Mounting Made Easier
© Christine Schwartz 2002

You are all saddled and ready to go, but it might take you a few minutes to get on.

A horse that does not stand still for mounting can range from simply annoying or downright dangerous. Not standing still to be mounted can be caused by discomfort in the horse; a lack of balance or it can be something the horse never learned. Some people don't require their horses to stand still for mounting, if you watch horses on the race track they are usually circling the handler while he gives the jockey a leg up.

There are quite a few things you can do to help your horse become easier to mount.

First of all check the fit of the saddle. If the gullet or the tree of the saddle are narrow they will dig into his back as you put your weight in the stirrup, which will be uncomfortable for your horse and trigger him to move. Consider the way you are mounting. If you accidentally stab your horse with your toe he may interpret this as a forward signal or react in discomfort.

Balance, or lack of it, can be a huge challenge for some horses. When out of balance, a horse wants to move to regain his. As we are mounting we sometimes hang on one side of the horse and if the horse is not well balanced this can really throw him off. Watch that he stands squarely with "one leg at each corner" before getting on. A bodywrap and some turns through the labyrinth can help as well as improving the rider's mounting technique.

Chipper Being introduced to mounting block. I really like to teach horses to be mounted from a mounting block. It puts less stress on the horse and is a much easier way for most people to get on, even when the horses are small. Chipper, a 5-year-old Tennessee Walker who volunteered his services for the picture willingly takes a small piece of carrot from my hand as he is introduced to the mounting block.

It is a good idea to get the horse used to the mounting block by incorporating it into your groundwork, have a helper stand on it while you lead your horse by and feed him some treats from it. Also please watch that your mounting block is SAFE! A chair, bucket or wobbly kitchen step just won't do. If your horse steps on the mounting block or comes against it you do not want him to be able to get caught in it or to tip it over too easily. Also be mindful about moving the mounting block, especially if you don't know the horse well. So often I see people dragging the block into place without looking at the horse and checking if he accepts it, which can be very dangerous.

When mounting with an English saddle it is helpful if someone supports the stirrup on the off side to keep the saddle stable. Holding the top of the stirrup leather, rather than the stirrup itself requires less strength and the helper can stay better balanced.

Practice getting on an easy horse until you are good at mounting before attempting to solve the problem on your horse who does not stand well being mounted.

The traditional Icelandic way of mounting, by facing forward and holding the reins in both hands, gives you more control over the horse. It is also more comfortable for him than the traditional English way of mounting where the rider faces backwards, grabs the back of the saddle and swings into place. If you are on the left side of the horse have your reins in both hands as you would when you are riding, with a light connection to the horse's mouth. Face forward and place your left foot in the stirrup with your knee against the saddle flap.

Your right hand is on the front of the flap
on the right side of the horse Grab Flap
Grab Maneand your left hand grabs a hold of his mane

As you mount shift your weight to your right hand and stay low over the horse, think of coming across the diagonal towards your right hand and gently ease your weight into the saddle.


Your goal is to keep the saddle as balanced as possible.

Ease Your weight into the saddle

With a little bit of practice you can actually mount this way without a girth and have the saddle stay in place. This disturbs the horse's balance much less and keeps the saddle from digging in. It also allows you to mount without changing hand position, which also prevents the tree of your saddle from getting twisted. If your horse moves you can see where he is going, keep his head straight and body balanced. If he does step forward it is easy to correct him with the reins. If a horse comes into the arena head high, back dropped and barely walking chances of him standing still for mounting are slim. Teach him to relax before the ride by asking him to lower his head, take a deep breath and maybe lead him through a few obstacles to help him settle and respond to the rider before mounting. Have a helper hold the horse, stroke him with the wand and feed him some grain from a shallow dish (Frisbees work well) while you mount. It makes the situation more pleasant for the horse, keeps him breathing and the food will encourage him to stay. It is better to slide a halter over the bridle than to have your helper hold the horse by the reins. Also ask your helper not to hold the horse hard and fast. He should be supporting the horse, but ultimately the horse needs to stand because he is controlling himself and confident about the process. If your helper is holding the horse without a halter ask him to support the head by the headstall or noseband and not the reins.

Is your horse comfortable about going between two bales of straw? Does he accept people standing on those bales on both sides of him? If not, this would be a good time to go back in his training until he can take food and accept some TTouches all over his back and croup from both sides while people are standing above him. You can break mounting into smaller steps, first just placing a foot in the stirrup and taking it back out, do this from both sides, then lean over the horse's back before actually sliding into the saddle. Give the horse a small treat while on his back encourages him to turn his head in both direction and can teach him to wait. Robyn likes to refer to this as "putting a penny into the slot" before you go for your ride.

If you don't have a helper and your horse starts backing or moving around when you have your hands on the reins and are standing beside him ready to mount, surprise him by asking the opposite of what he expects. Instead of asking him to stand still I will sometimes ask a fidgety horse to start walking quietly and may take him for a few laps around the ring or yard, asking him to stop, walk, turn and maybe even trot a little bit. This works best if you are tall enough to be able to reach over the horse's withers with your right hand and have your reins in two hands as you would when riding. I hold my whip in my right hand so I can use it as a signal to get the horse to walk forward, very much like the dingo. This is also a great exercise for horses before they are ever ridden as it teaches them to respond to the rein signals, stop and turn, understand a forward signal from the wand and gets them going forward without being led before having to worry about the rider's weight and balance. If the horse gets confused it is easy to just step forward and go into the Dingo or Elegant Elephant until he is confident again.

Use wand to encourage forward movement. As my right hand reaches back with the wand to encourage Chipper with the dingo to step forward I use a verbal signal, make sure I have enough slack in the rein and can also ask him to turn just a little bit with his first step if he feels stuck.
Tap Shoulder with wand to encourage movement. With both hands on the reins I can now ask Chipper to walk, stop and turn in both directions. If the horse is reluctant to turn I can help free the shoulder by lightly tapping him on the shoulder with my wand.
It is easy for me to observe what the horse is thinking and what his reactions are going to be. If it is difficult for a young horse to stop and turn from this position, chances are he will also have trouble turning when I am in the saddle. After the horse stops and goes forward nicely I might place my foot in the stirrup, put a little weight on it, take it out and ask the horse to walk again. Repeat this a few times until the horse stands quietly and is relaxed before finally mounting. Most horses will allow you to mount with a loose rein at this point and their efforts are rewarded with a small treat as I get into the saddle. Observe that reactions of the horse
When I am teaching a horse about mounting I might ride a few steps, dismount, go for another walk beside him and then mount again 4 or 5 times until the horse is really comfortable with the process. Horse Is Comfortable with Process

It is a good to practice enough so you can comfortably mount anywhere from both the right and left side. You never know when you might need to dismount during a trail ride and want your horse to stand still not just right by the hitching rail.

©Christine Schwartz
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