“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”
Sir Winston Churchill
(1874 – 1965)
Getting on a horse correctly is one of the most important things an equestrian can do to ensure a safe ride. My worst-ever fall from a horse occurred when I did this wrong! (In fact, I had several months to reconsider how to mount a horse correctly.)
Although a horse may certainly be mounted from the ground, many equestrians (particularly English riders) prefer to use a mounting block.
What is a mounting block?
Essentially, a mounting block is a sturdy set of steps, onto which a rider climbs before climbing aboard his horse. Mounting blocks may be constructed of stone, wood, metal, strong plastic or other materials. Some stables offer a permanent fixture at one end of the horseback riding arena, while others have portable steps. In a pinch, a small stepladder, tree stump, hay bale, jump standard or other structure may do the trick.
How is a mounting block used?
First, the mounting block must be placed in a safe spot, away from arena traffic. Usually, it will be situated either at one end or corner of the arena. In some horseback riding facilities, the mounting block is set right in the center of the arena, where riders may easily avoid it.
The equestrian will lead his horse up to the mounting block and stop him right next to it. Because horses are generally mounted on the near side, or the horse’s left-hand side, the mounting block should be here when the horse is halted. (Occasionally, a horse may have to be mounted from the far (right) side, but most horses are trained otherwise.)
The mounting block may be placed with the steps leading up to the horse or sideways next to him, depending on the rider’s preference and the shape of the mounting block.
If a helper or stable groom is present, he will hold the horse, while the rider mounts up. If not, an equestrian may certainly accomplish this solo.
Before mounting, the rider will want to check the stirrup lengths and ensure the girth (English) or cinch (Western) is sufficiently tightened. He will recheck all of the horse’s tack (bridle, bit, reins, martingale and other items) to be sure all straps are correctly fastened. Then he will place the reins over the horse’s head, as for riding.
Standing on the horse’s near side, the rider will grasp the reins in his left hand and climb the mounting block. Once atop the mounting block, he faces the horse, still with the reins in his left hand.
At this point, the rider will place his left foot into the stirrup on the horse’s near side. He will then place his weight into that stirrup, while swinging his body over the horse and sitting down as gently and securely as possible in the saddle.
Once seated, the rider can place his right foot into the stirrup on the horse’s far side, while taking up any slack in the reins.
A well-behaved horse will stand quietly for mounting and will not proceed forward until cued by the rider to do so. However, a skilled horseback rider must be ready for anything, even with a familiar and trusted horse.
Why is a mounting block important?
A mounting block makes the whole process simpler and safer for both horse and rider. Because the mounting block raises the rider to nearly the same stature as the horse, it reduces the amount of pressure and wrenching that the horse’s back must endure during mounting. At the same time, it reduces the amount of strength and agility the rider must exert to climb aboard the horse.
A saddle is less likely to slip sideways, if a rider is able to mount from the same level, rather than climbing up from beneath the horse’s side.
Equestrians who employ western saddles often do not use mounting blocks. Because western saddles tend to be larger and sturdier, they offer an excellent balance on the horse. Also, the stirrups usually hang longer, making western saddles easier to mount from the ground. Standing on the near side off the horse, the rider simply grabs the saddle horn and reins in the left hand, places the left foot in the stirrup, and swings up into the saddle.
What if no mounting block is available?
Occasionally, a horseback rider may have to mount his horse without a mounting block. This may be accomplished in several ways.
Find a substitute mounting block.
First, a substitute step may be available for mounting a horse. I have actually climbed aboard our 16-hand mare from chairs, fences, bleachers, fallen tree branches, overturned feed tubs, roadway curbs and even the front porch. Although none of these options are advisable, they worked for me!
Ask for a leg-up.
If a helper is available, a rider may ask for a leg-up onto his horse. Here’s how the leg-up works. The rider stands on the near side of the horse, holding the reins in his left hand and grasping the back of the saddle in his right hand. The helper holds the rider’s left shin, just below the knee. After a one-two-three count, the helper boosts the rider up into the air, just enough for the rider to lift his left leg over the top of the horse.
The leg-up is somewhat tricky, as the rider must spring up at the exact moment of the helper’s boosting. Also the rider must shift his right hand from the back of the saddle to the front, as he flips his weight over and into the saddle. However, with a bit of practice, the leg-up can be accomplished quite handily.
Lower a stirrup.
Another mounting option requires the rider to lower the stirrup on the near side of the horse, so that he can reach it from the ground with his left foot. The saddle girth or cinch must be well-tightened and secure, to prevent the saddle from shifting to one side during this process!
To mount, the rider stands on the near side of his horse, holding the reins in his left hand. Facing the horse’s side, he places his left foot into the stirrup on the near side and springs up on the horse. Once mounted, he holds the horse at a halt until he has readjusted that stirrup leather to its proper length.
Take a running start.
As in the movies, it may occasionally be possible to take a running start and leap atop a trusted horse from the rump. Younger equestrians may attempt this gymnastic move in the pasture, to mount a horse bareback. However, this can be dangerous for both the horse and the rider, so it is not advisable. The simple fact that is can be done does not mean that it should, indeed, be attempted!
Once aboard successfully, the equestrian’s main goal is to stay so, at least until he decides to dismount!