Monday, September 6, 2010

Science VS tradition: Mounting your high horse

So you have saddled and bridled your horse and it is time to mount. We typically mount from the horses left side, placing our left foot and weight in the stirrup and swinging our right leg over the horse.
At our local fair and driving competition we have a costume class. I swung a young rider up on Indigo's back from her right side as I always practice what I preach and mount from both sides of the horse. A bystander and self proclaimed "horse expert" scoffed at me and spoke up finally after he had been watching me frantically unharness and put a saddle, bridle and costume on Indigo in silence a few feet away. He crossed his arms and smugly stated "young lady, you should not teach kids how to mount from the wrong side of the horse". I laughed and asked him if he really knew why we typically mount the horse from the left side. Of course he said he had no clue.

So why do we only mount from one side of the horse? Surely most people being right handed/sided it would be easier to learn to mount from the right side. Most people who have never mounted before do find mounting from the right easier for their first time but it's like back in the days of making lefties into right handed writers; we just mount from the left so we learn to adjust.

Well the reason we mount on the left actually has a lot to do with right handed people. Right handed people would have carried their sheathed sword on their left side in order to reach over and draw quickly in the face of an opponent. If the rider mounted from the right side of the horse, the sword on the left side would interfere or even injure the horse as the rider mounted. Thus we mount from the left side and centuries later we have not broken this silly tradition.

Think about this:
How many of you carry a sword when you ride and are a right handed swordsman?
How many of you almost always mount from the horses left side? (Of course if you have some sort of serious injury or disability that prevents you from mounting from the right side ever. This can be excusable)
How many of you almost always dismount from the horses left side?
How many of you use a mounting block (or rock or fence or truck tailgate etc.) regularly?

If you answered yes to the first one good for you, continue to mount from the horses left side when you have your sword. I applaud you for keeping tradition.

If you answered yes to the second and third one and do not carry a sword, or have some sort of disability/injury, shame, shame. From doing equine massage therapy I can attest to the fact that uneven muscle development and scar tissie is created from mounting only one side. This can range from a horse being "one sided" on circles to uneven saddle fit, improper saddle fit, unsoundness, girthyness and even behavioral issues like walking off when being mounted, rearing and bucking.
Think about it this way, if you only worked your horse on the left rein, only doing left handed circles and left handed turns wouldn't your horse be significantly one sided? Especially after months of work on the left side and asking the horse to be balanced strait or to the right.
Practice mounting and dismounting from both sides.

If you answered yes to the last one, congratulations, especially if you answered yes to question two and three. In studies done with thermal cameras the stress is diminished significantly when the horse is mounted from a raised platform rather than the ground. Of course sometimes there are not mounting blocks available.

Now don't get me wrong. Once you have mounted from the horses left side all your life mounting from the right can be a challenge but most horses will appreciate the effort to heave yourself up from both sides, rather than just one.
When I first tried to mount from the right side I do believe I kicked my horse in the butt and ended up nearly doing the splits as my horse did the same; split.

So thinking about mounting and dismounting I mount from both sides. Like I stated before, most riders find mounting on the right easier the first time if given a choice. I like to mount on one side and dismount on the other. Like Clinton Anderson says "when you have one horse you actually have two" Meaning what you do on one side you need to do on the other. Sure your horse might bug his eyes out and go "WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING OVER THERE!?!" a lot just won't care and the different lot who like to walk off as you are mounting might just stand still.

Just like how bits were created when Genghis Khan, the ruthless ruler reined over thousands and the world was believed to be flat, not round we have yet another practice that seems outdated to our times.

So what side do you mount on and why? I think I can bet that it was "just how you learned". Has anyone put much thought into this as I have? Have you switched mounting sides? I want to hear how you get up on your high horse.

(Images credit to their respective owners)


GunDiva said...

I mount and dismount from both sides for an entirely different reason - the ability to do so can save your arse while out on the trail. More times than I can count, I've been in a situation where I have no choice about which side I dismount on. When you're leading out a ride and a guest has a problem on the side of the mountain, you may only be able to dismount and remount on one side. If you and your horse aren't trained to do so, it could be bad, bad, bad.

And, the horse doesn't know the "right" or "wrong" side to mount up from - we teach them that, it's not some knowledge they're born with.

Breathe said...

I'm going to start alternating. If I fall off, I'll let you know.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I always use a mounting block or a fence, or stump, anything I can use to not pull on my horse's back while mounting cleanly and smoothly.
I never was able to mount my previous 15.3hh mare without a boost. But I am able to mount my 14.2hh current mare Apache without a mounting block if I need to. I just choose not to because I don't want to yank on her back.

I know she appreciates it, too. She stands so patiently and waits for me to mount.

I never mount from the left side ever. Mostly because I can't mount from the left side anymore because of my ACL injury and surgery. My knee will buckle if I try to place all my weight on it.

Thankfully, my mare is usually so open-minded and well-rounded because she never batted an eyelash when I mounted and dismounted from the right side the first time. She acted like it was the most normal thing in the world, and I actually think she prefers me to mount and dismount from her right side.

The couple times I dismounted from my previous mare's right side, she was so startled that she jumped sideways. She did fine with mounting on her right side, though.

Makes me wonder if her previous owners mounted from the right side and only dismounted from the left.


Sydney_bitless said...

Great thinking people. Like GunDiva says, the horses are not born with the knowledge.

More and more people are mounting from both sides, I think more and more riding schools should start practicing both sides. It takes a considerable amount of coordination to figure out how to mount from the "off" side for the first time.

Crystal said...

I can mount from both sides, and I know I should, but honestly I usually mount from the left. However I quite often get off on the right cause its easier to land on that side for me. I will try to mount more from the right as well.

Jeni said...

Last time I mounted from the right, I went completely over and landed on my rear....

Also last time I dismounted from the right, I landed on my rear...

It feels so extremely un-natural to me to mount/dismount from the right.

Now my husband must mount/dismount from the right because of a knee injury. Rosie does not bat an eye.

We both always use a block of some sort to mount any horse. I don't need one for Bonnie, but Rosie stirrup is at my EYE level!!

Anonymous said...

I almost always mount from the left - laziness I expect. I know very well I should do it from both sides. But I do use a mounting block to mount - almost 100 percent of the time, and when I dismount I almost always take both feet out of the stirrups and swing/jump down.

Good reminder!

GunDiva said...

I'll agree - it's awkward as all get out to mount and dismount from the "off" side, but with some patience it pays off.

If you have friends who are new riders, introduce them to mounting from both sides right off the bat - learning a new skill is awkward anyway, might as well be awkward all the way around.

An Image of Grace said...

I always use a mounting block, wheel hub of the horse trailer, tail gait, or fence to get on my horse. I know it saves her back. If I have to get on from the ground, it's a challenge because I am so out of practice. I had to dismount on the right side during a trail class, and while I could physically do it, it took my brain a second or two to figure it out.

Jame said...

I have a confession to make, alas. We do not have saddles for our drafts, and as they are both 18 hands plus, I can't pull myself up, so most times my fiance ends up being my mounting block, while he is left to wiggle his way up onto the other horse's back. When not mounting into a saddle, I never really thought about which side I hopped up on, but I know that we use both, & our horses don't even notice anymore, they're so used to the crazy humans doing crazy things. It also helps, having drafts.
I do know when I was teaching the riding program at a camp in California, one of our mares was blind on her left side, & would only let kids mount on her right. It was a good history lesson for the kids, to tell them why most people mount from the left!

Spartacus Jones said...

An interesting post, indeed.

I DO sometimes wear a sword and, yes, mounting from the left is easier. But mounting from the right is not impossible -- just awkward.

I rarely use a mounting block because it is necessary to be ABLE to mount from the ground. However, when you mount, I believe you should SPRING up, strongly using the foot that's NOT in the stirrup as well as the left hand (holding the mane & reins). I don't think you should clamber up by putting all your weight in the stirrup like you're stepping up on a bench.

In practice, I routinely alternate sides mounting and dismounting.
I strongly advocate using a wooden practice horse to practice mounting from both sides until you can do it lightly and fluently from either side.

To me, being with my horse -- or ANY horse -- is a privilege. Like taking the floor with a good dancer.
I think you should EARN that privilege by learning the dance at least well enough that you're not stomping all over your partner's feet.
It seems to me people spend to much time asking things of their horses, and too little time working on their OWN part.

Just my opinion of course.

Thanks for raising the issue.


Jen said...

Since the muscle disease I have to use a block or fence; I can no longer swing up easily. I'm not willing to subject the horses to multiple attempts to clambor on board :oP Shadow (my avatar) will only hold still if I mount him from the "wrong" side; so we go with it. It's a little awkward, but it makes him happy ;o)

Miles On Miles said...

Ugh, thanks for the's one of those things where I always thought, hey, that would be cool to try! Of course, I haven't yet though:)

I'll swallow the lump in my throat and try mounting from the right. Dismounting, though? My goodness, I practically almost fall down when I slide down Miles' left side (he is tall, I am not)! I am 100 percent sure a dismount from the right would result in me on my butt. Maybe I won't care if I do it on the deep end of the arena:)

Jessie McCandless said...

Very interesting to know! The silly things we do, just for the sake of tradition, huh?

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