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.