STANDING STILL AT THE MOUNTING BLOCK
Training a horse to stand at the block is best taught in stages so he understands fully what you are asking for, after which consistent reinforcement is needed to keep it in place. It’s easier for the horse to cooperate if he understands the concept of “parking” in the first place. The ability to stand to command without fidgeting or being restrained is an important part of a horse’s education; we notice a lack even in those with the “well schooled” label.
A portable block is best as you can bring it to the horse rather than the other way round. It’s a pretty advanced manoeuvre for the horse to line himself up with the rider waiting on the top. We make a series of impromptu aerobic movements stepping up and down quietly until the horse is happy to stand absolutely still. A helper can be useful in difficult cases. We ask them to hold the cavesson rather than the bit as horses don’t like being hung on to via the mouth.
The decision to mount needs to be done in a relaxed manner. Any tension, anxiety, or anticipation about the quality of the ride will generate movement in the horse. Gathering up the reins too tightly will make him move backwards, while climbing up awkwardly or bumping down into the seat will make him move forwards or even away.
Being mounted is often a less than pleasant experience and small wonder that most horses try to evade the discomfort they know is coming by wanting to walk off. Smoothness and a degree of agility are needed to help the horse remain in one place. One of the reasons horses don’t stand at the block is because they don’t know how to stand with patience in other areas either. To get the result we want, we make sure our horses know how to stand square and parallel with any defining line nearby, like a wall or fence etc. When a horse stands other than four square, he is primed to move in whichever direction his shoulder is angled to. Teaching your horse true straightness without restraint, both on the ground and mounted will transform your riding and handling experience.
Before we leave the subject of mounting from a block and move on to mounting from anywhere else, it’s worth mentioning the position of the block can impact on whether or not the horse moves. If it is placed in front of the girth line, more towards the shoulder, it will encourage some horses to walk backwards and others to swing away. The optimum place is beside the saddle. This may seem a small point, but experience tells us that it isn’t, and even how we mount the block can have an impact. Stepping from the ground to the top beside the shoulder makes most horses reverse or move away to the right because this is how they interpret body language. Think about it. If they were in the field facing another horse who suddenly half rears at their shoulder, what would they do? They would do exactly the same as when you are trying to mount; move backwards and/or away.
It’s up to us to be aware of the way we move around the horse. Our every step and gesture sends a signal, only we are mostly too tuned out to realise we are in fact getting what we’ve asked for. When the horse understands correct positioning (parking), and stays immobile at the block as we step up and down, remaining stationary during the mounting process is no big deal. Only then is the horse ready to mount.
We can transfer these techniques to other situations like mounting from a fence, a bank, or a lorry ramp. To do this we simply run through the parking routine until it is firmly established before getting on. A final point to emphasise; the horse must stand because he has made the decision himself rather than being held into position. A noisy and distracting environment isn’t going to be conducive to teaching the horse anything other than to join in the excitement. Better to wait for a peaceful moment or choose a quieter location. Happy mounting!