When are the riskiest times during your ride? Mounting and dismounting rank right up at the top of the list. Especially mounting. This is when you are in a precarious position. An unexpected move by your horse or a shift in the item your standing on, can cause you to fall and potentially get caught up in your stirrups or reins. In fact, two people I know were injured this spring while mounting: one broke a finger and the other fractured two ribs.
So, how can you maximize safety and get to the fun part of riding? I mean, crashing and burning in the first 30 seconds is a real bummer.
Most important is to teach your horse to stand still. Every time, no excuses.
The woman who fractured her ribs was mounting from the wheel rim of her trailer when her horse scooted off. She lost her balance and fell. This was right at the start of a hunt. Instead, we waited for the EMTs and the ambulance because it was clear she was hurt.
To teach your horse to stand quietly while being mounted, start with ground exercises — walk, halt, turn, yield, etc. Once your horse is listening to you, and you’ve reinforced verbal commands like “stand up” or “whoa”, you can ask them to stand next to a mounting block. Make the experience rewarding for your horse. Lots of praise and, if your horse is food motivated, like Zelda, a treat will make them want to stand there all day. For an off-the-track thoroughbred like Freedom, the concept of standing still while being mounted was quite foreign. Jockeys are tossed up as the horse moves, so it’s a new skill for them.
Next, make sure your horse will continue to stand when you step onto the block . . . and off. Rinse and repeat with lots of praise and treats until they are standing like a statue. Only then should you attempt mounting. When you step into the stirrup and land in the saddle, make sure you don’t come down with a thump. That will make the mounting process unpleasant — even painful — for your horse. Sit lightly in the saddle. Don’t let your horse move off until you’re ready — adjust your stirrups, pick up your reins and ask your horse to move off rather than letting them.
Don’t worry if it takes several training sessions to achieve success — it’s worth whatever time it takes.
Stand on something sturdy. The woman I know who broke a finger stood on something that shifted under her and she fell. I’m not a fan of mounting from the ground, especially on a horse as big as Zelda, but it’s important to use a mounting block that is stable. I bought a three-step block after I was injured and it has a very large base. I also mount from logs and large rocks. You get into trouble when the mounting apparatus collapses or tips over. I’m not a fan on climbing on the wheel rim of my trailer, but if your horse stands still it’s probably not a problem. Just make sure to familiarize your horse with different types of mounting tools so that if you need to climb on a rock or a stone wall, your horse stands quietly.
Make sure your girth is tight. You do not want to step into your stirrup only to have your saddle slide down the side of your horse. Not only can you get hurt, but it’s likely to scare your horse as well.
When dismounting, the safest way is to drop directly to the ground. I’ll admit that after I broke my ankle, it felt like a LONG way to the ground when I got off Zelda. So, I taught her to stand next to a log that’s right near the barn. I still do that. It’s a much shorter drop and it’s big enough that I have some latitude on where I land. I also trained her to stand next to the mounting block while I carefully lower myself onto it. That’s probably not a great idea as falling off the block is a distinct possibility. In a pinch, I position her down hill and drop onto the crest.
It’s safest to take both feet out your stirrup and then drop down to the ground. Because of my wonky ankle, I prefer to keep my left foot in the stirrup while I swing my right leg over my horse. It makes for a more controlled drop.
Never step onto the ground with your left foot still in the stirrup.
Do you have trouble with your horse while mounting? How did you fix it?