Mount Your Horse Safely
With Jonathan Field
Over the years, I have heard too many stories of people being injured while mounting or dismounting. In this article I will describe the procedure I use to safely mount a horse, and point out some important things to be aware of when mounting and dismounting. Whether you are preparing your young horse for the future or developing good habits with your older horse, there are several key points every horseperson should know.
Here to demonstrate this lesson with me is Marty, a three-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse who has only had a few rides and is still very green. I start all my young horses in the halter and lead or in the soft rope hackamore. With Marty you can see I am using the rope halter, although this lesson can also be practiced in a bit.
Preserving the Mouth
I start my horses in the rope hackamore because I want to preserve the sensitivity inside their mouths during what can be a pretty bumpy learning curve as they figure things out. I teach all of my rein communications in the rope halter on the ground before I mount and guide them. Then, when they can walk, trot, and canter both ways, stop, back-up, and turn nicely, I make a gradual transition to a bit.
The act of mounting can be scary for the green horse because essentially there is a predator climbing on his back. For this reason, I do not want to cause the horse to feel confined or claustrophobic by having someone hold him, nor do I mount right away if the horse is energetic and frisky. I want my horse to be relaxed while I mount and comfortable standing still once I am in the saddle.
To get Marty ready for mounting, I did a nice warm-up on the ground with him out in the pasture where I was going to ride. I moved Marty around, thinking of getting him physically warm, as well as asking for changes of gait and direction to get him connected with me mentally. You can see he is moving out nicely and has an ear on me.
Preparing to Mount
Once Marty was relaxed and calm, I was ready to mount. In this photo you will see six key points illustrated:
- I have a hold of the rein and the mane with my inside (left) hand. The rein is short enough that if Marty were to move forward while I was mounting I could be effective and stop him, and if he were to try to bolt or kick me I would be able to pull his head toward me to swing his hindquarters away
- I can see Marty’s eye, and see that his ear is on me while I am deciding whether it is safe to mount.
- Marty is standing square.
- I am facing forward.
- My inside foot is in the stirrup.
- My outside hand is holding the front, or pommel, of the saddle.
- The Half Mount
When I leave the ground, it is not with the idea that I am going to put my leg over the horse. I recommend making a habit of pausing once you are up and standing in the stirrup so that your own muscle memory doesn’t land you in trouble on a horse that isn’t ready to be mounted. If the horse becomes tense and freezes or tries to run, or for any other reason it is not safe to proceed, you can simply step off and address the problem on the ground. I will practice this half mount several times on each side, going up and down without putting my leg over the horse.
Waking Up the Other Side
The next step before I fully mount is to check out the other side of the horse. In this photo I am practicing the half mount on Marty’s right side and he has been watching me with his right eye. Before I get all the way on, I want to make sure that he also sees me with his left eye so he is not surprised when I put my leg over. I reached over and rubbed his left side and hindquarters, and moved the stirrup around.
In the Saddle
Once I am on, I want to stand quietly for a moment so that my horse does not get in the habit of leaving as soon as I am in the saddle. Then I will ask for some yields and sometimes I will back up if the horse has a tendency to want to step forward. Here, I am asking Marty to yield his hindquarters around.
During this 30 minute session, I just hung out with Marty, mounting him several times on both sides, and then gave him a rest. Short sessions are good for young horses. I don’t like to put a lot of miles on a young horse, but I can practice lots of things, such as saddling, mounting, and other ground skills, that can help the horse be solid for the rest of his life. Above all, take the time to develop the horse’s confidence when it comes to mounting; if you never take the time to get it right, it never will be right!
Photos by Robin Duncan Photography
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.