Getting Your Horse To Stand Still To Mount - by Kelly Marks
After you have read this and acted intelligently upon the information you will have NO excuse for having a horse that’s delightfully safe and easy to get on. However, LISTEN TO MY WORDS … it’s not what you know that’s going to make the difference – it’s what you DO with the information. If you don’t understand what I mean by this go and discuss it with your brightest friend.
‘What does Kelly mean by this?’ you’ll say ‘After all I’ve read the whole article and my horse still doesn’t stand as I am asking?’ I hope your friend kindly and patiently explains that it takes more than just reading this blog that’s going to make the difference. She’ll explain how you have to set out a programme for you and your horse, maybe training for 30 minutes a day over 2 weeks, and then you can hope to achieve something really good.
I’m putting this bluntly because I want you to be successful. I want you to be successful not only because having a horse that walks (or runs off) as you get on is extremely dangerous (it tends to get worse and worse) but also because it’s not fair on your horse if he doesn’t know what he’s meant to do and once you both understand how to work on this together it’s a starting point for an understanding in all the other things you want to achieve. It’s a stepping stone towards that bond you really want with your horse.
If you need extra help there’s information at the bottom of this blog. For some people hands on help works much better as not everyone takes things in well by reading information.
HOW THIS PROBLEMS STARTS
- The horse has never had it clearly and politely explained to him that he’s supposed to stand still as the rider is getting on.
- The horse has never developed any trust in human beings.
- The horse is not standing four-square in the first place.
- The rider approaches the horse as if she is a predator about to eat him, giving him strong eye contact, square body positioning, arms out stretched and jerky movements.
- The rider digs her toe painfully in his side as she goes to get on.
- The rider has made it very uncomfortable for the horse as she ‘hoicks’ herself up and ‘thumps’ down in the saddle.
- The rider pulls the horse in the mouth as she gets on, or the horse senses that she might pull him in the mouth as she gets on
- The rider always immediately rushes the horse off as soon as she hits the saddle, causing the horse to anticipate. This is particularly common with the Arabs and any of the more sensitive horses.
- The horse has soreness and discomfort somewhere.
- The equipment used is uncomfortable, so the horse becomes sore and uncomfortable if he can’t deter the rider from getting on.
- The horse has experienced some traumatic experience at some stage of his life and so panics when the rider goes to get on.
A key point, which runs through all these lessons, is the rider’s expectation of what are normal manners. Some people do not realize that it is reasonable to expect your horse to stand perfectly still as you get on him and to wait for you to ask him to set off – just as some people allow themselves to be treated badly by other people because they haven’t been brought up to believe they are worth more. In racing yards it is normal for you to receive a ‘leg up’ on to the racehorse as he walks along. This is how it is accepted that you mount these very fit, sensitive animals. However, there was a period of time when I worked in racing that I used to be left on my own to ride horses out in the afternoon. As I’m not particularly athletically inclined, each of the horses had to stand perfectly still by a carpenter’s bench for me to get on, and every single horse stood and waited perfectly. It became the new, ‘oh, this is how we do things round here’ approach. Neither the horses nor I thought this was anything unusual until someone would come around and say, ‘you can’t get on racehorses like that!’ Remember, horses can become creatures of habit very easily. If you just keep setting up good habits, very soon they’ll make it their accepted way of doing things.
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP
When dealing with a mounting problem nowadays, this is how I’ll tackle it, using the following steps:
- Join Up (see Join Up video in members area if your an IH member) with the horse first. This enables me to have a good look at the horse and learn more about him, at the same time as starting to develop a bond with the horse and gaining his trust and respect.
- I will also work with the horse to be sure he is perfectly happy with me touching and stroking him all over, massaging out any areas of tension. If you haven’t reached this stage you’re likely to be in for a pretty ‘hairy’ time once you do get on!
- I also make sure he understands about yielding to pressure and how to place his feet as requested.
I went through the above steps with Elmo, who had been rescued by Lisa Bradley from being badly treated and handled by his previous owner. Elmo was a beautiful grey Arab, who would either rear or charge off in panic if anyone tried to get on him. When he first arrived with Lisa, he was suffering from rainscald, a heavy-worm burden, mudfever, thrush in his hooves and an open wound on his face where a nylon headcollar has been left on too tight. Elmo’s case is particularly memorable to me, partly because he was featured on the BBC TV series was involved in with (Barking Mad) and partly because of the enormous level of fear he showed, although being perfectly amiable in every other way. Elmo stayed with Ian and Sandy Vandenberghe in Oxfordshire. There were a number of different methods we used with Elmo as well as quite a few different people being involved – myself, Ian, Sandy, Grant Basin, Linda Ruffle, Wendy Mutch, Lisa – and this was in addition to the many students who were on the courses around that time.
USING DIFFERENT METHODS
Human egos being what they are, we often love to argue that the ‘A method’ is far superior to ‘B method’, and I support such and such a trainer so I could never go along with the “C method.” Naturally, if any of these methods support cruelty and cause additional fear to the horse, it is right not to want anything to do with them. However, something that is perfect for one horse may not be right for another. All methods have the potential for being good or bad, depending on the skill and the intention of the people that are using them. Certainly, go with the method that appears the simplest and has worked most consistently for you but don’t discount alternative ideas if you feel you are making the progress you’d expect.
You have to look at the reasons why the problem started. Is it lack of training? Fear? A rider problem? It’s a good idea to look at the rider getting on another horse to see if you notice whether she is making the horse uncomfortable. Check to see how she approaches the horse – is it as a friend or foe? Whether he or she gets on in the traditional English way facing the hindquarters and swinging round or the Western style of mounting facing forwards, it’s important to check that the riders toe isn’t digging into the horse’s side.
Consistently getting on from the ground from the same side is going to pull the saddle out of alignment sooner or later- and also the horse’s back. So having a leg up is a good method but it is important that you know your horse will stand still by a mounting block for times when there is nobody else around. If the problem is fear based, your first obligation is to gain your horse’s trust. Try to make every interaction between you a positive one. A method that will help your horse get over his fear and apprehension, and which helped Elmo a great deal, was just tying him in the barn area while we were working there. He’d have a hay net to keep him occupied. He would be fully tacked up and there would be a bale of straw beside him; every now and again I would go over to him, give him a stroke, climb on to the straw bale give him a stroke on the other side and then climb down again. To start with, this made Elmo very fearful, but before long he was ignoring me, feeling totally confident that I wasn’t going to hurt him. Now he was far more interested in his hay.
Once you have gained the horse’s confidence and you are sure the exercise isn’t making him uncomfortable, or if you are just starting with a horse that doesn’t know any better, an important step is to test if you are able to control his feet, as described in the Foundation Exercises (see Perfect Manners pages 58 – 73).
- A good way to check that he is standing firm is to give a slow pull on the stirrup leather nearest you, which will cause him to balance himself. You don’t need to get on him just yet, but you should be able to manoeuvre your horse backwards and forwards or around, just as in the exercises you’ve been practising, and place him in just the position that you would like him.
- You can climb up on your mounting block, and if he doesn’t stand still, put those feet of his back to work – not aggressively, but moving backwards, forwards, bending backwards each way, backwards, forwards again – and then offer him the opportunity to just stand.
- Take a breath, give him a nice stroke and stand on the mounting block again and stroke him and tell him how good he is. If he moves off at any time, put him to work again. The first couple of times he stands, just get straight down again and go around the front to pet him.
- Gradually, as he gets better, you can progress; stroke him on the opposite side, put a foot in the stirrup, stand up in the stirrup. The person who does this part of the work needs to be experienced, calm and athletic. If that’s not you, then find the right person to help you. From time to time, get right down again and go to the front to tell him how good he is. By the time you actually do get on, he will be wondering what the fuss was about. It is very important now you are up there to just sit for a while – at least for a few minutes. So many of us are in such a rush all the time we can’t blame our horses for getting more and more like us.
- You can make the job easier for yourself by just working initially in a corner so the horse has less scope for wandering around. You may like someone to hold the horse until he is really relaxed. There are many ‘simplification’ techniques that some people feel they can’t do because it would somehow be ‘cheating’: But of course he’ll stand still if you put him there!’ Remember that in your training sessions you want to make the right thing easy for the horse to do, so he can quickly get the benefits of your rewards. As soon as he understands what it is you want, you’ll be able to get any time, any place, anywhere.
If you’d like to get help training your horse I suggest you see if you are lucky enough to have a local Intelligent Horsemanship Trainer in your area and take a look around the website whilst your there. Become a member of IH for just £25 a year and you’ll have access to web lessons on the members pages, free helpline and our fabulous glossy IH Magazine comes out 4 times a year.