Sprite is one of our wonderful school horses and is our assistant for this portion of the
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
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 manes.
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
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 help.
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
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.
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049