To get on with the fun of riding-whether during a formal riding lesson or climbing onto grandpa's old gray mare-the first thing we have to learn is how to mount up. And, of course, what goes up must come down. However, once we get on-and off-our horses those first few times, it's easy to forget about the particulars of mounting and dismounting in a correct and safe manner.
Lest we forget, mounting and dismounting are two of the most dangerous moments during a ride. In both instances, the rider is in a precarious and vulnerable position and the horse is slightly off balance as our bodies move and our weight shifts from ground to saddle. A sudden spook or move on the horse's part, and we're at risk of getting hung up in the stirrups, saddle or reins, or falling to the ground.
To help keep you and your horse safe, it's time to take stock of the methods you're using to mount and dismount, and to make improvements wherever you can.
Spring is the Thing
The ease with which you can get yourself into the saddle depends on several things-your strength, flexibility and nimbleness, your stirrup length, and, of course, the height of your horse.
Traditionally, we mount our horses from the left side. However, it's always a good idea to learn to mount and dismount from both sides. You may someday find yourself in a tight situation, such as on a steep mountain trail where that left side just isn't a good option. Being ambidextrous could come in handy.
Ideally, you should be able to get on your horse from the ground and by using a mounting block. A mounting block can certainly make the process a whole lot easier. However, there will likely be occasions when one isn't available, so being able to propel yourself up and into the saddle without a mounting block is a necessary skill.
Commercial mounting blocks are usually two or three sturdy steps between 14- and 21 inches high. A stable, well-constructed mounting block is a great investment as the added height will help protect your horse's back and your own joints as you step into the stirrup and swing aboard your horse's back.
However, before you even think about getting on, the first thing you need to do is to check the cinch or girth to make sure your saddle is snug. You don't want to put a foot in the stirrup and suddenly find your saddle slipping. That's dangerous, so be sure to double-check.
To mount safely, always start with your horse standing with his feet squarely underneath him. (See "Square One" in the October 2007 issue of Perfect Horse to learn about training your horse to square-up on cue.) Setting your horse up with his weight equally divided over all four legs will help him maintain his balance and prevent him from taking a step forward or to the side as you mount. Asking him to stand still and in balance will also help prevent him from doing a "moving mount," which puts you both in an unsafe situation.
What Goes Up…
• First things first. Check your cinch to make sure your saddle is secure before you put your foot in the stirrup.
• Make sure your horse is standing still and is balanced on all four legs as you mount and dismount.
• If you have access to a mounting block, use it to save your horse's back and your joints.
• Keep at least one hand on your reins as you're mounting and dismounting.
• Be sure to settle your weight gently onto your horse's back.
• Take both feet out of your stirrups before lowering yourself to the ground.
• Dismount to the ground rather than to a mounting block, stump or stool.
1. Using a mounting block helps protect your horse's back and your knees. 2. Make sure your horse is standing still and is balanced on all four legs before you put your foot into the stirrup. 3. It's push, not pull. Use the muscles of your legs to spring up from the ground or mounting block into the saddle. 4. With your hand on the pommel of the saddle for balance, swing your leg clear over the horse's rump and settle gently into the saddle. 5. Before asking-or allowing-your horse to walk off, put your feet in your stirrups
and organize your reins.
If you're using a mounting block, position your horse parallel to it, centered, and close enough so you don't have to reach or stretch for the stirrup, so you'll be stable and balanced as well.
Stand on the mounting block or on the ground facing toward your horse's shoulder. Give him a pat on the shoulder or a gentle flat-handed thump on the saddle to let him know that you're about to get on.
When mounting from the left side, hold the reins in your left hand and place your left hand on your horse's neck right in front of his withers for balance. Grab a tuft of mane if you need to stabilize your rein hand to keep from bumping your horse with the bit. Use your right hand to turn the stirrup toward you and step into it with your left foot.
Now, with your left foot in the stirrup, move your right hand to the saddle. If you're riding in an English saddle, you'll want your hand on the pommel (front) of the saddle, because grabbing the back of the saddle will twist or pull it out of place. Western riders will also want to place their hand on the pommel of the saddle to the right side, around the base of the horn. If you can't reach the pommel, you can grab the cantle (back) of the saddle. However, you're going to have to move your hand in order to swing your leg over the hindquarters and settle into your seat.
In this next phase, it's helpful to put a little spring into your movements. Use the muscles in your legs to propel your body up and forward over the saddle, using your arms to balance yourself toward your horse's center of gravity. Remember that you're pushing yourself up, not pulling yourself up. If you need to take a moment to catch your balance, that's okay, but be careful not to hang on your horse's side, which could throw him off-balance, tilt the saddle, and hurt his back.
When you're ready, swing your right leg back and clear over your horse's rump, making sure not to kick him with your foot. Eventually, your step-up-and-swing-leg-over will become one fluid motion.
But let's pause for just a moment as we move through the mounting process.
This is the point where some riders are so relieved that they're almost on, they throw their leg over the horse and flop down into the saddle with a thud. The
result is a horse with a very sore back and possibly an unwillingness to stand still for mounting. Over time, the horse becomes wiggly and resentful of mounting, making the rider even more anxious and in a hurry to get on.
You can stop the cycle. To keep from hitting the horse's back with your seat, use your muscles and balance as you swing over. In a slow and controlled manner, gently settle into the saddle. Think of it as lowering yourself into a chair with a sharp tack on it versus flopping into a recliner.
Once you're seated, search for your right stirrup by wiggling your toe around. If you can't find it, reach down with your right hand and hold the stirrup or stirrup fender in place. Now put your foot in the stirrup.
Sit up tall, organize your reins, and get ready to ride.
Dismounting is the reverse of mounting, although there are a few differences to keep you and your horse safe.
First of all, a mounting block is just that-a mounting block-not a dismounting block. Do not dismount to a block or step, because you could lose your balance and fall off the block. In most cases, it's better to dismount to the ground.
The safest way to dismount, both English and western, is to take both of your feet out of the stirrups before you get off. This will ensure you don't get caught up in your stirrups if your horse moves or you should fall as you dismount. If you're riding English and want to make sure you won't get caught in the stirrups, or if you're helping a small child dismount, cross the stirrups over the horse's withers so they're out of the way.
In an English saddle, gather your reins in your left hand, lean forward, and use both hands on your horse's neck to stabilize yourself. In a Western saddle, place both reins in your left hand and place that hand on your horse's neck in front of his withers. If you need to, gather some mane in your hand too. Place your right hand at the base of the horn and use your arm to support your weight.
When dismounting to the left as tradition dictates, swing your right leg over your horse's rump, making sure you don't kick him (doing so could send him shooting forward, as well as hurt him). If you're riding western, make sure your belly clears the saddle horn as you swing your leg. Also make sure your shirt or jacket doesn't get caught on the horn, either. Now, if you need to, pause with your torso over the saddle and your legs dangling down on your horse's side. Just make sure not to hang on your horse's back and hurt him.
When you're ready, slowly slide down the saddle to the ground. Bend your knees to help absorb the shock of your landing.
An alternate western dismount, and one that you'd likely do at horse show, involves keeping your left foot in your stirrup as you swing you leg over. Instead of taking both feet out of the stirrups, take only your right foot out of the stirrup. As you swing your leg over your horse's back, keep your weight in your left stirrup. Holding yourself up against the saddle, take your left foot out of the stirrup and drop to the ground. For your safety, never step to the ground with your foot still in the stirrup.
Now that you've dismounted, make sure you still have hold of the reins and your horse under control. Stand up, face forward, and pet your horse.