When you think of a horse, what images come to mind? Perhaps you picture a strong thoroughbred racing across a field. Others might imagine a pony shaking its mane as it trots alongside its mother.

If you're a gymnast, however, the horse that might pop into your mind has four legs, but it certainly doesn't run anywhere. In fact, it doesn't even move at all! What are we talking about? The pommel horse, of course!

The pommel horse, also known as the side horse, is a special apparatus used as part of an artistic gymnastics routine. Usually, only male gymnasts perform pommel horse routines during gymnastics competitions.

Pommel horses were originally made of a metal frame with a leather-covered wood body. They were developed hundreds of years ago as artificial horses to help soldiers practice mounting and dismounting.

Today, pommel horses usually feature a metal frame with a foam rubber body covered in leather. They are usually a little less than four feet tall and a little more than five feet long with a width of just over one foot. They also feature two plastic handles, called pommels, which gymnasts use during their routines. The pommels stand a little less than five inches high and are usually spaced 18 inches apart.

To perform a pommel horse routine, a gymnast grabs the handles on the pommel horse and swings his body up onto the horse. While keeping both legs parallel to the apparatus, he begins to swing his body around the apparatus while moving his hands from one handle to the other and sometimes gripping the apparatus itself.

During the course of a routine, the gymnast must use the entire length of the pommel horse while constantly moving his legs in circles. Gymnasts are not allowed to stop once they have mounted the pommel horse. They must maintain constant motion as they perform different types of circles, scissors, and even handstands.

Throughout a pommel horse routine, all of a gymnast's weight is supported by his upper body during the routine, so he must have exceptional strength in his shoulders, arms, hands, and wrists. Since it doesn't focus on leg strength, the pommel horse is a gymnastics event that can be performed by paraplegics or other disabled persons who have suffered traumatic leg injuries.

The pommel horse is the event that often determines the winner of gymnastics competitions, because it requires skills that are unique compared to the other events. Just because you excel at other gymnastics routines is no guarantee that you'll excel at pommel horse. It requires a special mix of strength, balance, and stamina to be successful.

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