A Good Mount – how and why it’s important
One horse I have in for training was having some anxiety issues about working and being ridden. The way he turns away from my belly button, can’t look at me with 2 eyes, and crowds me with his shoulder tell me that he lacks confidence.
I worked with this horse a lot on the ground – showing him that I can be a good leader, building his confidence by getting him to successfully complete lots of different tasks including sideways, going over poles, doing circles on hills, etc. I wanted to show him he can learn new things with me.
As we started to get into riding, I realized he would need even more patience and understanding. He had a lot of anxiety about being ridden so he wasn’t standing still for mounting.
He wasn’t horrible, and certainly if I really wanted to, I could put my foot in the stirrup and hop on – but the fact that he wouldn’t stand still for mounting tells me he wasn’t ready for a rider, so there was no point getting on.
Instead I worked on putting weight in the stirrups, or hopping up and down beside the saddle. When he stood still I rewarded him by backing off a bit (stopping putting weight in the stirrup, etc).
When a horse doesn’t like to stand still for mounting, you want the horse to understand that when they are standing still, they will be rewarded because you will back off – not take advantage of the moment they stand still to quickly get on.
When a horse doesn’t stand still for mounting, it can mean one of several things including:
1) Thinks he needs to go, go, go
2) Disrespects the rider’s cues
3) Isn’t ready for a rider because of anxiety
4) Doesn’t want to be ridden (could be because of pain)
5) Impatient or making an assumption that you want them to walk right away
None of these things are good – if you want a horse that is a safe and relaxed – you need the horse to understand that standing still and quiet is a good thing, that it isn’t just about ‘going’, the horse needs to respect your cues, needs to be ready to have you ride them, want to be ridden (or at least consent to it!), and should be patient and listening to your cues.
If you don’t have a horse that will stand still for you to mount, then you are missing one of these pieces – which means you are putting yourself at risk for a much faster, less safe, more anxious, and potentially downright dangerous ride.
Next time you go to mount your horse, try to remember these easy steps:
1) Approach your horse to mount up – but before you do, rock the saddle a bit or put weight in the stirrup to warn the horse you are thinking of getting on. If the horse fidgits about or walks forward, keep rocking the saddle/putting weight in the stirrup until the horse stands still. As soon as the horse stands still, release the pressure (stop rocking the saddle/putting weight in the stirrup) and reward the horse by just standing still relaxed beside the horse. Repeat this step as many times as it takes until the horse stands still patiently while you rock the saddle/put weight on the stirrups.
2) Then put your foot in the stirrup – if your horse walks off try your best to keep your foot in the stirrup until you get your horse stopped (if you can’t keep your foot in the stirrup then grab the stirrup with your hand and hold pressure in the stirrup by pushing down with your hand). Take your foot out of the stirrup once the horse is standing still. Repeat as many times as you need to until you can put your foot in the stirrup and the horse stands still.
3) Next put your foot in the stirrup and pull yourself up on the horse, but don’t swing your leg over just yet. Wait to make sure the horse is standing still. If the horse tries to walk away, pull back on the reins and get them to stop – and then step down to the ground to reward the horse. Repeat as many times as it takes until your can pull yourself up and the horse stays still.
4) Lastly pull yourself up, wait for a second to make sure the horse is still, and then swing your leg over and sit down softly in the saddle. If the horse stays still then you can go about your ride. If the horse moves then halt your horse and dismount. Repeat as many times as you need to until your horse stands still.
The first time you do this, it could take a lot of patience, maybe even 40 minutes to do – but have patience and take the time to do a good mount, so that it takes less time in the future. If you are consistent about expecting a good mount, then your horse will get better and better until they stand still every time for you to mount up without having to repeat any of the steps.
This method works because you reward the horse every time they stand still (by backing off a bit)- and you don’t advance to the next step until the horse is ready (for example you don’t try standing up in the stirrup until the horse is okay with your pressing weight in the stirrup with your hand). This builds trust and readiness in the horse.
Remember it can be hard on your horse’s back and muscles for you to mount from the ground – it can be helpful to use a mounting block or step stool to give you extra height.
When using a stool it can be helpful to have the rein closest to you a bit tighter so that if the horse starts to walk forward, you can easily pull the rein and cause the horse to walk a tight circle around you on the stool (so you don’t have to get off the stool).