Having a horse stand still at the mounting block is a major challenge for a lot of riders.  The problem stems from the way they identify the problem (horse not standing still) and how they address the problem (usually with frustration).  So, let’s think about what often happens, step by step – from the human and the horse’s perspective.

  1. The rider brings the horse to the mounting block and asks it to stand.
    • The horse, sometimes after a little moving around, stands still beside the mounting block.
  1. The rider starts to climb onto the mounting block, and the horse either steps forward or swings its butt out, or a bit of both.
    • The horse may be anticipating moving away from the block (because that’s what always happens after the rider mounts).
    • Or, the horse may be turning to see what is happening when the rider climbs up the steps.
    • Or, in the case of English (style) trained riders, the inside rein is brought towards the pommel of the saddle, bending the horse so that stepping away allows it to align its spine.
  1. The rider then gets off the mounting block and either moves the block to where the horse is (if it’s moveable) or repositions the horse to the block.
    • Because the horse thinks in the moment and not backwards or forwards in time it perceives the event as happening like this:
    • The rider left the horse alone (while she got off the mounting block) when it moved away – in the horse’s mind that must be good, he got left alone.
    • The rider did exactly the same thing again, and the horse thinks “hey, yeah, I get it, I’ll just move over here, and you leave me alone – again”.
  1. Somehow, eventually the rider managed to get a foot in the stirrup and a leg over.
    • The horse was ready, he knew, from repeated experiences, the first thing the rider will ask for is forward movement.  The horse, anticipated the request, and tried to please the rider, stepping forward leaving the fumbling rider to get her feet in the stirrups.
    • The frustrated rider just accepts that is the way it is and at least she’s on the horse now.

When you really think about it, the horse has done the right thing all along to achieve its desired outcome – being left alone.  The rider frustrated herself by not presenting what she wanted to the horse in a way the horse could understand, and respond to, in the way the rider intended.

Let’s rethink the set up.  First, the horse should come to the mounting block, not the other way around.  Try to stand on the block and ask the horse to come up beside you – you may have to walk the horse around the mounting block a dozen times or more, if that’s the case – sobeit, just wait.  

When the horse does attend at the block don’t rush to jump on.  It’s at this point a rider might get anxious and rush to the next step, setting them self, and the horse, back to the beginning.  Instead, take a minute to prepare, make sure his feet are standing square and firm, do a final tack check and make sure you have your reins ready (to check him back if he walks away) for the mount.  Do not bend him towards the mounting block.

If the horse moves away, before you get on, stay where you are, move him around the mounting block again, repeating the process until he stands still.  The horse will soon learn that it is being left alone (not asked to keep walking circles around the mounting block) if it comes to the block and stands still for the rider.  Never shortcut this, no matter what kind of a rush you feel you are in, or you may have to start the entire process over again – it’s easier to maintain than retrain.

When the horse is still and quiet, methodically, mount, be prepared for the horse to anticipate moving off and try to check it back on the first step, or better yet the first thought.  After sitting on the horse for a short time move away by stepping backwards or to the side (horses don’t like stepping backwards or to the side – they prefer forward) the horse will be reluctant to move that way, and unlikely to volunteer.

If you communicate with the horse, in a way he can understand, you can make incredible progress, but if you communicate so he can’t, you’ll be battling with him forever.