Mounting Block Conversations

This is Andante. He likes to have a conversation at the mounting block. He wasn’t always like this. In his younger days, he was afraid of most everything. It was fair; he didn’t have a great start in life but that isn’t the important part. Back then, the mounting block wasn’t his favorite thing. Now it is.

He likes to spend a few minutes tapping it with his hoof; it makes that hollow plastic sound. He side-passes over it when asked –because he’s tall and it works. It’s a kind of groundwork that he and his rider enjoy; just a connecting time. He initiates it now and we all congratulate him. After a few minutes, he’s asked to stand still and he does.

Lately, he’s added this twist; he’s taken to doing stretches himself, at first only with his left leg, and then on request, both legs. His rider started the tapping game years ago to make the mounting block less scary and it turned into a game. It takes extra minutes in the beginning of the ride.

Before I get accused of coddling horses or training like a girl, again, I should add that Andante does challenging work, training up the dressage levels, working on light contact, pushing like a freight train, and dancing like a ballerina. I have great respect for this horse and the training he and his rider have done.

You could say these antics mean that his lesson starts late. We think he’s started teaching early. This ex-nervous horse reminds us it’s supposed to be fun because hard work and playfulness are not mutually exclusive. Because riding is an art. He reminds us to stay in the present moment. The other words for that are horse time.

Our horses don’t much care about our dirty laundry or dinner plans or our riding ambitions. But we’re busy people. We want to ride. We want our hour, so we grab them out of their turnout, do a perfunctory grooming job, and pull to the arena. Then it’s hurry-time for training work crashing into horse time. Does this “Slam, bam, thank you, Ma’am” approach work well for anything of value?

(I’m going to assume that we all use mounting blocks because it’s good for horses. Look at a photo of a horse’s skeleton and it’s easy to understand why equine chiropractors say that the wither area is easy to mangle with ground mounting.)

Does your horse show any calming signals at the mounting block? Does he look away or stretch his head down. Is he fussy? Do you move the mounting block to him …more than once? Is it a place where he gets corrected three or four times before you’re even in the saddle? Is that really how you want to start? Gosh, and your ride didn’t go well?

Maybe it’s time to see your mounting block in a new light. I like to use them as a training aid. For people, mainly. 

If you’re looking for a partner, whether for dressage competition or for trail riding, it starts here. Would you like a total do-over at the mounting block?

Start here: With a halter and lead rope, walk to the mounting block. The lead must stay slack. Step to the top and stand there. Breathe. Clear your mind. Lay down your thoughts and lists and expectations. Stand still and breathe some more. Let go of your excuses and apologies. Be still mentally and watch your horse take a new interest in you. Then step back to the ground and give yourself a treat. Nice job of changing yourself. Yes, it’s just a start but this is how training works.

Go to the arena and this time, un-click the lead. Let your horse run and play. Cheer him on. Cue canters and trots by doing them yourself. Laugh. Remember why you love horses. Then take him back to the barn and curry him till he shines. Now you have his attention.

Go to the arena and stand on the mounting block and do some light lunging. You’ll notice you can’t move your feet much while standing there. Good, it will require smaller cues. Ask for different gaits and reverses. Ten minutes, maybe fifteen, and back to the barn. Confuse him with short work sessions.

Eventually, ask for walk/halt transitions. Take your time, let him think. Trust his answer and find an even better, smaller cue. Let time pass in quiet conversation. If he’s doing halts, in a small circle, both directions around the block, you’re almost there.

The lead is still loose and his head has forgotten how much it hated being pulled on. It’s a miracle. At some point of his choosing, he’ll step almost to the perfect spot to mount and halt. Almost but not quite. Here is a chance to be generous. Training amounts to successive approximation. Call it good, reward him, and go back to the barn. Yay for you. You didn’t nag on toward your idea of perfection while teaching him he’s never good enough. Instead, he remembers standing there in the right place with you being happy about it. Win.

The next time, he comes to the spot sooner and you spend a ridiculous amount of time standing on the block, scratching and rubbing his back and neck. Continue until he forgets he had anxiety at the mounting block. Until he wonders if you’ve taken a mail order course in faith healing. Until he thinks good things happen at the mounting block and he pulls toward the arena.

Reward your horse’s stillness with your own. Then congratulate your horse on teaching you patience.

In the perfect world, this work starts with yearlings, long before saddles and training. In the perfect world, the mounting block is an island of peace and safety in a chaotic world. Let it be a sacred place.

Cultivate the idea that the more you and your horse are together mentally on the ground, the better you will be in the saddle. That positive training starts with your mental state. Make your mind a place your horse wants to spend time. When he’s comfortable with that, he’ll invite you into his.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

 

42 thoughts on “Mounting Block Conversations

  1. Lovely thoughts. I am very anxious at the mounting block. My horse is fine. I have some physical issues making the process of getting on a worrisome situation. I try to do it peacefully – but not always successful.

    1. Is it possible that your horse has a stoic response to your emotions? Have you looked at bigger mounting blocks, or maybe asking someone to build one that’s more comfortable for you? I had a tiny one that teetered and was unsteady. Not a help at all!

      1. She’s pretty “stable”. And yes, I have to be careful where I put my portable mounting block. I also think I need a three step rather than a 2 step. She will, very rarely, move when I mount.

  2. bookendsfarm

    Rather than “confuse him with short work sessions”, I prefer to think of it as keeping him interested and curious about what we’ll do next.
    Lovely post, thank you.

      1. bookendsfarm

        Far be it from me to criticize sarcasm. I do it all the time. Sorry I missed it! Now I can hear it clearly. Feel free to remove the comment… 😉

  3. Elizabeth Steele

    I love this! But I feel lost! I have a yearling that I want to train on my own in this way. He trusts me and I work at liberty with him. Big problem is Everything goes in his mouth! He’s not afraid of anything but it has to go in his mouth so he can swing it around. It interferes with all sessions and takes me into ​frustration mode. Any suggestions for this? Liz Steele

    On Jun 2, 2017 8:23 AM, “Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog” wrote:

    > Anna Blake posted: ” This is Andante. He likes to have a conversation at > the mounting block. He wasn’t always like this. In his younger days, he was > afraid of most everything. It was fair; he didn’t have a great start in > life but that isn’t the important part. Back then, ” >

    1. You might not like my answer… He is a baby. Training babies isn’t easy. You do not have the luxury of frustration. The first thing you much learn to control is yourself. Always. Without seeing him myself, I can’t know what he’s thinking, but partly he is young and can’t focus long (not more than 10 minutes, probably) and partly it might be anxiety. For the anxiety part, let your cues get smaller. Never bigger. And be patient while he grows up. You wouldn’t ask a toddler to do long division…

      Horses have more nerve endings in their noses than anywhere else and if you are handling his nose (scratching or petting him lower than his eyes) you might be encouraging the behaviors without knowing it. Keep your hands away from his face and be clear in your cues. Like I said, babies aren’t easy. Sorry, I know I’m being blunt, but your young horse isn’t doing anything wrong. If you want more help, we could consult on the phone.

  4. Lori

    These are wonderful ideas. My horse always backs up or moves forward just as I am mounting. You could say he has my number. It’s always so frustrating and sometimes impossible to ride if there isn’t anyone around to hold him.

    1. No, he doesn’t have your number, and frustration is natural, but not helpful. I’d advise going back to the beginning. You need to have him on your side. Thanks for commenting, Lori.

  5. Tracey Sands

    This is wonderful, as I find all your columns to be. I have one more thought to add. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that horses’ response to things like mounting blocks and bridling are not just about what happens in that moment, but about the entire ride. So if being mounted leads to a ride in which someone bounces hard on the horse’s back, or being bridled leads to the horse’s mouth getting pulled on, the horse is more than smart enough to make the connection. Which means that we have to take care to make the entire experience, from the moment we put the halter on to the end of the session as fair and pleasant as we can.

  6. leslieatfarmfreshfun

    I immediately forwarded this to a student who I am working with on peace at the mounting block! I love this and frequently tell my clients to be prepared before they get to the mounting block so that it is a restful place instead of one where they poke and adjust stirrups and girth and swing things around. I too ended up buying a bigger mounting block and consider it to be a very worthwhile investment. I also ask all my students to learn how to mount off a fence, log or even a trailer bumper, if necessary-all of which requires a horse to be calm and happy and trusting first!

  7. Lynell Abbott

    Thanks, Anna. This is a great way to play with my horses WITHOUT having to actually go anywhere! I am blessed with a horse (Dover) who loves to remind me about horse time. I’m getting pretty good at it, too, now that I am retired!

  8. Judy Shaub

    Perfect. Jade thanks you for this. We thank you for this. The more I work toward being in horse time and to make cues smaller the happier I am. Oh and to breathe. So liberating for both of us.

  9. “it’s supposed to be fun because hard work and playfulness are not mutually exclusive.” YES YES YES! I don’t get why people don’t understand this! Yes we work hard but there is always an element of fun and playfulness whenever we train. Beautifully written, thank you!

  10. Girl…again. ❤
    I try so hard to make it fun for my dancing partner. And the more I do the more he tries.
    Now we do early rides before we both to the garden. Him for the "good" grass and me for the veggies.
    You are our BFF

  11. Just curious if Andante was given treats for putting his feet on the mounting block? My guy became reluctant to come to the mounting block due to a saddle fit issue. Sometimes it can be so complex to sort things out. Initially I thought it was a riding issue which did lead me to some further research into straightness and balance issues but found out that it was really my saddle was not right for either of us. Unfortunately it was fitted by a saddle fitter so I was very disappointed. We have to be the advocate for our horses and try to figure out what they are saying to us which is not an easy task. I too have found short work session really are beneficial in a lot of ways. I have tried to make things less regimented and having good results.

    1. Saddle fit is really challenging. Glad that you figured it out and yes, not all pros are good at what they do. But it sounds like you are off on a good path now… You were right to listen to the conversation at the mounting block. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Marcia Wrick

    I am willing to listen to Acero’s monologue on independence & pride, since he is willing to follow me with no questions asked. However, he is on occasion full of opinions when we get to the mounting block. I am learning not to see that as a delay or cancellation of scheduled work, but rather an invitation to the reality of his life and more important, his thoughts at that moment. Those are the times I’m reminded that he’s perceives far more of what my current condition is, than I do myself.

  13. Evelyn Conoley

    Once again, Anna, thank you so much for all the little gems in this piece.
    Susie Mare and I continue to enjoy each other’s company after almost 18 yrs as partners.
    Thank you for the reminder that our mounting blocks are “sacred spaces”, yes, the beginning of fun w/our practice. Blessings, Ev

  14. Yes… I noticed a big difference when I stopped rushing. Now when I go to the paddock I can just call for him and he meets me midway most of the time, and we greet each other and go to the barn without hurrying… and it is way faster, and much more pleasant, than trying to rush and have to chase a horse around the paddock.
    Same with all ground behavior: if I take time and groom him quietly he doesn’t move… if we walk around the ring before mounting and he can sniff and check whatever is there first, and put his nose in the ever scary shavings pile (oh my!) I get no resistance at the mounting block and he doesn’t walk away until I’m on and set…
    The one thing I learned from reading your blog and your book is that slowing down and reduce the emotional noise make things go smoother and actually faster…

  15. JUDITHBELFORD@comcast.net

    My mare stellar at the mounting block, but I love this idea. I always have a conversation with her before getting on, ease on slowly and then just sit there. It’s all about respect.

  16. Wonderful article! Thank you for sharing! Our critters need everyone to read this!
    It’s so important to be present in the moment and without an agenda.. we owe them that for all they do for us with their unconditional love.
    Namaste, Karen Daley, Animal and Spirit Talk.

  17. Yay!!! My rescued Mustang (horse extraordinaire!) and I did LOTS of stuff on the mounting block. Many hours of time well spent. We always called it our bonding time. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s