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Mounting a Horse –

Styles of Mounting, First Mounting Part 3

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Adapted from Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

Styles of Mounting

Over the years, young horses have been safely mounted in a variety of ways. Choose the style of mounting that you can perform most easily and safely. Don’t change your style of mounting the day of the first ride because so-and-so says it is the only way to mount young horses.

You can mount young horses the same way you do experienced horses: face the opposite direction the horse is facing, put your left foot in the stirrup, bounce on your right leg while rotating on your left foot in the stirrup. Rotate toward the horse, then forward, rising on the second bounce. If you are accustomed to this method, it will work well for you. In the unlikely even that a horse begins to move off, you will tend to be swung up into the saddle as he moves forward. This style of mounting is safe when used following a thorough restraint and ground training program.

How  to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillSome riders prefer to approach mounting with the aid of a handler on the end of a lead rope. If working with a very sensitive, rather spooky horse you may wish to consider this method. The rider might get a leg up from yet another assistant so that the rider can lay over the horse’s back without a foot in the stirrup. The rider then slides down, gets another leg up, and continues until the horse is relaxed enough to allow the rider to swing a leg over and sit up.

Experienced riders who spend less time on ground training or are starting broncy or spoiled young horses may prefer to mount differently. In this case, mount facing the same direction as the horse. Place only the toe of your boot in the stirrup so that if the horse takes off, your foot comes out of the stirrup easily. Often the reins or lead rope are held rather snug with the horse’s nose tipped to the left. In some cases the rider might even hold onto the sidepiece of a halter which the young horse wears under its bridle. This may give a trainer more control in some situations but it does tend to throw a horse off balance. With a thorough ground training program, however, you should be able to allow a young horse to stand square and straight when you step up on him for the first time.

The First Mounting

If you are using split reins, tie them together in a knot about eight inches from where you will hold them. With your horse squared up, tell him “WHOA”, then turn to stand alongside his near side. Take the reins and a portion of his mane near the withers in your left hand. If you have done a thorough job of restraint, you will not have to use a tight rein to prevent him from moving forward. However, even with a seemingly very quiet horse, have some degree of even contact on the reins because if the horse is suddenly startled and darts forward you don’t want to have to paw through a lot of leather before you can make contact with his mouth.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillWith your right hand, present the stirrup to your left foot. Place your left foot securely on the tread, keeping the left side of your body and your left knee as close to the horse’s body as possible. That way your knee can act as a pivot point as you swing up to mount. This will decrease your tendency to pull the saddle off center (toward you) as you mount. Bouncing two times seems to provide enough momentum so that you can get up quickly without twisting. Another helpful hint in this regard is not to grab the horn or cantle to pull yourself up but rather place your right hand on the off swell of the saddle. Push off to the right and downward on the swell as you make your final rise and let your palm swivel as you swing over onto the saddle. This will help keep saddle slippage to a minimum.

If you find the horse skeptical about being mounted, just step up into the stirrup, bounce a few times, take your foot out of the stirrup, and walk to his head and tell him everything is OK. If you sense that the horse may be touchy about weight on his back, you can step into the left stirrup, rise, and lean over the saddle keeping both legs on the near side. For safety, once you have leaned over the saddle like this, slip your left foot out of the stirrup, so that when you need to, you can just slide down.

When you are ready to swing your right leg over, keep your right knee straight so that you don’t bump it on the horse’s croup or the cantle. Settle your weight into the saddle softly by using your abdominals and the thigh muscles of your left leg to gradually let yourself down. Don’t land with a thud or you might be off running! And don’t grope wildly for the right stirrup with a flailing right leg or don’t lean over to grab it. I’ve seen riders’ over-concern for finding the right stirrup be the cause of young horses’ anxiety. When a horse feels the rider’s leg fluttering around looking for the stirrup, he may walk off or spook. Just sit in a balanced position with your legs off the horse’s ribs for the time being.

Your  Horse Barn DVDResist the temptation of leaning forward to pet your horse on the neck as this will put you in a vulnerable, off-balance position. And if the horse is startled by you leaning forward, he may raise his head or neck suddenly and bop you on the nose. If you feel the urge to reassure your horse that all is well, say something in a pleasant tone and give him a scratch on the withers. Use one word or a short phrase. A lot of talking at this time can be confusing, especially if the young horse has been trained to voice commands during ground work. Sit quietly, well balanced, and deep in the saddle – the safest position to be in if something exciting does happen. If you are on an especially sensitive horse, you may wish to spend the majority of the first lesson mounting and dismounting. Or you may want to work the horse a little and then practice the mounting and dismounting at the end of the lesson.

In either event, eventually you have to take your right stirrup. Repeat the command “WHOA” as you carefully hook the off stirrup with the toe of your boot. If at any time your horse reacts to your movements by walking off, use your voice command “WHOA” with a very light lifting of the reins.

Be safe and have a good ride.

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information


Although you have been able to prepare the young horse for almost every sensation he will experience during the first ride, three things that will be new to him are the feel of your legs on his sides, the feel of your weight on his back, and the sight of you above and behind him.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillYou can get your horse used to your weight on his back by stepping up on a mounting block so you can lean your body over his bareback. You can either have someone hold the horse while you do this or hold onto the leadrope yourself. Be sure to remove any belt buckles that could dig into the horse’s back as you practice this exercise. At first just get him used to the idea of seeing you on both sides of him at the same time. Then lean your weight onto his back, but still keep contact with your feet and the mounting block. Finally lift yourself all the way up on his back and lean all the way over him.

When it comes time to mount and ride, I like to start young horses with a Western saddle even if they are destined to be used as English horses. First of all, the weight of an empty Western saddle does a better job of accustoming a horse’s back to carrying. Second Western Longeing and Long Lining the Western Horsestirrups and fenders familiarize the young horse with movement against his sides preparing him for the feel of your legs. Third, when properly fitted, a Western saddle has less of a tendency to shift when a rider mounts. This is due to the friction of the large contact area of the skirts and the wrapping and enveloping effect that a Western saddle tends to have. And fourth, and perhaps most important, a Western saddle has a larger bearing surface than an English saddle so distributes a rider’s weight over a larger area of the horse’s back muscles. A horse’s back is like a suspension bridge, not really well designed to carry weight. The horse’s neck, abdominals, and back muscles already have a big job suspending the weight of his abdomen and now the muscles must work even harder to keep the back from sagging under the weight of the saddle and rider. The longer, wider bars of a properly fitted Western saddle make bearing the weight of the rider more comfortable for the young horse. Once the horse’s back has begun to strengthen and develop, it can more easily bear a rider’s weight via the panels of a properly fitted English saddle.

To prepare a horse for you being above him during riding, when you groom or clip him, step up on a box or when he is turned out, sit on the top rail of his pen and let him come up and investigate you.

Evaluate Your Every Day Mounting Habits

Become aware of your everyday mounting habits that could use improvement.

  • Do the toes of your left boot dig into a horse’s side as you rise to mount? Pointed toe boots are particularly inappropriate when mounting unless you choose to mount facing forward.

  • Does the saddle shift way off to the left side because you have to pull yourself up with your arms rather than lift yourself up with the muscles of your left leg?

  • Do you wobble as you swing over the horse and throw him off balance or bump him on the croup?

  • Does your seat land with a thud in the saddle or do you have the muscle control to lower yourself softly into the saddle?

  • Does your right leg slap his side as you find your position or do you let your leg settle softly on his side?

If you have any of these problems, practice mounting a safe, trained horse until your bad habits are replaced with good ones. Here is one place where being in good physical condition will help you perform more effectively and safely.

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Mounting a Horse:

How to and Troubleshooting

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

This is Part 1 of a 3 Part article


Adapted from Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

Making not Breaking, the First Year Under Saddle

Making not Breaking, the First Year Under Saddle

Whether your are mounting a young horse for the first time or an older horse that you have had for some time, do you anticipate mincing and dancing, a fight, an explosive surprise, or do you see things going like clockwork with both you and your horse emerging winners? It is natural to experience anxiety before mounting a young horse for its first ride – that’s just normal horse trainer’s stage fright. A small amount of apprehension will probably make you pay closer attention to safety. Being alert primes your nerves and muscular actions. But too much tension can take the smoothness and confidence out of your moves and that might bring undesirable reactions from your horse. If you have an older horse that is developing bad habits when being mounted, proceed like you would with a young, untrained horse.

The best way to make the first mounting just another day in the string of lessons for your young horse is to precede mounting with the proper ground training. Contrary to what you might think, the vast majority of accidents with young horses are not due to a horse being sneaky or dishonest and pulling out all the stops on mounting day. Most young horses act very honestly and predictably and are merely reflecting their previous handling. Accidents with young horses can usually be traced to the violation by the trainer of one or more very simple, basic safety rules or to the omission of important basic ground training. Even the most experienced, accomplished trainers consistently emphasize the importance of the basics. The importance of groundwork should be taken seriously. The true test of when your young horse is ready to mount is whether you can actually perform the various ground work exercises with your horse that I list in Making Not Breaking or 101 Longeing and Long Lining Exercises. I’ve posted a list of in-hand exercises on this blog that is a starting point. Can you do all of these ground work exercises with your horse?

How  to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillThe overall goal of the first few rides is to reinforce the horse’s trust in you. He must overcome his inborn fear of having “an animal” on his back. To further a horse’s trust in you, never do anything that will scare or hurt him. You should aim to develop a partnership, one in which you are definitely in charge but not one in which the horse is inhumanely dominated by rough tactics. Earning a horse’s trust and respect simultaneously is the foundation of horse training. A young horse needs to know in very clear terms that you are the boss and that what you request, he must do. But you want willing compliance, not a broken-spirited submission. What you ask of your horse must be based on sound horse training principles and must be consistent.

The Pre-Mounting Warm-Up

Currently, it is not a widespread practice to wear a protective helmet when riding yet it should be. More and more trainers and instructors advise the use of a “hard hat”, especially when riding young horses. Boots with heels are an important safeguard because certain stirrups can allow a non-heeled boot or shoe to slip through them and trap the rider’s foot. If gloves are used, they should be of the type that allow grip and a feel of the reins. A thick or heavy pair of gloves can make for cumbersome movements.

Longeing and Long Lining the Western HorseYou can use in-hand work, longeing, driving, or ponying to take the edge off a young horse prior to its first ride. Whatever method of warm up you choose, it should be very familiar to the young horse. It would make no sense to introduce a new ground training lessons on the day of your first ride.

You can choose to take your first rides using a halter and lead rope, bosal, or snaffle bridle. It is not so important what you use on his head but how you use your body. Although it is good to keep your mind open to different methods for the future, for now choose the method with which you are most comfortable and proficient. The pre-ride warm-up and the first ride should take place in a safe enclosed area. I prefer a 66 foot diameter round pen with sturdy walls and sand footing.

Your  Horse Barn DVDBegin the session as if nothing out of the ordinary is planned. Be sure you do not have time constraints because if you are in a hurry, it will surely affect your work. Be thorough with haltering, leading, tacking up and leading to the round pen. Warm your horse up by leading him in-hand for a few moments to “untrack” him. Check the cinch for appropriate tightness and then ready the horse for longeing, driving, or ponying. The pre-ride warm up should take the edge off the horse but not tire him out. He will need to be alert and have muscle strength and energy left if you expect him to pay attention and actually learn something from the first mounting lesson.

After the warm up, check the cinches (and breast collar if used) once again and be sure they are snug but not uncomfortably tight. Be sure to remove the stirrup hobble rope if you used one for driving. Square the horse up so he will have an easier time maintaining his balance as you mount. If he has one front foot way out to the right, for example, he will likely bring it under his belly with a quick motion when you begin mounting. If one hind leg is far behind, the horse will probably step forward as you begin mounting. Either of these circumstances may make you think he is going to walk off. This might make you lose your concentration or balance or you may instinctively snatch at the reins and start a cycle of errors. Any time you have difficulty in the chain of events, and this goes for the horse’s entire training, stop, go back to where your and your horse were comfortable and performing well and proceed from there.
Watch for more parts to this topic.

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