Q My physical situation now necessitates that I use a mounting block to get in the saddle. I’m comforted to learn that some of the stigma behind using one is dissipating. What are some safety tips to keep in mind when using a mounting block? Also, my horse isn’t always cooperative standing at the block for me to mount. How can I teach him to work with me when using a mounting block?
Amy Herman, Washington
A I too am glad to see that mounting blocks are being used more often. A block really is a tool to be used for the benefit of the horse, first, and it helps a rider, too.
For example, I have a cow horse in my barn that can’t be taller than 14.2 hands. So a mounting block isn’t necessary for his size. But I noticed a patch of white hairs developing on his withers, which indicated that the saddle was rubbing and causing him pain. We figured out it was due to how the rider was mounting. Once she started using a mounting block, the sore spot cleared up, and he’s been great since. You’ll see a block employed in a lot of operations where horses are really used—dude ranches, lesson barns, etc.—that can’t afford for a horse to be back-sore due to poor mounting technique.
Here, I’d like to address basic mounting-block safety, then move on to working with your horse to use the block effectively.
Safe Use of a Mounting Block
Use an actual mounting block. People use the craziest things as substitutes for mounting blocks. Lawn chairs, stepladders, buckets—these are things that can really injure you or your horse when mounting.
Look for a block with a lipped edge. A mounting block with an edge at the lip is stable. That small lip keeps the block safely underneath you as you swing into the saddle.
Position the block correctly. Don’t place the block too far or too close to the horse. Also, you’ll figure out the best angle that works for you as you use the step. It depends on your preference and your horse’s size.
Recruit a helper. Until you feel 100-percent comfortable using the block to get horseback, ask a helper to hold the block in place while you mount and to remove it once you’re in the saddle.
Always move the block to your horse. It’s much easier—and safer—to take the mounting block to your horse rather than move him back and forth and side to side to line up with the step. If your horse plays games at the mounting block, read on for training tips to work on his manners.
Don’t let your horse walk off without a cue. Once you’re in the saddle, let your horse walk forward only on your cue. If you let him go forward on his own, he’ll start to leave on his own sooner and sooner, leading to problems with his standing for mounting at all.
Don’t forget about the block once mounted. I see too many riders forget about the block’s placement as they cue their horse forward. Running your horse into the block can lead to lower-leg injuries, not to mention his learning to resent the block.
Never dismount to a mounting block. This is simply too risky. The block is in your blind spot, so should your horse step away from the block, you could lose your balance. It’s just unsafe and unadvisable in all situations.
If your horse’s ground manners at the mounting block need a tune-up, here are a few steps to take to polish his etiquette to keep you safe and make your ride start with a good note, rather than a battle.
For this procedure, outfit your horse in a rope halter with a long lead or longe line. I don’t advise performing these steps with a bit in a horse’s mouth and using reins as a lead. It’s not fair to the horse’s mouth and builds animosity toward the work.
A note before I discuss the steps to work on your horse’s ground manners: Your timing must be impeccable for this exercise to work. Your horse must associate his fidgeting at the mounting block with the extra work you’ll make him do. For this to happen, you have to send him out on the longe line immediately after he starts moving away. If you’re too late, he won’t get it.
1. Place the mounting block in position to use it. Hold the lead rope coiled in your left hand, and step onto the block. Move through the steps to get into the saddle. Be prepared to step down from the block and send your horse out on the longe line as soon as he moves.
2. Make your horse work a circle, with you and the mounting block in the center. Use the tail of your lead or longe line to chase your horse forward, if necessary.
3. Keep the pace, and make your horse really work. Once he’s breathing more rapidly, ask him to stop, and bring him back to the block. Get him into position for mounting, and let him relax. If he fidgets when you start to mount again, repeat the process.
Julie Goodnight, known for her ability to teach horses and riders of all skill levels, hosts “Horse Master with Julie Goodnight” on RFD-TV. She also presents clinics nationwide from her home base near Salida, Colorado (juliegoodnight.com).