Sunday, April 30, 2017

Stop! Let’s Think About This: At the Mounting Block (Part 2 of 2)

by Jessica Crouch

So, by now you have gone through your basic pre-ride checks, and decided to ride. The horse feels ready, and you have a good idea of how much he knows and what state his mind is in. You have established a basic communication with him. Next question: To use a mounting block or not?

Almost all equine bodywork professionals will encourage you to use a mounting block as it is easier on the horse’s back.  The torque of a human pulling their weight up can cause significant pressure on a horse's spine. Many people simply need the extra height to get on.  I usually use a mounting block or fence to mount my horse, though I make sure my horses are comfortable with a person just mounting from the ground. So let’s start with the mounting block.

So you head for the mounting block with every intention of getting on your horse. Let's look at a smooth progression of steps to help you do so, safely and securely. Then we'll consider some less than ideal possibilities. But to get started:

1) Step up on the mounting block/fence and ask your horse to position himself; if you are mounting from the ground you might ask your horse to present his side to you. This tells you right off how much he wants to be ridden that day (more on that in a second).

2) As you mount, hold the inside rein (the side you are getting up on) shorter than outside rein.  If the horse were to step away, this would cause him to turn towards you and swing his hip away from you.  If you have the outside rein shorter, you could accidentally swing his hindquarters into you. Never get on without keeping a hand on the reins. I also like to have a firm hold on the mane, just above the withers. (By the way, I say inside and outside rein rather than “left” and “right” because you want to practice mounting from BOTH sides of your horse, not just the traditional left side.  Whenever possible, keep your horse equally conditioned on both sides of his body.)

3) If this is a horse you haven’t ridden before (or recently), you might pat the saddle a little just to make sure he is not reactive; if you are getting on from the ground you might slip your toe in the stirrup and spring up only part way and come back down, just to check his reactions.

4) Look the horse in the eye, swing your leg up and over.  I say look the horse in the eye because 1) you want to read his emotional state and 2) You should be facing forward as you swing up.  If all is well, slip your toe(s) into the stirrups.

5) Once on, sit there a moment. Pet your horse. Practice lateral flexion. Back up. These are your brake checks. Maybe ask for a little sideways step. Then you move away from the block a few steps, to check out your hindquarter yields.  Ask the horse to follow the feel of the rein and step his forehand around.  By following these steps, you are basically doing a quick “tune-up” to make sure you and your horse understand each other, and you have “steering and brakes.”

Let's pause here a moment, and consider some less ideal outcomes:

For instance, you lead your horse to the block, climb up on it, and your horse, reluctant to be ridden, sidesteps JUST out of reach. Or maybe you have a worried horse, and he is nervous and turns and faces you. Whatever the reason, resist the urge to pick up the block and chase the horse around with it! The horse should happily step up alongside the block and “park” himself in the perfect position for you. Remember he should be a willing partner in your ride. The horse knows WHY you’ve led him to that block and if he fidgets and steps away from it he is letting you know he is anxious, worried, or very unenthusiastic about his ride. He is telling you something is wrong, and you need to figure it out before getting on!

The subject of helping your horse to become confident at the mounting block is a material for another whole article, but I do want to point out some potential issues you could be facing: poor saddle fit or riding style causing the horse pain, physical issues your horse may be facing such as a sore back, anxiety caused by unpleasant riding sessions in the past, an unconfident or nervous horse who would rather be somewhere else, etc.   These are all things that should be addressed on the ground. The same can happen when mounting with your stirrup from the ground -- your horse walks off or sidesteps away from you. Pay attention to these warning signs!

If you have otherwise mounted just fine, but your horse moves off a few steps as you mount, and you are confident there is not a physical issue, you could immediately correct him by backing up to his spot at the mounting block and sitting there quietly a few moments. If he’s really quick, you might disengage, get off, send him back to the block, and remount until he can stand quietly. Often a horse has never learned to stand quietly simply because their riders never taught them to!

By making a habit of the above steps, you will stay safer during the mounting process AND you help your horse become more confident and reliable.  It only takes a few more minutes each ride, but paying attention to all these little details pays off. Now you are ready to go and enjoy your ride!

Ask your horse to line up at the block.

Get your reins sorted, pat the saddle if needed.

Shorten the inside rein.

Put your toe in the stirrup, and look him in the eye.

Ask for lateral flexion....

...and flexion the other way...

and back.

Ask for a back up....

...and ask for yields.

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