Sprite is one of our wonderful school horses and is our assistant
for this portion of the virtual lessons.
Mounting the Horse
Well, you've finally gotten Sprite into the ring. If you're taking group
lessons, stay away from other horses. Now, before you mount, there are a
few things you must do. First, look to see that Sprite's saddle pad isn't
bunched or folded up and that the bridle, reins and stirrup leathers don't
have obvious torn or weak places that could present a safety hazard.
Checking the Girth
The girth is the strap that goes under the horse's belly and connects to
both sides of the saddle. You should just be able to slide your flat hand
between the girth and the horse. If you can make a fist between the girth
and the horse, the girth is too loose.
Raise the flap on the left side of the saddle, and find the two buckles at the
end of the girth. They are attached to lengths of leather called billets.
Tighten each buckle one hole at a time - first one buckle, then the other,
then repeat - until the girth is tight enough. If you crank up more than one
hole at a time, you could cause your horse discomfort, and she might
retaliate with a nip.
Notice that there are three billets on an English saddle. You always want to
use the first billet, that is, the one closest to the horse's head, and the
second or third billet. (Generally, the girths commonly used today fit best if
you use the first and third billets.) The first billet is attached to the saddle
differently than the others and is called a safety billet. If the second or third
billet breaks, the first billet should still hold the saddle in place.
Adjusting the Stirrups
You put your feet in stirrup irons when you're in the saddle. Strips of
leather called stirrup leathers hold them in place. The stirrup irons should
be "run up" - pushed up to the top of the stirrup leathers, resting just under
the saddle flap - when you lead an unmounted horse. This prevents the
irons from banging the horse in her sides or getting caught in something
while you're leading. To mount, you'll need to pull the stirrups down and
then adjust them to the proper length using the buckle on each side.
To approximate the proper stirrup length, place the tip of your fingers
against the stirrup bar of the saddle. You'll find it under the saddle flap; it's
the metal piece where the stirrup leathers are attached. Lift the stirrup to
your armpit. If it doesn't reach your armpit, lengthen the stirrup leathers; if
there's slack in the stirrup leathers, shorten them. This is only a general
guide, however, for mounting. Your instructor may very well want to
readjust your stirrup length once you're up in the saddle.
Holding the Reins for Mounting
Bring the horse's reins over her head and neck. Hold the reins in your left
hand, and shorten the off rein - the rein on the other side of the horse - just
a bit. The off side is always the right side of your horse. (The left side is
always the near side.) You want the off reins shorter so that thehorse's
head is turned away from you. This will prevent the horse from being able
to bite you. Most good beginner school horses won't bite, but you want to
form good habits from the beginning. A bite in the butt hurts like the
dickens, but nothing compared to the embarrassment you'll feel in the
emergency room when you explain what happened.
There's one other reason to hold the reins this way. If your horse moves,
she'll walk into you, which can make it easier for you to mount. It tends to
stop a horse from backing up while you're mounting.
With your left hand grasping the reins, also grab a lot of mane in the same
hand. This does not hurt the horse, horses have minimal sensitivity in their
Bring up your left foot and place it into the stirrup. Oh no! You can't lift
your foot that high? Try this: Stand at Sprite's shoulder, facing her rear.
Lean forward and grab the top of the stirrup iron with your right hand. Lean
back while continuing to hold the mane with your left hand. As you lean
back, your left foot comes up. Place the stirrup on your foot.
Now turn so your shoulders are square to the side of your saddle. Your left
knee should be pointing toward Sprite's nose. Hold the back of the saddle
(the cantle) on the off side with your right hand, resting your wrist on the
saddle seat. Spring from your right foot and push down with your hands
while swinging your right leg over. As you spring up, your upper body
should go across the horse, not straight up in the air, which can make the
saddle slip to the side. Now, gently sit down in the saddle.
Here's an extra tip or two: Instead of pulling with your arms as you get onto
the saddle, push down as you boost yourself up; straighten your left leg
somewhat as you come up. Don't forget to let go of the back of the saddle
with your right hand as you swing your right leg over.
Keep in mind that riding should be fun, but learning to ride is a complex
process. You're bound to make mistakes. Don't hesitate to laugh at
yourself and smile at others along the way.
Before proceeding, you should look at some of the problems that commonly
occur while mounting and what you can do about them.
What to do if...the horse won't stand still.
A good school horse should be trained to stand still for mounting, but even
a well-behaved horse will fidget from time to time or try to walk off. The most
expedient and safest solution is to ask for help. Your instructor or an
assistant can hold the horse while you mount. Never hesitate to ask for
Do not continue to try to mount alone if the horse won't stand still. You
don't want to risk having one foot in the stirrup and the other on the ground
as a horse walks off, because it's hard to hop along at four miles an hour
with one foot up in the air.
What to do if...the saddle slips when you put weight on the stirrup.
Your girth isn't tight enough. You checked it? Well, some horses are very
clever at tensing their muscles while the girth is being fastened. Then they
relax, and guess what? The girth is slack. So recheck the girth as you get
ready to mount, several times if necessary. Tighten it one hole at a time.
If, however, the girth is tight and the saddle still slips, you may be trying to
mount by going straight up in the air instead of across the horse's back.
The secret is to get your body mass centered over the horse. You might
also be trying to pull yourself up instead of pushing down with your arms.
Why Not Use a Mounting Block?
Many riders use a mounting block, which is a box or stepping stool that
makes is easier to reach the stirrups and mount the horse. If you're a
very short person riding a very tall horse, a mounting block will be
necessary. Generally, however, beginning riders are assigned a horse
that isn't too tall.
I believe that if you're going to ride, you should learn how to get up on a
horse without a mounting block. If you can't what will you do if you
dismount and then mount again where you don't have something to
stand on? Now is the time to learn to mount. Once you've mastered
this skill, it's okay to use the mounting block. In fact, in some cases, it's
preferable; compared to mounting from the ground, mounting from a
block causes less torque on the girth and the horse's middle. But
always maintain your ability to mount without a block.