How important is awareness around horses? It’s critical. Most riding accidents happen when someone isn’t aware enough to see trouble brewing. At Stevens Natural Horsemanship, we ride colts and work with problem horses, so we know how important it is to stay ahead of the situation and be prepared in case something does go wrong.
In fact, working on your awareness is as important as working on any other groundwork or riding skill. My mounting routine will give you a head start in learning how always to be prepared.
Pull up and pause. With your horse saddled and ready to go, check your cinch one last time. Then flex your horse’s head slightly towards you, securing your rein hand firmly in his mane. Place your left foot in the stirrup and pull up, twisting your torso so you’re facing forward, as in the photo. But don’t swing your leg over yet! Instead, pause, take a deep breath, and do a quick double-check of the situation.
Is your horse standing still and relaxed? Are you far enough away from the fence or other riders in case your horse spooks or takes off? If you’re in an arena, are all the gates closed? (Obviously, you’ll have taken care of many of these details before you put your foot in the stirrup. But by making it a practice to stop and double-check just before you swing on, you’ll never forget and get caught off guard.)
Are there any noisy distractions—four-wheelers, lawn mowers, tractors—that might spook your horse? If he seems tight or troubled by anything, step back down and do some groundwork to relax him, and/or wait for things to settle.
Only when he’s calm and attentive to you should you go ahead and swing your leg over and settle quietly in the saddle.
Check yourself, too. Once you’re mounted, do a quick self-check. Are you breathing correctly—that is, slowly and deeply into your abdomen? Are your muscles relaxed, from your forehead, jaw, and neck to the tips of your toes? This is important, because your horse can tell if you’re holding your breath or your muscles are tensed. It makes him tense, too.
As you continue to breathe deeply, focus on each of your muscle groups, one by one. Consciously relax each area of your body: your face, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. Your upper back, lower back, abdomen, hips. Your thighs, calves, feet, toes.
Note how good it feels to be relaxed! It’s amazing how much tension we riders can hold when we’re not aware and actively relaxing. Make staying aware and relaxed habitual by consciously practicing it at a walk, trot, and lope.
The payoff. If you make all these mount-up double-checks routine, you’ll be pleased at how much more confident you’ll feel in the saddle—plus how much calmer and more responsive your horse will be.
Steve Stevens and his wife, Amanda, own and operate Stevens Natural Horsemanship in Weatherford, Texas, where they reside with their two children. Specializing in colt starting and problem solving, the Stevenses also give lessons and present clinics throughout the year (stevensnaturalhorsemanship.com).