Horses that refuse to stand still while you mount are at best frustrating and at worst dangerous. I know several people who have been badly injured because their horse wandered off or bolted while they were half-way on. One friend of mine actually gave up trying to ride her horse completely unless there was someone around to hold him still while she mounted.
Why does he behave like this?
Before condemning your horse as being ‘naughty’, it’s important to make sure that he’s not in any sort of pain or discomfort whilst ridden. Horses are not stupid creatures and very quickly associate the rider getting on board with the pain they know will follow. This is especially important if your horse was formerly obedient and suddenly develops an aversion to being ridden.
Invest in the services of a professional to have your horse’s back and teeth checked and make sure he’s not unsound in any way. Next turn your attention to his tack. Is your tack correctly fitted? Is the girth clean and comfortable? Stiff, rough leatherwork will chafe and rub as will a dirty girth or saddle cloth. Make sure that the bit is in good condition and free from sharp edges or loose joints which could pinch the horse’s mouth when you take up a contact on the reins. If you are in any doubt about this, always seek professional guidance. It does no harm to ask for a second opinion in any case.
Once you’ve established that there are no physical problems that could cause the horse to object to being mounted, think carefully about the mechanics of your mounting technique. When does your horse misbehave most? Does he stand better when you use a mounting block or get on from the ground? Is he more settled when other horses are around him? When you land in the saddle, do you do so softly or with a heavy thump? When you mount, do you pull yourself up using the cantle – this could twist and pull on the horse’s back. Do you sometimes kick him as you mount or dig your toe into his belly?
N.B. If your horse is an ex-racer, remember that he will be accustomed to being on the move while the jockey is legged-up onto his back. He will not understand that he is expected to stand still while you mount up and you will therefore need to re-train him.
Now think about your riding style. Is your position light and independent of the reins or do you find yourself using them to keep your balance? It’s a good idea to have a lesson with a really good instructor if you don’t already have regular training. Even the most experienced riders can lapse into bad habits and a pair of eyes on the ground is very helpful.
Finally, consider the type of work you do with your horse. Is his routine varied or do you always school or jump him? It’s important to remember that horses do get bored if their work is repetitive and always the same. How would you feel if your job was the same every single day and you never had a day out of the office?
Correcting the problem
It’s a good idea to have another pair of hands to help you when you begin addressing your horse’s mounting issues. Make sure you have plenty of time when you begin each session. If you are rushed, your horse will sense this and become anxious, which will be counterproductive.
First of all, think about what your horse actually does when you try to mount up. Does he walk backwards; step sideways away from the mounting block as soon as you get onto it, or does he rush forwards when you put your foot into the stirrup? Does the problem arise when you throw your leg over him or does he become upset when you jump up and down beside him before getting on board?
Position your horse in the corner of your arena a foot or so away from the fence on his right-hand side and the same behind him. Ask your assistant to hold him. Your horse is now in a position where he cannot walk backwards, step sideways or rush forwards. If you don’t have the luxury of an arena to work in, position straw bales behind and alongside him or use a corner of your field.
Wait until he is relaxed and settled, praising him for standing quietly. Now step up onto the mounting block. Praise him if he stands still and get off the block. Repeat this process until you are happy that your horse will stand still without fidgeting. Practice jumping up and down beside him with your hand on the pommel of the saddle; again repeat this until he takes no notice of you.
Next, put your foot into the stirrup and apply a little weight to it. Quietly jump and down as if you’re about to get on but don’t. Repeat the process until your horse realises that you are not actually going to get on board and stands quietly without fidgeting. Praise him and put him away for the day. The following day, start again by repeating the lessons of the previous day. If all goes well, go ahead and mount up.
Often, if your horse was just being naughty and attempting to take the mickey, the fact that he can’t fidget because of the physical barriers you have created will be sufficient to break the habit. When he’ll stand still to be mounted, move him a little further away from the fence until you can get on wherever you like without him moving. If there was a genuine confidence issue, patience and repetition will eventually break the habit.
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