I can mount from the ground when it’s absolutely necessary. Especially if I position my horse slightly down hill. However, the combination of large horses and the stiffness of advancing age have made mounting from the ground somewhat less than graceful.
That’s why I’m pleased to read that research conducted at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine confirms that using a mounting block is better for your horse. It makes sense, when you think about it. Unless you are very agile, mounting a horse from the ground puts a lot of asymmetrical pressure on the horse’s back, especially on the right side of the withers, where the saddle is pulled against the rider’s weight. The horse must brace against your weight as you mount and, if you step heavily in the stirrup, your horse might even be pulled off balance and take a step or two toward you.
The Michigan State study is, surprisingly, the first time when the pressures exerted on a horse’s back during mounting has been studied. The research, led by Dr. Catherine Geutjens, a Belgian vet, compares the force and the pressure pattern on the horse’s back when a rider mounted from the ground versus from a 14-inch high mounting block.
The pressure measurements were taken using a Pliance electronic pressure mat, which has 256 sensors embedded in it. The sensors transmit pressure readings to a laptop using Bluetooth technology.
To collect the data, 10 experienced riders (who weighed between 120 and 170 pounds) each mounted a horse three times from the ground and three times from a 14″ mounting block in random order. To keep the technique similar, they all followed the mounting instructions detailed in The Manual of Horsemanship.
A few highlights from the study include:
- The area of highest pressure documented was on the right side of the withers, which stabilized the saddle and prevented it from slipping sideways as the rider weighted the left stirrup. Researchers speculated that pressure from mounting might contribute to the assymetrical development of horses’ shoulder muscles, which is often seen by veterinarians and saddle fitters.
- The highest force on the horse’s back coincided with the time when the rider’s right leg was
swinging upward over the horse’s haunches. Statistical analysis showed that the peak force was significantly higher when mounting from the ground than when using a mounting block.
- Using a raised mounting block reduces the force on the horse’s back during mounting. This is particularly important in light of the asymmetrical pressure distribution as the rider weighted the left stirrup.
- Riders who landed softly in the saddle created much less force than those who sat down hard.
- Riders who attempted to re-center the saddle on the horse’s back by stepping hard in the right stirrup after mounting, created large pressure forces, sometimes even higher than those seen during mounting.
So, how can you make mounting easier on your horse (and you)?
- Use a mounting block – it reduces the amount of pressure on your horse’s back and reduces the amount that your saddle slips.
- Mount from a block that is high enough so that you can simply slip your right leg over the horse’s back without stepping in the stirrup. Be careful, though, this method leaves you vulnerable if your horse spooks or moves off quickly.
- Get a leg up!
- Think carefully about how hard you step into each stirrup; the force is greater than you realize.
Of course, there are those who don’t need a mounting block . . . or a saddle.