While there are some basic and essential manners that every horse should have when being handled, there are also some that should be expected when being saddled. One of these “good manners” is to stand still when the rider is riding. Many horses squirm, fidget and bolt when the rider tries to get into the saddle. And even if they stand up when mounted, they bolt immediately before the rider has time to sit in the saddle and settle the reins. Some horses back up instead of moving forward.
The consequences of this bad habit range from annoying and uncomfortable to dangerous, especially if the horse bolts before the rider is safe. There are a few reasons for this, and as with most “horse problems,” it is important to ask yourself what the cause is before trying to solve the problem. This will prevent your horse from becoming even more frustrated or uncomfortable and will shorten the time needed to overcome the habit.
Reasons, why horses will not stand still fot mounting, include:
- Back pain due to saddle sores
- Uncomfortable saddle (English or Western).
- The horse is unbalanced
- The horse is unbalanced by the rider
- The horse expects discomfort when the rider “hits” the saddle.
- The rider accidentally hits the horse in the ribs when mounting the horse
- The horse backs up because the rider lets the reins dangle when riding.
- Horse tries to avoid work
- Rider laziness
- Lack of training or inconsistent training by the rider
Many problems under saddle can be caused by back pain. The causes of back pain can be many, from skin injuries to foot pain to dental problems, and sometimes it is necessary to carefully troubleshoot to find the cause. It may not be obvious, but hoof or foot problems can cause a horse to walk differently and cause muscles to tighten and tire over time. An untrained horse may suffer temporary back pain until it is conditioned for work. Poorly fitting saddles can cause back pain, either just when riding or throughout the gait. Sometimes horses need chiropractic treatment to relieve back pain. Muscle tension that occurs during work or play can cause back pain.
Check for back pain by feeling your horse’s back with your fingertips and using your fingertips to penetrate the muscles on either side of the spine. Treat any skin condition and wait for it to heal before riding again. Sore muscles are stiff and painful. If the horse has been sore for a long time, it may even “block” the pain, making it even harder to detect. Your veterinarian, an equine massage therapist, or a chiropractor can help you diagnose back pain. You may also consider bareback riding.
Saddle pads and blankets can cause problems if they are dirty and lumpy, have burrs or blades of grass caught in them, or are tight over the horse’s withers. Make sure your pads or blankets are soft and clean. Pull the pad or blanket up off the horse’s withers after putting on the saddle so that it does not dig into the horse at the withers.
The horse is unbalanced
This is common in young horses and will resolve itself as the horse learns to balance with the rider and gains fitness and coordination.
The Horse is thrown off balance by the rider
Any horse can lose balance and twist if the rider is clumsy and heavy-handed when mounting. Learn how to get in the saddle, and perhaps use a saddle block to make it easier for you and the horse.
The Rider Hits The Saddle Too Hard
It’s important to sit gently in the saddle and not let yourself fall. Your horse may fidget in anticipation and give a horsey “oof” when you get in the saddle. Use a saddle block and gently lower yourself into the saddle once mounted.
The Rider Unintentionally Kicks The Horse
If the rider is not careful to place the foot in the stirrup with the toe pointing forward or backward, he or she may ram the toe into the horse’s ribs when mounting. The horse may take this as a signal to move on. Use a mounting block to make mounting easier.
The Rider Hangs on The Reins.
Be careful not to use the reins as an anchor while riding. You should have contact with the horse’s mouth, but the reins should be loose enough not to signal the horse to back off.
Avoid the Work
It is not uncommon for horses to anticipate the work ahead and protest by making it difficult for the rider to mount. If all other reasons can be ruled out, a little retraining is necessary. An assistant may help prevent the horse from backing away or swaying. The horse should remain steady in hand. If the horse moves forward, you should ask it to stop. The horse should not walk around you. Another person may be helpful to ask the horse to stop calmly from the ground. Have the horse stop while you put your toe in the stirrup. Once the horse is ready, begin to put weight on the stirrup. Then stand up with your full weight in the stirrup. The horse should be stationary with each step. Do not rush the steps, but make sure the horse obeys one hundred percent before continuing. Finally, you need to be able to sit in the saddle. If your horse seems to move as soon as you are in the saddle, you should carefully control your horse’s forward movement.
It is very easy to get into the habit of letting your horse walk away before you are properly organized in the saddle. If your horse walks away as soon as you are in the saddle, you are reinforcing a bad habit. Ask your horse to stop and stand still while you settle in and prepare for the ride. Make sure you do this every time you ride, as it is very easy for both of you to fall back into the habit.