Here I go again, offering instruction in something everyone already knows how to do.
Well, I have been noticing of late students, many of whom that have been riding for years, not having the proper mounting technique as I have come to understand it. Like many things involving horses, it seems the most obvious thing in the world when you believe you know how and never occurs to you that there is a wrong way when you don’t.
The mistake I see most often, I think, stems from the misconception that one climbs up the side of the horse using the stirrup. This is certainly the case, to some extent, when stepping up from the ground, but I see it even when the rider is using a mounting block. A lot of riders put their left foot into the stirrup and left hand on the pommel or horn and right on the cantle, they then proceed to pull themselves up with their arms while lifting the majority of their body weight with their left leg until they are standing in the stirrup, then they swing their other leg over and drop down. When watching this from the outside you can see them with all their weight in the stirrup as they are going up, then still there as they swing over and finally the drop the weight down on the horse’s back. The animal has its spine twisted and balanced greatly compromised and then “bang” the rider drops down on their back, stressing the already twisting spine. This should look wrong to anyone who stops to think about it for a moment.
What follows is what I teach my students to do instead. Your mileage may vary.
First, while we must be able to mount from the ground if the situation calls for it, we work on that only AFTER we learn to mount with a block or other aid. Even after we have mastered mounting from the ground we still use said aid every chance we get.
Second, we can only mount correctly with the horse standing calmly. Even if that requires another person to stand at the horse’s head until it has been conditioned to stand quietly for mounting.
Third, we must not think of it as climbing. From the top step of the mounting block the left hand takes up reins and a handful of mane, just in front of the pommel, while the right hand is placed on the right side of the pommel and not the cantle as most people default to. The right hand is so placed to support and to keep you from falling over the horse’s right shoulder as you shift your weight well forward and ABOVE the horse’s back as you mount.
Fourth, The left foot in placed in the stirrup with ALL the weight still carried on the right leg. Flex the right knee as if crouching slightly on it, still no weight in the stirrup and use it to ‘spring” lightly up and forward toward your right hand, catching yourself with your left leg as it comes into contact with the side of the horse, with your weight WELL OVER the center of the horses back, leaning forward slightly, carrying your right leg over and as gently as possible lowering yourself into the saddle. This should be done smoothly and, as much as possible, in a single motion.
Important: Keep your stirrup and/or the toe of your left boot, out of the horse’s side by making sure you turn your foot to point forward, as the whole motion of mounting is to step up and forward. Also, be sure your right leg clears the back and haunches completely as you swing over. Clipping with horse with the boot on the way up, over or down on the other side may cause ‘unfortunate’ reactions from the horse.
From the ground the process is the same except you will mostly likely hop up and down a couple times on your right leg before the ‘spring’ up and forward. In this case your right hand may be placed on the cantle to steady your first movement upward, but should then move to the right side of the pommel, again, to help keep you from going over the horse’s right shoulder. The key is to get your weight over the middle of the saddle well forward toward the pommel, with your body facing forward as much as possible, as you catch yourself with the left leg.
Mounting incorrectly can cause back problems for the horse in short order. Some riders try to make up for it by alternating which side they mount on, if their horse is trained for both sides. “Good for you, Human, now both sides of my back are out!”. This is not to say one should not mount from both sides of the horse. I certainly believe the horse and rider should practice the proper mounting procedure from both sides to accustom both to it in case a situation presents itself where mounting from the customary side is not an option.
In my view, mounting from the ground, like mounting from the ‘off side’ of the horse, is something we needs to know how to do and the horse should accept it without complaint. However, I feel it should be avoided whenever possible. When a mounting block is not available, rocks, stumps and such natural elements can be used instead. There is also the option of getting a leg-up from someone when a spare pair of hands is available. If you are not comfortable with the leg-up process, having someone brace the saddle against twisting, by setting their weight in the far stirrup with their hand just as you step up, can make the mounting process far easier for the horse.
For those who don’t know what a ‘leg-up’ is, it is where a helper stands next to the rider and assists them in mounting by giving them a boost up into the saddle. It requires precise coordination between the two parties or it can be quickly become a comedy of errors. Here is how it is done. From the left side of the horse, the ‘giver’ stands to the left of the ‘receiver’. The ‘receiver’ places their hands as if to mount by stepping into the stirrup but instead lifts their left leg by bending at the knee. The ‘giver’ then places their left hand just behind the ‘receiver’s’ knee as their right hand supports the foot, while bending their own knees to allow them to keep their torso as upright as possible. The ‘receiver’ then gives three small hops and on the third one the ‘giver’ stands up straight, lifting with the legs as the ‘receiver’ swings the right leg over and gently settles into the saddle. The ‘giver’ must be very careful to offer only support and not try to throw the rider into the saddle, as this can result in actually throwing them completely over and off the other side.
Whichever method you choose to mount your horse, it is vital that you put the horse’s welfare ahead of your own ego. Using a mounting block or getting a leg-up, may not be macho or fit with the aesthetic of some people, but taking advantage of such aid will greatly benefit the horse, and in the long run prolong back health, which after all, is more important.