When are the riskiest times during your ride? Mounting and dismounting rank right up at the top of the list. Especially mounting. This is when you are in a precarious position. An unexpected move by your horse or a shift in the item your standing on, can cause you to fall and potentially get caught up in your stirrups or reins. Learning how to mount a horse safely is one of the most important things you can do.
Most important is to teach your horse to stand still. Every time, no excuses.
To teach your horse to stand quietly while being mounted, start with ground exercises — walk, halt, turn, yield, etc. Once your horse is listening to you, and you’ve reinforced verbal commands like “stand up” or “whoa”, you can ask them to stand next to a mounting block. Make the experience rewarding for your horse. Lots of praise and, if your horse is food motivated, a treat will make them want to stand there all day. Note that for off-the-track thoroughbreds, the concept of standing still while being mounted was quite foreign. Jockeys are tossed up as the horse moves, so it’s a new skill for them and they need to be retrained to understand their new job.
Next, make sure your horse will continue to stand when you step onto the block . . . and off. Rinse and repeat with lots of praise and treats until they are standing like a statue. Only then should you attempt mounting. When you step into the stirrup and land in the saddle, make sure you don’t come down with a thump. That will make the mounting process unpleasant — even painful — for your horse. Sit lightly in the saddle. Don’t let your horse move off until you’re ready — adjust your stirrups, pick up your reins and ask your horse to move off rather than letting them.
Stand on something sturdy. It’s important to use a mounting block that is stable. If you buy a block, make sure it has a large base, or you can use a log or large rock. You can get into trouble when the mounting apparatus collapses or tips over. I’m not a fan on climbing on the wheel rim of my trailer, but if your horse stands still it’s probably not a problem. Just make sure to familiarize your horse with different types of mounting tools so that if you need to climb on a rock or a stone wall, your horse stands quietly.
Make sure your girth is tight. You do not want to step into your stirrup only to have your saddle slide down the side of your horse. Not only can you get hurt, but it’s likely to scare your horse as well.
Don’t worry if it takes several training sessions to achieve success — it’s worth whatever time it takes.