Many riders get on and then think,
“Hmm, let’s see how this goes.” I
encourage students not to make this
common mistake of a wait-and-see
attitude. Don’t try to figure out the
horse’s preferred language; start speaking your own language and expect him
Before I mount up, I do two things
right off the bat. First, I make sure my
stirrups are adjusted ahead of time.
This prevents my first moments on a
strange horse from being ones where I
am precariously balanced on his back
trying to change the stirrups before
we have developed any rapport.
I have seen a lot of avoidable
accidents happen at this stage of a
ride. Do yourself a favor and get the
stirrups as close to right as possible.
You can fine tune the fitting later, but
don’t spend the early moments in the
saddle fumbling around, leaning over,
or putting all your focus in to where
your feet are.
Second, I ask myself how much of
this horse’s attention I have as I’m
leading him over to the mounting
block. Is he looking all over the place?
Or is he dragging along, bored and
lazy? If I don’t have the vast majority of his attention and interest, I do
some exercises on the ground to get
A good rule is to be sure you can
get and keep the horse’s attention
on you for 10 uninterrupted seconds
before you mount up. This can be as
simple as walk-stop-walk transitions
from the ground, backing him up, and
performing some turns on forehand.
Or, depending on the horse, it can be
as simple as just asking him to pay
attention by jiggling one of the reins.
Once I’m in the saddle, I go
through a series of simple tests to determine how well the horse responds
to my cues and how well he is able to
use his body. This might seem really
basic, but my checklist includes how
smoothly the horse turns left and
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