A Changed Human

Mounting A Horse

The ideal thing for horses would be if the riders could get on something that was so high that they didn't have to use the stirrup at all, and they could get down in the saddle instead of up into it.

By Ellen Ofstad

The sun is shining and you have a few hours to yourself, a perfect opportunity to take the horse out for a trail ride! So you saddle the horse, get up on it and life is just great. Or, maybe things aren't just that simple after all. One of the things that I have come to realize more and more is that while ignorance may be bliss for us, it is not necessarily so for the horse. The horse is subjected to all our whims and ideas. We can choose to give it a good life, or we can be abusive to it, and the horse can't really do or say anything about it. What a responsibility!

I find that most people truly want what is best for their horses and they would never dream of hurting the horse intentionally. Of course not! They love their horses; that's why they have the horse in the first place! If love and good intentions were all that were needed, there would be a lot of very happy horses around and problem horses would be rare. Unfortunately it takes more than just good intentions. Caring for and handling horses requires knowledge and education.

At times I find that getting educated about horses is very frustrating. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know about them. Sometimes I long for the feeling I had when I was 10 years old and I thought I was an expert! The horses I had then might have disagreed of course, but I didn't know enough to understand their signals, so I just carried on happily. Ignorance IS bliss!

Now things are a lot more complicated and I find that I question everything I do with horses, even things that I really thought I knew all about. Like something as simple as getting on a horse…. How can one possibly make that complicated? In the years that I worked as a riding school instructor I used to teach that one should always get up on the horse from the horse's left side. No one ever asked me why, and if they had I wouldn't be able to give a good answer. I might have said: "Because that's the way it is!", or hopefully a little better: "Because the horses are used to it that way!" But the truth is, I didn't know why and I had never even thought about it.

Later I learned that this tradition started when people rode with swords! The swords were hanging on their left, and they got up on the horse from their left side so they didn't have to swing the swords over the horses' backs when they mounted them. This explanation got lost somewhere along the way, but not the tradition, so riders kept being told to mount the horse from the left side. This is still the most common practice in most riding schools today. I now tell people that every time they get on the horse and they are bearing a sword, it's important that they get on from the left; otherwise it doesn't matter to the horse.

Not too long ago I read about a study that was done on a great number of young horses. The horses were about three years old, some had been ridden for about a year's time, and others had never had a rider on their back. They x-rayed all the horses' backs to see if they could find anything wrong with the horses that had been ridden compared to the horses that had not. It turned out that many of the horses that had been ridden had their spine slightly twisted to the left. The conclusion from the study was that this was due to the mounting and dismounting from the left side only, and this was after only one year of riding!

Apparently it's not a problem for the horse about what side one gets on, but it's important that the horse is mounted from both sides equally. I would like to take it even further than that. If mounting for just one year can twist a horse's spine, it shows just how much pressure getting on the horse from the ground actually puts on the horse. It must be even better to avoid putting this kind of pressure on the horse's back than to just try to even it out on both sides. Preferably people should get on from a mounting block whenever possible to make it easier to get on, and thereby reducing the pressure altogether. The ideal thing for the horse would be if the rider could get on something that was so high that they didn't have to use the stirrup at all, and they could get down in the saddle instead of up into it.

I was once at a horse auction where a trainer was showing off a horse that he had for sale. He rode it bareback and did a lot of other things that all looked fine to me. What really got my attention though, was when he threw a saddle on the horse's back and got up, without attaching the girth at all. He just put his foot in the stirrup, swung himself into the saddle and proceeded around the arena in a fresh canter while the girth was dangling around the horse's feet. He was of course showing that the horse accepted all kinds of things, but what stuck in my mind was how he seemed to make the laws of gravity not apply to him at all when he mounted.

If you have that kind of athletic ability that allows you to get up in the saddle without even attaching the girth, then I see no problem in getting up in the saddle from the ground. However, if you don't, then using a mounting block or a fence is a lot better for the horse. And you might just discover like I did that this is a whole lot easier on you, too.

About the author:

Ellen Ofstad is from Fredrikstad, Norway. For over 15 years she has worked as a trainer and instructor in Norway, the Middle East and in the USA. Ellen has actively studied horse behavior and psychology, and a variety of training methods. She uses communication to work with horses rather than force and mechanical devices and achieves amazing results in a surprisingly short time. Ellen gives clinics and lessons on the Prairie Creek Ranch in central Texas, USA and she also produced two videos, Motivate Your Horse, Natural and Positive Training and Horses With Problems (a new video now available in Sweden and Norway and coming to the USA soon.)

For more information about Ellen, her training, her clinics, and her video, visit ellenofstad.com or contact:
PaulaSue Swope
11691 CR 1200
Malakoff, Texas 75148
Email: PAULASUE10@aol.com

A Changed Human

Poem By Dan Sumerel

I like being a horse and doing the things, that we horses all know how to do
Like running and kicking and grazing and such and learning to put up with you.
At first you were nothing but trouble, you did everything so very bad
You rode like a rock, had no patience with me, and that often made me feel sad.
You talked all the time yet said very little, what I thought, you seemed not to care
You hurried and rushed and struggled so much, your demands of me seemed unfair.
Sometimes I would show you had little control, to stop me when I chose to go
You hung on for dear life and ducked quite a lot, and were thankful each time I would slow.
But I tried and I did, as we horses will do, to give all that you asked, best I could
And it wasn't much fun, it was mostly a pain, as I tried the way I knew I should.

Then you started to change, so dramatic to see, you were different in all that we shared
You were listening to me, and taking your time, it seemed as if you really cared.
You'd learned something different, you'd learned about me, you understood all I was trying to say
I felt so relieved, so much closer to you, I was happy to see you this way.
As we began to work, much more together, true teamwork we started to know
We became more in tune with each other, and our harmony started to show.
In such a short time due to how you had changed, I came to see you as more than I had
For now you were not just my rider, but the friend that I'd needed so bad
It made me so happy to see you, I had to nicker to express all my glee
Now our riding was fun and adventure, with you is where I had to be.
I still test you over and over again, to see if you'll let me be the boss
But it's all it good fun, in a horse kind of way, very natural to any ole hoss.

Some of my friends weren't so lucky, their humans never learned as you had
To understand the needs of their horses, and keep their lives from being so sad.
Yes, with you I have been very lucky, to get someone who learned how to change
To make my life so happy indeed, with a human so wonderfully strange
So, I've been pretty happy at being a horse, since you took me home 8 years ago
And of all of the people I've had in my life, You're the best, that I want you to know.

Your horse and your friend,
Sunkist Sir Beau

Dan Sumerel Copyright 2000