Mounting a horse refers to the process of getting onto the back of a horse in a safe and controlled manner.
It’s an essential skill to know for riders as well as horses.
Today, we typically mount horses from the left.
Mounting a horse from the left side is a traditional practice that dates back centuries and has historical and practical reasons.
In ancient and historical times, soldiers carried weapons, such as swords, on the left side.
Mounting from the left allowed the rider to swing their right leg over while keeping the weapons from disturbing the horse.
This ensured that the weapons didn’t get caught on anything or hinder the rider’s movement.
Standardising mounting from the left side helped maintain consistency and predictability in training and handling horses.
Just think of a yard full of horses and riders in formation: when everyone mounts in the same way, from the same side, you can have more horses and riders in a space and still manage the space efficiently. (And any kind of military just loves efficiency and standardisation.)
This still holds true today, where in a riding school it helps to mange a space with many horses and riders in a predictable way.
Over time, mounting from the left became a cultural norm in many parts of the world, and got passed down through the generations.
While mounting from the left side is the most common way you’ll come across today, I think it’s important to remember that teaching your horse to be mounted from both sides is important.
We’ve gone so far in our standardisation of horse interactions primarily happening from the left that many horses are actually shy on the right side since they’re not used to being tacked up or cared for from that side.
I personally also vary how I mount my horses to keep a balance in my horse, the tack and my own flexibility.
Always mounting from one side can quickly cause an imbalance when you inadvertently strengthen and stress the horse on only one side.
So, while I think in a group setting it can be safer to all mount from one side, it isn’t necessarily what’s best for the horse.
Just think about a riding school horse doing 3-4 lessons a day, always getting mounted from the right. That could quickly add up to about fifteen times a week, and every time the horse is bracing to the left.
This issue is exacerbated when mounting from the ground, and whenever you can, you should use a mounting block.
What is a mounting block?
A mounting block is a low, sturdy platform typically used in equestrian activities to assist riders in mounting or dismounting a horse.
Mounting blocks can be made of wood, plastic, or other durable materials.
They come in various sizes and designs, but they generally feature a broad, stable base and one or more steps to aid the rider in getting to the desired height.
Some mounting blocks have a textured surface to prevent slipping.
Mounting blocks can be portable, making them easy to move around the riding area, or be fixed if a stable has the space for a permanent mounting block.
Using a mounting block is good in many ways.
Mounting from a block reduces the risk of accidentally injuring yourself or your horse while getting on or off. It provides a more controlled and balanced mounting.
And it’s just easier, plain and simple.
Climbing onto a horse from a block also puts less strain on your horse’s back and the saddle, not to mention your own muscles and joints.
Particularly for shorter riders or those with limited mobility, a mounting block makes it easier to reach the saddle without causing discomfort to the horse.
Using a mounting block reduces the chances of the saddle twisting or sliding, which can make your horse more comfortable during rides.
Using a mounting block helps establish a routine for mounting and dismounting, which can lead to more consistent and a more controlled riding experience.
While I think you should be able to mount your horse from the ground, the standard practise should be to use a mounting block whether in the school or on the trail.
And your horse should be trained for both.
If your horse isn’t good at standing still for mounting, a block will even help with that.
Ground mounting puts more stress on your tack.
One of the most common issues with mounting from the ground is that your saddle can slip. It can slip a lot or a little.
How much if slips depends on how much strain and pressure is put on it, but when mounting from the ground, there’s always some slipping.
And once you’re on your horse’s back, you are not able to easily adjust it back into the right place due to your weight in it.
Having your saddle in the exact right place when riding is critical so that you’re not putting undue pressure on your horse’s spine, muscles and internal organs.
Saddled that are flocked with natural materials can experience extra packing. It may also happen to saddles packed with foam, but might take longer.
Your saddle’s tree can also begin to twist and de-shape.
Saddle trees that twist out of shape, will change how they fit on your horse. This in turn will change how your horse is under saddle.
With a poorly fitting saddle, you’re looking at a lot of issues with your horse’s back that will cause an imbalance in load carrying and can pinch your horse – which then leads to things like head-tossing and bucking.
The individual parts of the saddle may also begin to wear down unevenly, causing a need for maintenance and repair.
Another area of the saddle that are easily affected by uneven wear are the stirrup leathers.
While you could make a habit of rotating your stirrup leathers to prevent uneven stretching, mounting from a block comes with many more benefits than just less strained stirrup leathers.
If you care about your horse’s back, you’ll use a mounting block.
The most obvious impact on your horse’s back when ground mounting is the tugging from side to side.
When you think about what the spine looks like, how the bones are shaped, constant and repeated sideways stress can quickly cause damage.
The vertebrae protrusions that make up your horse’s wither are like sails coming out of the spine.
Some of these vertebral processes can be as long as 20 cm (8 in)! Pulling them over to the side when mounting acts like a level on your horse’s spine, twisting it further, and eventually they’ll be pulled out of alignment and your horse will never move cleanly again.
Now, I know this is a rough sketch, but study the images below and see what the underlying structures look like:
The yellow line is the spine and you can see how long the bones are. The saddle needs to have a gutter that’s the right shape to move the weight of the rider off the bone and onto the muscles.
The green line is the shoulder blade. The saddle needs to have a wide enough tree to allow for free movement of the shoulder blade or you risk your horse developing cartilage scarring.
Remember this: bone heals, cartilage doesn’t.
Once your horse develops scarring from constantly rubbing the edge of the shoulder blade against a poorly fitting saddle, there’s no going back.
Things that make ground mounting even harder on your horse.
If there’s a big difference between you and your horse, makes ground mounting a challenge for you as well as strains your horse.
The same is true if you’re less flexible or have some kind of movement impediment. Anything that makes it harder for you to get that leg up.
To compensate for having to step up a lot to mount your horse from the ground, you might grab the saddle with both hands and hang on to the cantle. All this does, is pulls the saddle off-centre.
Another option is to grab some mane and reach for the far side of the saddle to spread the load out. But this isn’t a healthy option for your horse (or tack) in the long run.
Bouncing is another thing that pulls and twists your horses back.
It might seem like a good idea, but it isn’t. Find something to use as a mounting block or get someone to give you a leg up instead.
Remember: it’s better if your lifter can support your knee and ankle instead of your shin and ankle.
Lengthening the stirrup leather for your comfort has also been found to put more pressure on your horse’s back, not less, so avoid doing that.
In some cases, you can end up yanking on the reigns really hard, even unintentionally. If your horse decides to walk off when you’re in mid-air, and you’ve got no one around to help, you might not be able to stop yourself from pulling really hard – which can lead to other issues.
What to do if you must mount from the ground.
In an ideal situation, mounting is comfortable for both you and your horse, and doesn’t cause extra stress on your horse’s body.
But the reality is that you’re going to end up in situations where there’s no mounting block around. Sometimes, you can come across a fence, rock or log that will work, and I encourage you to use your environment.
And sometimes, you’ll find that you just have to walk your horse back home – and that’s okay!
Riding isn’t the end all of being with your horse, and it’s a great opportunity to bond with your horse and maybe do some groundwork.
If you don’t have a mounting block at all (try to buy a small one, they’re not very expensive) see if you wan get someone to pull or put some weight in the opposite stirrup to even out the load on your horse’s back.
Even if you have a mounting block that’s lower and you need to step into the stirrup to get on, get someone to even out the pressure on the opposite stirrup.
When you mount from the ground, use your legs to push off the ground.
Don’t pull yourself up with your hands. If your legs feel weak, start doing some squats or other exercises to strengthen your legs.
Put one hand on the withers of your horse and reach for the far side saddle flat with your other hand. For horses that don’t mind you grabbing some mane, it allows you to get a better grip of things.
Other things to consider when mounting.
When you really start digging into the biomechanics of mounting a horse, you realise why one of the most common training issues with horses is that they walk off when being mounted.
Are they not trained or are they trying to avoid pain and discomfort?
If your mounting block is high enough – I recommend getting a high one – skip putting your foot in the stirrup at all when mounting and avoid that strain altogether.
Getting a mounting block is a small investment – you can buy them or make them yourself.
Either way, a mounting with a block will save you thousands down the line when you don’t have to get expensive treatment for an issue that was perfectly avoidable.
Horses today are bigger than ever before, and mounting them can be a real challenge.
And the same things that are true for mounting, apply to dismounting as well.
Be sure to kick off both stirrups and hop off your horse (bend those knees when you hit the ground!), rather than slide down the side while holding on to the saddle.
Or just use a mounting block for the dismount as well, making mounting and dismounting so much better!