Let's Ride, But Let's Get On and Off Safely!
Story and photos by Leslie Desmond
Published in the April 1997 issue of Stable Kids Magazine
If you haven't prepared your horse for mounting safely, don't get on. If you aren't sure how well-prepared your horse is, ask someone who can show you. Before you scout out the closest stump or boulder, climb the nearest fence or recruit a friend to boost you up... be sure to learn how to prepare and position the horse so he can stand comfortably while you get on.
7 Important "Do's"
- Learn how to prepare and position your horse to stand still while you get on. It is safest if your horse waits until you ask him to walk, after you are secure in the saddle.
- Ask a capable person to hold your horse for you while you experiment with the best way for you to get on.
- Practice raising and lowering your stirrups on both sides of the horse from the ground and from the saddle. (NOTE: The old rule about only leading from the left side, and mounting and dismounting from the horse's left side is just that: an old rule. Both the horse and rider will be better balanced if mounting and dismounting are practiced from both sides.
- Recognize the difference between a stirrup that is adjusted for mounting a tall horse and one that is well-adjusted for riding.
- From the ground, practice adjusting your reins for mounting on either side. Think and plan ahead for the time when you will need to stop your horse's feet if he starts to walk while you are halfway up.
- Face the back of the horse when you prepare to mount, unless some physical problem prevents it. It is a harder, but safer way to mount. Why? Because when you face the back of the horse with your hip at, or ahead of, the shoulder you are in a better position to see most of the horse's body and all four of his feet - you are ahead of the action. Always wait until the horse's feet have stopped moving before swinging your leg over his back.
- With your full weight centered over the withers in your hands and arms (not hanging off to one side in the stirrup) practice kicking your foot out of the stirrup and dropping back to the ground instead of getting on. A time may come when your ability to get free of your stirrup could save your life!
Photo 1: Adjust the stirrup so your foot can reach it - before you try to get on. With one hand, take the reins and a manehold. Bear down as much as you need to on his neck with your left hand to steady yourself as you pull the stirrup toward your foot with your right hand.
Photo 2: Grasp the horn or pommel with your free hand and pull yourself up. At the same time, push off the ground with your right foot. Don't be tempted to pull yourself up by the mane.
Photo 3: Keep your left foot steady, so your toe doesn't jab your horse in the ribs as you shift your weight from the ground into your arms. Rise smoothly to the saddle; don't stop with your full weight in the left stirrup.
...and 8 Important Don'ts:
- DON'T face the front of the horse as you prepare to mount. In this position, you can't move quickly if the horse kicks at a fly, or at you, with a hind foot. A horse can reach you with a hind foot even if you're standing in front of his shoulder. (If you doubt this, notice how accurately a horse can scratch his own muzzle and ears with a hind hoof.) From this compromised position it is also more difficult to stop the horse's feet if he walks off, bolts or bucks you as you mount.
- DON'T use your reins for balance and support.
- DON'T haul yourself up with both hands gripping the saddle. If the horse moves, your hands will be too far back on the reins for you to stop his feet and get on safely. If the cinch is loose, you could pull the saddle out of position. The saddle, and you, might slip under the horse.
- DON'T grab the back of the saddle to pull yourself up. Here's why:
Your hands will be too far apart as you swing up. You'll have to rely too much on the stirrup you're standing in, which compromises your balance and stability.
You will have to release your hold on the cantle of the saddle in order to swing your leg across his back. This leaves only one hand for balance, managing the reins, and controlling the placement of the horse's feet.
- DON'T kick your toe into the horse's belly when you pull yourself up. Whether you meant it to or not, to the horse this means, "Move your feet."
- DON'T drag your leg or foot across his rump.
- DON'T plop your weight down in the saddle.
- DON'T use the stirrup as a stepladder when you dismount - get both feet free of the stirrups before one foot hits the ground. This way, you will never be dragged by one foot if you lose control of your horse while you are getting on or off.
Photo 4: Here's what happens if you swing your leg over before you shift your weight to your arms. Burch has taught his horse to stand still during this practice session. Notice that he was careful to avoid using the reins for support.
Photo 5: Practice getting free of the whole horse and all the equipment before getting off. In time, you will learn how to keep a hold on the reins.
Photo 6: In this picture, Burch has generously offered his support at the critical moment-when no friendly support might have made a more lasting impression (!) on this new rider. Remember, even the best riders have had ungraceful moments as they were learning.
About the Author:
Leslie Desmond is a world-renowned horse trainer, people educator, and author. For more information about Leslie, her clinics, and the recently released book "True Horsemanship Through Feel" by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond (with an introduction by Buck Brannaman), visit her website at www.lesliedesmond.com