Kate Fenner mounting Friesian horse for the first time. Safe mounting.

Starting Romeo Part 9: Mounting and Turning Out

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Mounting and Turning Out. In this, the last part of this exclusive training series, Kate Fenner from Kandoo Equine has taken Romeo through the essential foundation lessons that work for any horse. Whether you have a horse that hasn’t been started yet or your horse has been under saddle for years, there will be areas of the foundation training that may need a little work.

You can recap on all the articles on the Horses and People website and watch video of each lesson at the Kandoo Equine website.

Mounting and Turning Away

Romeo has proven to be a wonderful horse for this series because of his naturally high emotional level. Even in the paddock, Romeo is vigilant, standing tall and watching out for danger. When training such horses, it’s especially important to break lessons down and always be checking that you are building on a strong foundation.

If you are not aware of how to judge your horse’s emotional level, then horses such as Romeo, because they are unlikely to show obvious signs of anxiety involving moving their feet, can pose a challenge.

Throughout this series, we’ve seen Romeo display his rising emotional level with an increase in head elevation and a tensing of the muscles (this, of course, is easier for me to see/feel than to show in photographs).

Therefore, it has been particularly important for Romeo to remain unrestrained during the lessons. If he decides to leave, then I know that I have gone too-far-too-fast and need to return to something he is confident with.

This early foundation work is all about building confidence in your horse and, as a result, in yourself.
We talk a lot about wanting more riding confidence but rarely take the time to define what that really means or how we could go about gaining it.

For me, confidence comes from knowing what might happen next. Of course, we’ll never know exactly what will happen, but if we’ve trained our own horse and worked through all the foundation lessons demonstrated by Romeo in this series, then we have a fairly good idea of how the horse is likely to react.
Whenever we mount a horse that we don’t know or someone else has trained, we are doing so with fingers crossed, hoping for the best. It’s not a great place to start.

Horses are individuals and each will react slightly differently to any given lesson. Therefore, it is so important to be flexible in your training and break lessons down appropriately for each horse.
I have broken this lesson down to make it suitable for most horses.

As this is the final lesson in the series, I will assume that you have completed the previous steps and now all we need to do is mount.

To prepare for the mounting lesson, spend a few minutes working on the following lessons:

Give to the bit (See Part 2 and Part 3), shoulder control (See Part 4) and, five to ten minutes long-reining (See Part 6).

This will get your horse into the engagement zone, that bubble of communication that holds his/her attention and confirms that you have their focus before you start the mounting process.

Step 1: Lean over the saddle

Once your horse is relaxed at the mounting block (see Image C),  you can begin putting weight over the saddle.

Start by lying over the saddle and leaving most of your weight on your feet, still on the top of the mounting block as shown in Image D.

While you are there, use your hands and arms to habituate your horse to movement and slight pressure around the saddle area. Be sure to touch the shoulders and neck areas as well as behind the girth. While you have your weight on the mounting block, take one leg and gently rub your horses barrel with it, this is useful habituation for the ridden leg position.

If your horse remains relaxed, put all your weight over the saddle and continue the habituation process with your hands and arms on the horse’s right side.

However, if you feel your horse is getting tense, go back to having your weight on the mounting block again and only progress when he/she is relaxed.

Step 2: Weight in stirrup

Place your foot in the stirrup (see Image E) and gently rise to a standing position in that stirrup on the left side of the saddle (see Image F).

In this position, you are above the horse and he/she can feel all your weight in the saddle. Try to lean over the saddle slightly so that your weight is more evenly distributed.

Now is a good time to check your horse’s relaxation level. Notice that Romeo’s head elevation remains the same between the two positions in Images E and Image F.  The reason we don’t immediately sit astride the horse is that we can easily slide off from this position if we misjudged the situation and the horse’s level of relaxation.

Step 3: Take up reins

With your weight across the saddle, take up the right rein and ask for a ‘give’ as shown in Image G. Your horse should flex to the right and relax. Release the rein and praise the horse.
This is the start of ‘movement’. For now, it is only movement of the head and neck but a soft ‘give’ from the horse assures us that he/she is relaxed and listening.

Step 4: Take a few steps with weight over saddle

With your weight over the saddle, pick up the right rein and ask for some bend to the right (see Images G and H).  Encourage your horse to take a step or two using your go forward verbal cue – mine is a cluck.
A few steps away from the mounting block is enough for the first time. Slide off your horse, praise him/her and return to the mounting block (see Image I).

Step 5: Getting astride

It’s important to habituate your horse to having your leg and foot over his/her rump – we don’t always mount beautifully or tidily! Gently brush your horse with your leg and foot on the rump as you move your right leg over the saddle as in Image A.

Lower your weight gently into the saddle (Image B) without placing your right foot in the stirrup (Image C).
Dismount again and repeat this mounting and dismounting until your horse is relaxed and comfortable.

Step 6: Take a few steps standing tall in saddle

Before sitting astride and taking any steps, we’re going to take a few steps standing tall in the left stirrup because we can easily slide off from this position if necessary (Images D & E).

Step 7: Leg over and get stirrup

The final step is to mount again and take up your stirrup (see Image F).

Check for relaxation before you ask for a few steps to the right and away from the mounting block, following the same pattern we’ve established over the previous six steps. Your horse’s head elevation should be the same and you should not need to be holding tight on the reins to prevent forward movement.

Bend your horse to the right as you did in Step 4, using your voice and praise your horse when you get movement.

Watch this lesson! This month’s video is available here: https://www.kandooequine.com/blog/romeo-mounting

Time for a break

Horses vary as to how much they can learn in any single lesson and how much training, in a block of time, is suitable for them. I like to get my horse to this stage and then turn them out for anything up to six months, depending on the age, breed and general maturity of the horse.

It’s imperative that these early lessons are as calm and quiet as you’ve seen here with Romeo because it leaves the horse with a very positive experience of training. We haven’t tired Romeo, or caused him and distress or discomfort. After a break in the paddock with his herd, Romeo should come back to work for a quick refresher and then make good progress because of this relaxed and calm foundation.

I know we are all a little impatient and so much of our lives today involves instant gratification, but we owe it to our horses to do the best possible by them and giving them a solid foundation, with time, patience, understanding and empathy, is doing just that.

Don’t be in a hurry – your horse is an individual and by giving him/her the time they need; your effort will be returned a million-fold over the years to come.

Kandoo Equine Online Training – Do It for Your Horse!

Kandoo Equine has some free training coming up shortly and some exciting news to share with you next month. Don’t miss out, sign up for email notifications here: https://www.kandooequine.com/blog

This article was published in Horses and People November-December 2018 magazine or buy the whole series as an e-book.

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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