If you've ever had a horse swing its body away from you or begin to walk off while you were trying to mount, you probably remember just how annoyed you were and how insecure you felt. If your horse moves off before you're in the saddle and ready to go, there can be several possible reasons for his action. Here are some tips to help you analyze and solve your problem.
“My horse moves off when I try to get on.”
Possible problem: Something is hurting the horse. A saddle that doesn’t fit, a wrinkled saddle blanket, or a girth or cinch that pinches the horse’s skin can cause the horse pain when the rider mounts.
Solution: Be sure that your tack fits your horse well and is adjusted properly – and that you don’t pull it out of position when you mount.
Possible problem: If your horse is standing in an unbalanced position, he may need to step sideways or forward while you mount, just to keep his balance.
Solution: before you mount, be sure that your horse is standing square and in balance over all four legs.
“My horse swings his body away from me just when I’m trying to get up on his back.”
Possible problem: If you’re holding the inside rein more tightly than the outside rein, your horse may think that you want him to swing his head toward you – and his hindquarters away from you.
Solution: Keep your reins at equal lengths – or, if your horse keeps swinging his hindquarters away, shorten your outside rein a little. If your horse is slightly bent to the outside, looking away from you, it will be harder for him to swing his hindquarters away.
“My horse walks backward when I’m trying to get on.”
Possible problem: If you’re holding both reins too tightly, your horse may think that you want him to walk backward – or he may just become agitated and bounce around.
Solution: Relax your hold on the reins, lengthen the reins so that the horse can stand comfortably and quietly.
“As soon as I put my foot in the stirrup, my horse starts to move.”
Possible problem: If the toe of your boot is digging into the horse when you mount, the horse is getting a very clear signal to move away from you or move forward – just what you don’t want him to do!
Solution: Mount facing the horse’s hip, not his nose, and be sure that your toe is touching the girth, not the horse’s side. That way, when you hop to mount, your toe won’t dig into your horse and tell him “Get going!”
Possible problem: The horse is expecting to move off as soon as you’re in the saddle. Since horses tend to anticipate, this means that your horse may start moving off even before you’re sitting comfortably with both feet in the stirrups.
Solution: Whenever you mount, sit quietly for a few seconds. Don’t ask your horse to go anywhere or do anything. Adjust your reins, check your own position and balance, and when you are ready for the horse to move, ask him clearly by relaxing both reins and squeezing briefly with both legs.
“My horse was always good about being mounted, but he’s changed.”
Possible problem: Something else has changed, too. Horses are reactive. If your horse’s behaviour has changed, something had to change first, and it’s probably his comfort level.
Solution: Check his saddle, his back, and your mounting technique – you’ll probably find that he’s sore, and that you need to make some changes.
“His saddle fit fine last fall, and he’s had the whole winter off, so he should be in great shape.”
Possible problem: Your horse was fit and strong last fall after you’d been riding him all summer, but now he’s not in as good shape as he was in the fall, and the saddle that fit him then may not fit him now that he’s out of shape.
Solution: Your horse may need a different saddle, or at least different padding, until his back muscles are strong again.
“He’s taller than he used to be – and I’m stiffer! It’s hard for me to get on smoothly from the ground.”
Possible problem: It’s taking you a long time to mount, and you’re pulling on the side of the saddle and possibly even landing hard on your horse’s back when you finally get all the way up there. Mounting from the ground can be hard for you, and it’s hard on your horse’s back, so don’t do it unless you have to.
Solution: Use a mounting block whenever you can. If you don’t have a fancy mounting block, use a wooden box or a tree stump or anything else that makes you taller – or stand your horse in a ditch or a low spot or even below you on the side of a small hill. Find some way of making yourself taller and your horse shorter. Mounting blocks aren’t for beginners, sissies, or the aged and infirm – they’re for every rider who cares about his horse’s back. Using a mounting block will help your horse, your saddle, and your own back stay in shape and last longer.
“My tack fits and I use a mounting block, but my horse still starts to move around in a circle as soon as I lift my left foot toward the stirrup. If I yell at him or hit him, he gets upset and circles faster.”
Possible problem: The horse thinks that circling is a better idea than standing still. You need to convince him otherwise.
Possible problem: Your horse is anticipating; he’s sure that you’re going to want him to move off soon, so he’s trying to give you what he thinks you want.