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Mounting Pressures

Mounting a horse is likely something we don't think about very much. But we should give it periodic consideration for several reasons, some of them having to do with our horse's health and others to do with safety, both ours and our horse's.

From the health perspective, there are more and more articles by equine veterinarians advocating the use of a mounting block. Using one when mounting avoids lateral stress and twist on a your horse's spine that occurs every time we mount directly from the ground using a stirrup. And the heavier you are, the harder it is on your horse.

Of course, there are times when we have no choice but to mount from the ground. In those cases, I'll occasionally mount from the right side. When I do, I'll invariably get comments from other riders telling me I've mounted from the "wrong" side. From the horse's perspective, there is no wrong side. There is only what they've grown accustomed to experiencing.

Being able to mount from either side has advantages. In my case, I use a mounting block at the barn to reduce the chances of torsional spine stresses and mount directly using a stirrup only when on the trail. I occasionally mount from the right side so my horse feels comfortable with it. There have been times on the trail when we were on a level spot on the side of a hill and mounting from the left would have been more dangerous — that's not a time that I want my horse to spook because I'm doing something different.

And whichever way you're mounting, don't just drop yourself down into the saddle — that can hyperextend your horse's spine. Instead, lower yourself gently onto your saddle. Similarly, when tacking up, don't just swing your saddle up, over, and then let it crash down on his back. Raise it over your horse's back and gently lay it atop him. If you can't do that because you're not tall enough, it can be easier if you use a mounting block or a small two-step stepladder so you don't have to lift your saddle up over your head. You can also purchase a much lighter saddle. It's not uncommon to find western saddles weighing only 17 - 24 pounds rather than the 40 - 60 pounds of our past. Fortunately, English saddles have always been lighter and those of today are lighter still, often as little as 9 - 13 pounds.

The health of our horse's spine is very important. After all, it's his very back and it also has to support us and our saddle (plus any payload) every time we ride. The more we can do to reduce weight, pressures, and twisting forces on it, the better off and healthier our horse will be.

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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