Mounting a Horse:
How to and Troubleshooting
This is Part 1 of a 3 Part article
Adapted from Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill
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?
The 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.
You 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.
Begin 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.