Last Sunday Dear Abby had a letter from a 17 yr old girl who was having trouble getting on her horse. Read letter here.
I thought Abby's response wasn't very helpful so I fired off an email with some helpful hints. Since none of the emails I have sent to Dear Abby have ever been answered, I'm guessing this one disappeared into cyberspace as well. So lets address this here where all 2 of my readers can benefit. :-D
First off, this girl was being ragged on by the barn and fellow students because she had trouble mounting. I'm guessing it's a barn where mounting a 17 hand horse from the ground is your measure of being a horseperson. You aren't a 'Real Rider' unless you can. I have run into this all my life, and once bought into it as well. Sure, I used to be able to swing on those tall horses with the best of them. I also used to grab the mane and vault on bare back. Neat trick, never mind that the horse never seemed to think it was so great.
Now fast forward to today, where many studies have shown (don't ask, I know I read them in Equus, The Horse, and several other magazines, can't find a link to them now. If you do, sent it to me and I'll add them here) that repeated mounting from the ground torques the saddle tree against the horse's spine, and causes damage. If you think about it, it makes sense. It really doesn't take much of a twist to put anyone's back out, but imagine your horse, with all your weight suddenly slamming against the side of his spine, over and over. It's no wonder horses get girthy, or sore backs. I just paid for 3 chiropractic treatments for my horses to fix misalignments in their backs, and they weren't that bad. I can't imagine some poor old school horse, doing 6-8 lessons a day, bounced on, yanked on, and spine slammed to the left multiple times a day.
I have used a mounting block ever since the first article came out. All of the upper end barns in my area also use them. But many of the lower end barns still promote the 'You aren't a rider unless you always mount from the ground' mentality. I have one answer to that, watch Robert Dover in 'America's next Equestrian Star.' Does anyone doubt Robert's ability to swing up on any of those horses? Does anyone want to dispute his spot as one of the top horsemen in the world? No, I didn't think so. Not only does Robert use a mounting block himself, he brings them over for his contestants. He isn't being nice to the people, he is taking care of the horses.
Now, all that being said, I do believe there is benefit to learning how to mount from the ground if you are going to trail ride. You need to be able to mount and dismount as needed, in case there is an emergency. Granted, I am almost always able to find a rock, stump, or just put my horse down hill from me to make it a bit better for her. But there are several things you can do to make things easier.
First: Stretch. Muscles warmed up work better, that's basic. There are exercises you can do to get your muscles more flexible, and make things easier. Here is a good diagram.
Remember, you use all your muscles when you ride, not just your legs. This is true for mounting as well.
Second: Check your tack. Make sure everything is tight and won't slip. Drop the stirrup a hole if you need to. Have someone hold the opposite stirrup for balance if you need to.
Third: Balance your horse. Get them to stand square, and keep them still with the reins in your hand as you mount.
Here is a series of photos of my 5' daughter mounting a 17+ hand Percheron gelding. (yes, she should have had the reins in her hand, he was tied)
It can be done, if necessary. Just don't see why it's necessary any place where another option is available.