One of the most common complaints I get from owners is that they cannot get their horse to stand still at the mounting block. Either the horse walks right past it, walks off as they put their foot in the stirrup, or doesn’t wait for them to get fully positioned before walking off.
Causes of Not Standing at the Mounting Block
First off, before you start to get angry at your horse for walking off, try to determine why he or she might be leaving the mounting block early. Some of the most common reasons are:
Before trying to train your horse to stand at the mounting block, make sure you rule out any kind of physical discomfort. Check that your horse’s back isn’t sore by palpating down your horse’s spine. Make sure you are riding in a properly fitted saddle to prevent any uncomfortable pinching or rubbing on the horse’s back.
Once you have checked for any pre-existing causes of pain, take a look at your mounting technique. Some riders will put a foot in the stirrup and flop onto their horse’s back. The impact of the rider’s weight falling on the horse’s back is uncomfortable for the horse and may cause the horse to walk off. Other riders put all their weight in the stirrup before heaving themselves onto their horse. This causes the saddle’s left panel to dig into the horse’s ribs, which can be quite uncomfortable especially for a sore or cold-backed horse. Try instead to grab the opposite stirrup leather in your right hand and balance yourself between your foot and hand. This keeps your weight evenly distributed between both sides of the horse and avoids the saddle rocking to one side. Once you have swung your right leg over and slowly sat down you can let go of the stirrup leather.
If you don’t find any signs of physical discomfort, think about whether your horse enjoys your rides together. If you are constantly getting after your horse and forcing him into things he doesn’t like, then he may be avoiding you riding him. If this may be the problem, try to have a few rides where you keep things simple and easy. Maybe go on a short trail ride and enjoy each other’s company. If your horse likes to jump you can take him over a few fences. After a few easy rides, your horse may begin standing at the mounting block without issue. Then you can mix in some harder work while being careful to not over-face or frustrate your horse. Always end each ride on a good note so your horse is happy for his next ride.
If your horse is simply impatient or doesn’t know that he is supposed to stand at the mounting block, then let’s teach him! You can also work on your horse’s patience when you are grooming, tacking up, and riding. Find opportunities to have your horse just stand and relax. Don’t ask for too much at once, but eventually he will get used to standing and learn how to be relaxed without constantly being busy.
Teaching Your Horse to Stand at the Mounting Block
Once you have ruled out any other causes of your horse not standing at the mounting block you are ready to teach your horse to stand at the mounting block. This is the exercise I use with all my horses from the young horses first being started under saddle to the older horses that simply need more practice.
Before Getting Started
First, tack up your horse as you normally would and bring him to a mounting block in an open space. You need enough room on all sides of the mounting block for your horse to comfortably walk a circle around the block.
You can either do this exercise with the horse’s reins or a halter, whichever you prefer. For young horses I do this in a halter before backing them so that when I am ready to get on they already know that I want them to stand patiently. However for most horses I simply put the reins over the horse’s head just like you normally do to ride and grab the left rein near the horse’s mouth.
Make sure that you don’t have any time frame and aren’t in a hurry. The more you rush the longer everything will take when it comes to horses.
Now you are ready to begin the actual mounting process.
For this exercise I walk up onto the mounting block and ask the horse to step up to me. If the horse walks up into a good position and stands patiently, I get on. Resist the urge to leap on quickly knowing your horse is only pausing for a moment. Make sure that your horse is really standing by counting to three before starting to get on. If your horse walks off during that count he wasn’t going to stand for you to get on anyway.
Of course if you are reading this article there is a strong possibility your horse is not going to just walk up to the mounting block and stand, right? So if your horse starts to walk off or never offers to stop, simply draw the horse’s nose around you in a circle. You will remain on the mounting block pivoting a small circle and keeping the horse on as small a circle as possible.
Keep directing the horse to circle until he tries to stop. No matter how stubborn or anxious your horse is, eventually he will try to stop. Walking a tiny circle around a mounting block is difficult for the horse and will quickly bore him so he will look for other things to do.
If your horse tries to stop in a good position for you to mount then let him. As long as he is in position and standing quietly you can then mount (after your count of three). If he walks off again repeat.
If however your horse tries to stop on a side of the mounting block you cannot mount on or he stops and swings his butt away from you, ask him to keep walking. As long as your horse is not in position to mount he needs to keep walking around the mounting block.
This might get very frustrating and tedious to you, but hang in there. The point is to wear your horse out until he decides it is easier to just stand at the mounting block. If you quit before you get him to stand you will have to work even harder the next time you try this technique.
For Those Slower Horses
Some horses simply think that they are supposed to circle the mounting block. They don’t necessarily want to be walking, but they obediently follow your leading hand without questioning it. If this is the case, you can grab your right rein over your horse’s withers while still holding the left rein in your left hand near the horse’s mouth. This is a slightly awkward position so if for any reason your horse starts to move quickly around the mounting block you can always drop the right rein and wait for him to calm down.
Once you are holding your right rein, give a gentle squeeze on both reins to ask your horse to stop when he is lined up for you to mount. If he ignores this, circle again and try the next time he is lined up. You don’t want to pull or jerk on your reins to make your horse stop. All you are doing is giving him a little more guidance to help him figure out that you want him to stop for you to mount instead of circling.
If you stick with this exercise, eventually your horse will come to a stop in a place where you can mount. When he does, give him praise while you are counting to three. This will help reinforce in his mind that you want him to stop here, which will make it easier next time you ask him to stop at the mounting block.
Now you are ready to get on!
Gather up your reins in your left hand so that they are short enough you can easily let your horse run into the bit if he goes to walk forward. Then, grab the right stirrup leather in your right hand to act as a counter balance for your weight and gently place your left foot in the stirrup.
If at any point your horse starts to walk forward, gently pick up your reins so he runs into the bit. Don’t jerk on his face or yell at him because this will give him anxiety and your horse will learn to fear being mounted. This is what teaches horses to not stand at the mounting block in the first place.
If your horse ignores your reins and continues to walk forward, quickly take your foot out of the stirrup and let go of the stirrup leather while he is taking his first step. Go back to circling him around the mounting block until he is ready for you to try again.
If you get through all of that without your horse walking off, slowly put your weight in the stirrup while counter balancing with your right hand on the stirrup leather. At this point if your horse walks off you are already committed to mounting so don’t try to get off. If he walks forward gently ask him to stop with your reins. Depending on your balance and comfort, you can either quickly swing your leg over and sit down before dealing with your horse or you can remain in this balanced position and make sure your horse stands for each step. The latter is of course the better option, but if for any reason you are uncomfortable on the side of your horse, swing your leg over.
Either way, if your horse doesn’t listen to your gentle rein pressure to remain halted then direct him in a circle around the mounting block. You will keep circling until he offers to stand in an appropriate spot for you to mount (in other words you are doing the same exercise as you did earlier, just while you are on your horse). Once your horse comes to a halt again praise him and swing your leg over if you haven’t already. If this causes him to walk off again, repeat by asking him to remain halted with gentle rein pressure and then circling until he halts.
Once you are seated on your horse and he is standing at the mounting block you can put your right foot in the stirrup while praising your horse. Always count to at least three before asking your horse to slowly walk off from the mounting block. If you don’t take your time to pause after you get on before asking your horse to walk on he will start to anticipate and walk off before you are ready.
As with any training exercise, the key to success is repetition. Practice this each and every time that your mount. The more times that you practice, the quicker the exercise will get. Pretty soon your horse will understand that he either has to circle or stand and he won’t waste as much time circling. Once horses understand the exercise you normally don’t have to do more than one circle before they stand quietly.
You can modify this exercise to mount from a fence or other object where circling isn’t feasible once your horse is solid with the exercise. To do this where you cannot circle you will instead have your horse do small circles in front of you. Your horse will quickly realize it is the same exercise and stand for you to mount.
To do this, stand on the mounting block or fence and ask your horse to walk up to you and stand. If he keeps going or swings his butt out don’t let him pause before asking him to move his haunches all the way around so that he is facing the opposite direction (your horse is doing a turn on the forehand). You will need to have all of your ground work solid and your horse sensitive to your aids to do this. If you struggle, work on your turn on the forehand on the ground before trying again.
Once your horse is facing the opposite direction ask him to walk past you and again do a turn on the forehand to change directions. Repeat until your horse stops and stands for you to mount. Make sure that your horse’s feet don’t stop unless he is in position.
I’d love to hear from you about how this exercise works. Leave comments and questions below!