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If you ever thought there must be a better and easier way to train your horse, this new training series by Kate Fenner is designed for you! 

Kate’s gentle and no-fuss approach will provide you with the tools and confidence you need to educate your own horse.  

This series walks you through specific lessons and how to teach them. From stress-free trailer loading, to handling head-shy horses, to safe mounting. 

Last month, Kate launched the series explaining how to prepare your horse for learning. This month, it’s training hips to the fence for safe mounting.

Hips to the fence for mounting

Your horse’s behaviour while you mount can set the tone for the entire ride. A horse that has not yet been taught to stand quietly for mounting is, at best frustrating but, at worst, dangerous. It might be alright for the jockey to be thrown aboard while the Thoroughbred heads for the track, but most of us would prefer to get comfortably settled in the saddle and then ask our horse to move off when we are ready.

Training your horse to stand quietly and calmly by the mounting block is a simple and useful lesson that clearly illustrates the basic training principles. These principles that help us to simplify the lesson and break it down for the horse can be applied to any training situation.

The first step is to identify the following:

  1. The spot on the horse we want to move – here it is the left hind foot.
  2. The direction we want that to go – we want the left hind to step left.
  3. The motivator we are using – we will use a tap of the whip to motivate the horse to step left.
  4. The reward for the horse – verbal praise and stroking the horse (positive reinforcement), together with stopping the use of the whip (negative reinforcement).

Step 1

The left hind foot, like any part of the horse, can move in six directions – up, down, backwards, forwards, right and left.

By limiting the number of choices available, we can hugely simplify the lesson for the horse. We can do that in the following ways:

  1. If we stand close to the horse’s nose, we make moving forwards difficult.
  2. By holding the rein close to the bit, we make moving backwards less likely.
  3. If we line the horse up against the fence, stepping right is prevented.

This leaves three possible directions.

The horse may move ‘up’ by kicking at the whip or bucking. This would definitely tell us that our emotional level was too high and we should slow the tapping down, or perhaps just point the whip to the hip.

The other direction is ‘down’. Now, I must tell you, I’ve never come across this one, but it is possible the horse could sit down…

Of course, that leaves us with the easiest and, therefore, most likely direction that the horse will move – left!

Step 2

Once the horse is lined up on the fence, gently tap the hip with the whip.

Remember to position yourself so you’re slightly in front of the horse’s left front foot (but don’t get stepped on), as this will prevent forward movement.

Also hold the rein close to the bit, so the horse does not think you are cueing head movement (see Image A).

Step 3

Once you start to tap the hip, remain aware of your horse’s emotional level. Your horse will probably increase its emotional level a bit and possibly try moving all four feet a little.

If your horse is pushing past you, moving backwards or kicking at the whip, then you are applying too much pressure. Try relaxing a bit and calm the horse before asking again. This time, ask more gently. Often, after a couple of taps with the whip, the more sensitive horses will respond to the whip being pointed in the general direction of the hip.

Step 4

Now your most important job is to watch that left hind foot. As soon as it moves – even slightly to the left – cease all tapping and praise the horse.

Your horse won’t know what it has done the first couple of times to earn the reward, so your timing is terribly important as it will signal the behaviour – stepping left – that you are after.

The better your release of pressure (tapping or pointing the whip), the faster your horse learns.

Step 5

After your horse steps one or two steps left with the left hind foot, straighten the horse again by asking the shoulders to move further down the track. The hind feet will then go into the track and you can begin again (see Image B).

Step 6

Continue this process until the horse is stepping, so its now standing at 90o to the fence (see Image C).

When the horse is at this point, it’s best to walk around the back of the horse, simply leaving the reins over the neck, and lead the horse away from the fence using the right rein.

Then, take the horse back and begin again; each time walking around the back of the horse and leading it away from the fence with the right rein.

Step 7

Continue with the pattern until your horse is standing almost adjacent or parallel to the fence.

If you aren’t getting all the steps you’d like, try increasing the emotional level a bit by tapping a little faster. If you can get the horse to move a bit faster, it will usually also take bigger and faster steps, getting you to your goal quicker with is better for both you and your horse.

Step 8

Now is the time to decide if you are agile enough to climb up on the fence or whether you would prefer to mount from a block. Interestingly, most of my lovely ‘over 40s’ riders find the climbing on the fence the hardest part of this lesson so, if that describes you, practice a couple of times without your horse!

Step 9

It’s going to be slightly harder for the horse now as you’re changing position.

Climb up on to the fence or stand on the mounting block positioned by the fence. Holding the rein close to the bit, move the horse’s head away from you, while tapping the hip to cue the left hind to the left (see Image C).

Step 10

Some horses will need to be tapped with the whip and others will have the pattern well-established by this stage. Either way, release everything when the horse is at the fence and praise the horse.

The pattern now becomes you walk straight to the fence from the centre of the arena and climb up. The horse then begins the pattern at a 90o angle to the fence. You then cue the hip to move left, releasing only when the horse is parallel to the fence.

Now your job is to ‘dispense love’. We want the horse to know there is nothing else expected of it (see Image D).

The horse’s job becomes to stand quietly while you stroke and praise it – easy.

Step 11

Next, weight the saddle and stirrup, and rub your right leg over the horse’s rump, but do not mount (see Image E).

Repeat this process a few times, getting down off the fence before mounting, moving around the back of the horse and leading the horse away from the fence with the right rein.

Step 12

Finally, mount the horse. You should have no need to have a contact on the horse’s mouth, but can pick one up when you have settled in the saddle.

When you are ready, ask the horse to move off. Make this a clear and, preferably, an audible cue so the horse doesn’t work ‘moving off’ into the mounting cue (that is exactly what’s happened with a horse that doesn’t stand still for mounting).

Kate Fenner, BEqSc (Hons)

Kate is an Equine Scientist (Charles Sturt University), PhD Candidate (Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney), equestrian coach (Equestrian Australia and British Horse Society) and horse trainer (John and Josh Lyons Certified Trainer). Kate has ridden, trained and competed in dressage, jumping, western and polo in Australia, Europe, the United States and Asia.

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