 18th century, and a great number of manuals date from this time.
Models of the pommel horse from various eras:

Vieth model 1795,
Height was already adjustable

Guts Muths model around 1800,  
with iron biegels

Jaeger model around 1860,
wooden horse with leather cover

Belgian model,
with odd feet, fully symmetric
In the early 19th century, when Jahn, regarded as the father of gymnastics, was alive, there were three different kinds of horses on the Hasenheide in Berlin: One very close to reality with a head and a tail, one made of leather without a tail but with an ascending neck and the wooden schwingel  a word which F.L. Jahn, who detested the use of foreign words in German, had created to avoid the originally French word of Voltegieren. The latter developed into the Olympic apparatus of pommel horse

Historical horse on the Berlin's Hasenheide, 1811
Gymnastic horse 1811

At the beginning of the 20th century gymnastics horses had to fulfil the following requirements (quoted from Jahrbuch der Turnkunst 1907):

Horse, 1900 (Germany)

“The length of the horse should by 190cm.” Required height is cited as between 110 and 170cm. Height of the body 40cm, width on top 40cm and below 37cm. Neck and end are equal since the saddle, i.e. the distance between the pommels, is 44 to 45cm, leaving 72cm each for neck and end. The pommels are 11-12 cms high and 30 to 32cm thick. Horses with longer necks (asymmetric) where the neck was bent upwards in slightly crooked way, were also common. Around 1920 a completely symmetric horse existed (R. Gausch manual), however, head and rump had different lengths. The top of the horse remains round (this will not change for a long time), and shows no signs of allowing wandering movements that would later become popular in the world of gymnastics. Another feature making this development impossible were the round pommels, which hardly allowed for the support of both hands as is typical of the wandering movements. A 1926 model of the pommel horse had a more sleek look to the torso and the lower part lightly curves upwards. This type of horse was still used at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was only 180cm long. Gymnasts already competed swinging elements on the neck as well as the rump.

The Americans brought a version of the horse to the 1948 Olympics that was only 160cm long and was built completely symmetrically. As a result, they were able to show totally new combinations and great virtuosity in their leg circles on the end of the horse.  
At a meeting in Venice, Italy, in 1955 the International Gymnastics Federation’s apparatus committee discussed the horse with a length of only 160cm, which was already being widely used in Switzerland, and a year later it was finally officially certified at a meeting in Boppard, Germany. From now on, one no longer spoke of neck and rump, but of two equal “ends”. Pommel horse artists such as Grant Schaginjan performed with incredible virtuosity on this horse at the 1954 world championships. Their technique had a major influence on the further development of the apparatus.

The development of the pommels largely depended on the type of use. As long as the horse was used mainly for jumping and equestrian acrobatics were merely a dry run for riding, the pommels didn’t have any special function. But once gymnasts began swinging in the support position – first with one leg, and in the middle of the 19th century the two-legged swing became popular- this influenced the form of the pommels. Swiss gymnastics was particularly progressive during this period and in the 1880s the pommel horse spread into German gym clubs as well. The standard pommel was hollow, mostly made from iron in the beginning, but in later years wood was also used. Some of the pommels were covered in leather. The pommels of the horse used at the 1936 Olympics were noticeably flatter in comparison to the earlier ones.

This trend continued in the mid 1950s. Pommel horse artists forced the further development of the apparatus through new elements. Examples are Yu Lifeng of China and his circles on one pommel at the 1962 world championships in Prague or pommel horse specialist Russel Mills, who showed circles in cross support on one pommel in 1964. Then, of course, Miroslav Cerar, Zoltan Magyar… The call for pommels that allowed for a fleeting double hold/grip at an equal height of the pommels became louder and louder. In 1974 the pommels were lengthened from 280 to 310mm. At the 1975 Gymnastrada in Berlin a revolutionary new pommel was introduced – machine manufactured, it was made entirely from plastic. Another novelty was the distance between the pommels (400 to 450mm), which was adjustable without any steps.

(Translation: Nora Schuler)

.Janssen&Fritsen presents:

The apparatus we see in competitions today, for instance the type manufactured by Janssen & Fritsen, Official Suppliers of the 2000 World Championships in Gent, is a top level apparatus which is certified by the FIG.
The durable rump is covered in high quality leather and foam rubber.

Its pommels are made entirely of plastic and chains anchor it to the ground. Height can be adjusted in steps of 5 cm between 110 and 150 cm.

  ..... read more, please!   

Sources/Quellen: "Der Vorturner", 1927/28; "Das Turnjahrhundert der Deutschen", Götze/Herholz: Beckmanns Sportlexikon A-Z, Leipzig, Wien 1933; "Deutsche Turnzeitung", 1901; "Neue deutsche Turnzeitung", 1961, J. Leirich; "Geschichte der Turngeräte", J. Göhler/R. Spieth; "Mondsalto", gymbooks Verlag 1994, A. Götze/J. Uhr; "FlickFlack...", Sportverlag Berlin, A .Götze/H.-J. Zeume; "The History of British Gymnastics", 1988 by BAGA.



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update: 13-Apr-2001