What to do When Your Horse Won't Stand Still for Mounting

Mounting Problems

Mother helping daughter mount pony.
A leg up is a good way to get on when no mounting block is available. Image Credit:Smith Collection /Getty Images

While there are some basic and essential manners each horse should have while being handled, there's also a few that should be expected when under saddle. One of these 'good manners' is standing still while the rider mounts. Many horses squirm, fuss and sidle away when the rider attempts to get into the saddle. And even if they do stand for mounting, they move off immediately before the rider has time to settle into the saddle and organize the reins.

Some horses back up rather than move forward.

The consequences of allowing this bad habit to continue range from annoying and inconvenient to dangerous, especially if the horse bolts away before the rider is secure. There are a few reasons why this happens, and like most 'horse problems' it's important to ask why before attempting to solve the problem. This will prevent you from making your horse more frustrated or uncomfortable and shorten the length of time you'll need to break this habit.

The reasons horses don't stand still for mounting are:

  • Sore back

  • Uncomfortable saddle pad

  • The horse is unbalanced

  • The horse is pulled off balance by the rider

  • Anticipation of discomfort as the rider 'hits' the saddle

  • Rider accidentally kicks the horse in the ribs as they mount

  • Backing because the rider is hanging on the reins while mounting

  • An attempt to evade work

  • Laziness on the rider's part

  • Lack of training or inconsistent training

    Sore Backs

    Many problems under saddle can be caused by a sore back. The reasons for a sore back can be numerous—from skin lesions to sore feet to dental problems, and it sometimes takes careful troubleshooting to find the source. It may not be obvious, but something like hoof or leg problems can make a horse travel differently, tensing muscles that can become sore and tired over time.

    An unfit horse may suffer temporary back pain until they are conditioned for their work. Poorly fitting saddles can cause back soreness—either just while your mounting or the whole time you're riding. Sometimes horses need chiropractic adjustments that can alleviate back pain. Muscle strain can occur while working or playing that can cause back pain.

    Test for back pain by exploring your horse's back with your fingertips, penetrating the muscles on both sides of the spine with your fingertips. Treat any skin conditions and wait until they're healed to start riding again. Sore muscles are stiff and sore. If the horse has been sore for a long time, it may even 'block out' the pain, and make it harder to discover. Your vet, an equine massage therapist or chiropractor can help you diagnose back pain.

    Saddle Pads and Blankets

    Pads and Blankets can cause problems if they've become dirty and lumpy, have burrs or grass haws embedded in them, or are pulled down tightly across the horse's withers. Make sure your pads or blankets are smooth and clean. Pull the pad or blanket up off of the horse's withers after you put the saddle on so it's not digging into the horse at the withers.

    The Horse is Unbalanced

    This is common with young horses and will resolve itself as the horse learns to balance a rider and gains fitness and coordination.

    The Horse is Pulled Off Balance by the Rider

    Any horse can be pulled off balance and squirm around to rebalance itself if the rider is awkward and heavy as they climb into the saddle. Learn to lift yourself into the saddle and perhaps use a mounting block to make the job easier for you and the horse. Make it easier to mount by using a mounting block.

    Rider Hits the Saddle too Hard

    It's important to settle yourself gently into the saddle and not just flop down. Your horse may squirm in anticipation and emit an equine 'oof' as the rider plunks into the saddle. Use a mounting block and lower yourself gently into the saddle once you're up there.

    Rider Inadvertently Kicks Horse

    If the rider isn't careful about putting their foot into the stirrup with the toe pointing either frontwards or backwards, they may dig their toe into the horse's ribs on the way up.

    The horse may take this as a cue to move forward. Use a mounting block to make getting on easier.

    Rider Hangs on Reins

    Review how to mount and be sure you're not using your reins to anchor yourself as you mount. You should have contact on the horse's mouth, but the reins need to be loose enough that they’re not cuing the horse to back up.

    Evading Work

    It's not unusual for horses to anticipate the work they have ahead of them and protest by making it difficult for the rider to mount. If all other reasons have been ruled out, a little retraining will be required. An assistant can be helpful to prevent the horse from backing up or swinging out. They should stand quietly when in hand. If they move forward, be ready to ask the horse to halt. They shouldn't circle around you. Another person can be helpful to ask the horse to stand quietly from the ground. Make the horse stand still as you put your toe in the stirrup. Once the horse stands for that, start putting some weight in the stirrup. Then lift yourself straight up, with your full weight in the stirrup. Your horse should stand still for each step. Don't rush the steps—be sure they are 100% obedient before moving on. Finally, you should be able to sit in the saddle. Be sure if your horse seems inclined to move once you're on, that you gently check his forward motion.

    Rider Sloth

    It's really easy to get into the habit of letting your horse walk off before you are truly organized in the saddle. If your horse moves off as soon as your backside is in the saddle, you'll be re-enforcing a bad habit. Be sure you ask your horse to halt and stand quietly while you settle yourself and prepare to ride. Be sure to do this each and every time your ride as it's very easy for both of you to slip back into the habit.