Expert horsemen have been greatly admired through all the ages.
Even in the days of Homer there were some who, in their skill, could vie with those we see in our modern circus rings.
Those of the greatest skill were those who, with three or four horses at full gallop, could skip nimbly from the back of one to the back of another.
Usually, however, especially in the Roman circus, these equestrians used but two horses and rode them sitting, because such exercises were a part of military training. A soldier supplied with two horses was able, when one became wearied, to vault to the other, losing no time in the chase.
In the circus, greater interest was evoked by charioteers who, driving two chariots abreast, would expertly leap from one to the other. Each such performer, horseman or charioteer, was known as a desultor, that is, a leaper, from the Latin de, from, and salto, to leap.
Because these equestrians stayed but a moment upon each horse or chariot, seeming to flit like the butterfly from one aim to another, the word desultory acquired its present meaning.