The New
On-Line Learning Series
by Christopher Ewing

An on-line interactive video training series for Beginner riders & horses

"Mounting a Horse"

O.K. while mounting a horse doesn't seem like a big deal on the surface, I figured I'd start our series off with something pretty basic stuff for all of you beginner kids and adults out there. Later in this lesson, however, you will discover that there is an element of mounting that is not always so easy, and at times can even be somewhat dangerous.

First off, I remember a funny joke about mounting that my friend Lendon Gray (a 2-time Olympian in Dressage) told me years ago about the difference between how Event riders, Dressage riders and Hunter riders all mount their horses. Lendon goes, "Christopher, you know the difference between Event rider, Dressage riders and Hunter riders when they go to mount a horse?" While demonstrating it with a horse she was about to get on, she goes "When the event rider is ready to mount, he walks up to his horse, pets him on the neck, puts his foot in the stirrup and swings on. The dressage rider walks up to their horse, gives it a sugar cube, pets it on the neck, puts their foot in the stirrup and gets on.  When the hunter rider goes to get on, he walks up to the horse, pets it on the neck and then stands there with their left leg bent waiting for a leg up!"  Obviously being a Hunter rider, I told her that that wasn't funny, but if you had seen Lendon demonstrating it with a horse as she was telling the joke you would have cracked up.  It was so funny.

"Training your green horse" section

O.K., mounting from the ground:

I am sure that a lot of Big Eq riders are glad to see that Rule #11 from the USEF Rule Book is not so often used at horse shows today ("Dismount and mount. Individually."), although I have heard of a few judges doing it at shows last year. A trainer was telling me that a judge called for the top 4 riders in one of the medal classes to walk into the ring, unmounted, and mount in the ring.  He said that a couple of riders tried and tried, couldn't get on and just gave up and walked out.  Now that almost every Big Eq horse is 16.2 or better, it can be a bit of a problem.  I have heard of some riders, when presented with that test in a class, lower their stirrup to a length that allows them to get on from the ground, and then they re-adjusted it once they were on.

Anyway, for those of you who are just starting out in riding, first, gather the reins in your left hand just above the withers, making sure that there is little or no slack in the reins, and that the left over part of the reins, called the "bight" of the reins is looped properly so that if your horse starts to walk away while you are mounting you will be able to stop him immediately.  Also, remember that word. The left over part of the reins with the buckle at the end is called the "bight" of the reins, and it's pronounced "bite", like what you do to an apple.  With your left hand holding the reins, take your right hand and hold the stirrup while placing your left foot into the stirrup. It is best to make sure that your toe is in line with the girth so that if your horse moves and your foot moves and goes toward the horse, it will touch the girth and not the sides of the horse, which may make him move away even more. Once you have your foot placed properly in the stirrup, using your left hand on the WITHERS ONLY for leverage (not pulling on the horse's mouth for leverage), push down with your left foot and swing your right foot up and around, paying careful attention that you don't kick the horse in the hip with your right foot as you swing your right leg around.

"Training your green horse" section

O.k., now comes the part that I said can get a little interesting.

As a trainer who has had to break, train, re-train, etc. numerous green horses, one of my biggest pet-peeves when it comes to mounting is that the horse stands still while being mounted and REMAINS still after being mounted. This permits the rider to get their feet in the stirrups, take the twist out of their reins, etc., without the horse dancing around or walking off as soon as it feels the rider hit the saddle.  Plus, it just plain encourages discipline in the horse to only walk on when the rider asks.

Now, one of the things that I have found very, very often is that many horses just cannot stand to just stand! Years ago, before the big warmblood invasion, I would go down to the local racetrack every Wednesday morning at 8am, to look at Thoroughbreds whose racing careers weren't working out so that I could buy them and turn them into hunters and jumpers.  Almost none of those horses stood still during or after mounting because they, in my opinion, were many times broken way too young and way too fast, thus the true fundamentals were not properly established. Also, because of the racetrack's character of everything being about "speed", jockeys were often times given a leg up "on the fly", being practically thrown up on top of this young horse as it was in motion.  Now, I see it again in many of the warmbloods from Europe.  The warmbloods in Europe are 99% of the time mounted only from the ground.  Out of all of my trips to Europe I don't think I have ever seen one mounted from an actual mounting block, and only on some of the really big horses, 17.2 and up, have I seen a rider be given a leg up (the Germans come from "the old school", a very strict, traditional training background, something that is somewhat lost over on this side of the puddle, but that is another topic).  Even with some of the really giant horses though, I have seen German riders just put their leg up there and swing on up and start walking.  Short riders, like me, don't stand a chance getting on some of those giants from the ground!

Now, back to what to do after you are mounted and why it is so important, and at times, dangerous.

Once you are mounted, do this: nothing.

Just sit there and make your horse... just stand there.  This is an exercise that goes on at my barn with my horses all the time when I first get them, and I even instruct my riders to do this with their own horses.  We start all of the training on our horses from the most basic (tacking up quietly on the cross-ties) and work our way up from there.   And once the rider is mounted, it starts with a lesson in teaching their horse to just stand, and believe me, some of these standing lessons can go on for 5 minutes or more because of all of the drama that ensues.  What you may notice is that once the horse senses that your bottom has hit the saddle, he starts to walk away.  This is basically a learned behavior that he/she has developed due to hundreds and thousands of times that it has been mounted while never being told not to walk away after being mounted.  They just feel that your on, or close enough to being on, and they just start walking.  I once taught a lady in New Jersey who had a super green, straight-off-the-track, Thoroughbred.  She had seen all of my riders and their horses jumping in the ring at home, she would see us come home from horse shows with a fist full of ribbons and she wanted me to start giving her jumping lessons on her horse so that she could go to horse shows with us.  Well, the first lesson was almost the last lesson because this lady got so mad because we spent the first 10 minutes just trying to get her horse to stand still as she was trying to get on him.  She was, what I'll say, a more "laid back" kind of rider who normally would get her right leg half-way over and her horse would start to "jig" away in a half-walk/half-trot kind of gait, and she would just plop down on him kind of quick and gather her reins up at the same time while her horse was in motion, and all was good as far as she was concerned.  But I told her that we needed to start to "train" her horse, and that meant taking him back to the very basics.

Now, to many of you, this may sound like pretty elementary stuff and, again, this series is really meant for the beginner rider or for riders who have very green horses, but here is something that everyone can test their horse on just to see what happens. You may even get a laugh out of it (besides, if you show in any under saddle classes you need to do this stuff anyway):

Once you get on the horse and you are standing there, start counting to 10 (one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, yada, yada, yada) all while you are standing still. If the horse so much as lifts a foot to take a step forward or backward, make him stand still again and once he is still start the counting all over again from the beginning until you can get all the way up to 10 without the horse moving a foot. They can rest a hind leg if they want, that's o.k., but they can't take a step forward, a step backward, paw at the ground, or anything like that.  Every time they move, start the count all over again.  Now if you want to see something really funny, give the horse as much rein as you can as you do this (while still being able to stop him when you need to).  Your horse may first try to walk away, but not be able to because you are going to pull back and make him stand still again in one place.  Next, the horse may try to walk again, and the same reaction happens on your part, you pull back and tell him no. Then this is where it can get cute. I have had horses at this point actually turn their head and look back and up at me and then down to my foot in the stirrup, and even start to nudge it with their nose as if to say "hey, come on and kick me so we can get going".  I have seen that tons of times! It's pretty funny to see how a horse thinks and reasons things out in their brain. The other thing that is not so funny though (I have mainly only seen it really bad with TB's) is when after they nudge your foot and still not get to go anywhere until you have reached 10, they will start to paw at the ground, blow their nose really loud and hard, like a bull, and sometimes they will do a half-baked piaffe (a dressage term where the horse basically trots in place) because they can't handle just doing nothing.  I have even seen some totally lose it by breaking out in a sweat and stand up on their hind legs, all because of the high anxiety and stress of doing absolutely nothing!  What a trip, huh?

So, anyway, once you get to the count of 10 you can ask them to walk. You should repeat this exercise, for at least a week or 2, every time you get on.  Then you can shorten the count to just the length of time that it would normally take for you to position your feet in the stirrups, take the twist out of your reins, etc.

Why do we mount on the left side of the horse?
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In the next series:
"No Strings Attached"- A lesson on teaching your horse to become balanced on the flat, and over fences, without the use of drawreins.