Friday, June 2, 2017

Getting Fit to Ride (a series, part 1)

By Mary Gallagher

As Jess Crouch pointed out in her recent articles on preparing to ride and mounting safely, it is important to review the basics and really prepare the horse for mounting. With time and experience, ironically, it’s easy to get careless or automatic about mounting. So I got to thinking about how we should also prepare ourselves to ride. We are riders in the active sense of the word, not passengers, and riding entails muscle conditioning and balance for the human, as much as the horse.

With this idea in mind, I have begun incorporating targeted exercises for riders in many of my classes, as part of the ground work portion, or in preparation for riding. In this first article, I focus on preparing ourselves to mount safely and smoothly, and share an exercise to support both. It’s better for the horse, and it’s definitely better for us riders! -MG

Mounting a horse is an athletic act. Getting on smoothly and seamlessly, without disturbing the horse—not getting hung up on the cantle, or flinging our leg over the saddle in an imbalanced way— is a practiced motion and a real skill. We need to get good at it. Just like we use ground work to practice moves with our horse that we will repeat while riding, we can also develop our own moves and muscles while on the ground.

As obvious as mounting seems to be, a mere moment between not riding and riding, it’s worth slowing it down, studying what we do, and simulating that motion on the ground before getting on the horse as usual. We must stop!—as Jess says so eloquently—and NOT get on that horse until we are willing to pay attention to all the pieces—really examine what makes an athletic and seamless mount and dismount safe.

Then, we practice. There are habits to unlearn, moves to improve, and muscles to strengthen. A good start, is by Mounting a Barrel:

We need to open up our hips and increase our range of motion in mounting, and later in riding. A barrel or mounting block can be a great prop to help us prepare.

1. Basic mount/dismount:
  • With hands balancing you at one end of the barrel, practice that mount, BOTH WAYS. Yes, you heard me. Swing that leg over, sit, and then dismount on the opposite side. Repeat from opposite direction. 
    You can use your lead rope for an alternate grip.
  • Try a few more times, both ways.

  • How did that go? Notice any difference between your ability on each side? I thought so.
Definitely develop your mounting skills from both sides. No, there is no universal law being broken here. Your horse will learn, and get good at it, too. You will both be better-balanced individuals as a result.

2. Opening the hips:
Knee to opposite elbow; ...uh, our horse ate the scorpion kick photo! Honest!
  • standing as if to mount,  (or at the end of the barrel, as pictured) lift the inside knee (closest to the barrel) and bring it to the opposite elbow, then swing the leg back to a scorpion kick—as if to tap the back of your head with your heel. No worries, you won’t. Just make it stretch!
  • Repeat 5 times. Mount barrel, dismount on opposite side, repeat 5 times. 
3. Mounting practice, variations:
  • Okay, now practice mounting that barrel while supporting your full weight, swinging your leg gracefully and lowering yourself smoothly and gently into the 'saddle'. 
  • Mount and dismount from the same side, as well as interrupting the mount when your leg is part way over, for a smooth dismount, same side.
Repeat these exercises regularly, perhaps as part of your ground work routine, and definitely with your own creative variations. My students and I have enjoyed exercising in between ground work with the horses. We are pretty sure the horses like the show, as well as a little down time!
A variation, leg forward over the barrel.

Practicing with your horse. Once you are comfortable with the balance and motion involved in mounting and dismounting in this way, take it to your horse. Mount and dismount several times per side, following good mounting practices (did I mention Jess's article?), and practicing your newly fluid, athletic-yet-light-as-a-butterfly approach.

Should the horse tense up during any of these steps (“What?! You NEVER get on from the right!”), you’ll have the necessary balance and skill to safely dismount the horse, avoiding imbalance and injury. Then you can review your preparation to ride skills from both sides, and repeat until you are both successful.

Best of all, by using exercises like these regularly (stay tuned for more!), you will become a stronger and better-balanced rider. Your horse will thank you.

I recommend reviewing Jess’s two articles, and combining her steps with the exercises I’ve shared here. Make it a program to improve this aspect of your horsemanship, and get yourself and your horse better balanced and better prepared for mounting in different situations. -MG


  1. Really enjoying these classes. Thank you Mary

    1. Jennene, it's great having you in class, both at the Farm and at the gym! You are really following the "get fit to ride" program, and it shows. Thanks for being with us!