When you are out on the trail, what gets down must come up. If you get off your horse--and you will, whether for gate opening, picnics, or tack repair--you need to be able to get back on quickly and in control, without help from a mounting block or a leg up.
That's no problem, if:
- Your horse stands quietly while you get on and then waits for your aid to move off, and,
- You can spring into the saddle with minimal help from your arms and hands, after just one bounce on your right foot. Why one bounce? It keeps to a minimum--about two seconds--that transitional time when you're busy lifting yourself into the saddle and have only one hand free to control him.
First, every time you go out, make one last check that your girth is as tight as it should be. Right behind your horse's left elbow, try to slide your hand under the girth and pull it toward you. If you can get your fingers in easily, you can probably tighten the billets at least one more hole.
Once that's done, face your horse's shoulder, turn slightly toward his haunches (so he can't kick you) and--if mounting from the left--gather both reins in your left hand, the left rein lying normally and the right one laid flat over it. You want to keep a light contact with his mouth, but not so much that he fidgets and backs away from the bit. Put your left hand on the withers, near the end of his mane, for balance--but don't plan on grabbing the mane for leverage. You want to be able to lift that hand at any moment to control your horse if he decides to move, and you can't do that with a fistful of mane. Put your left foot in the stirrup iron so the iron is just in front of the ball of the foot, pointed toward the girth so you won't accidentally poke your horse in the ribs, and grasp the cantle with your right hand, ready to bounce with your right leg and mount.
While you need to be aware of all your surroundings out on the trail, pay particular attention to your horse's head as you prepare to mount,so you'll know if he's about to react to something (and what that "something" might be). Are his ears flattened and is he rolling his eye uneasily back? He's worried about--and maybe thinking of scooting forward away from--something upsetting behind him. Forget mounting for a moment; instead, get him calmed down and his attention back on you.
If your horse steps away after your right leg starts to leave the ground, don't bounce after him trying to scramble aboard; that would tell him his agenda is more important than yours. Instead, if he takes just a small forward or sideways step, return that right foot to the ground, lift your left hand to shorten the reins, and calmly say "whoa"--repeating the aids until he stands quietly. Then begin mounting again. If he takes more than a slight step, put both feet back on the ground and reclaim his attention, then start over. If he steps backward, though, you've probably shifted your left hand and shortened the reins; check your rein tension and pin your hand more firmly in place, without grabbing the mane, as you bounce again.
When your horse is quiet and you're in position, give a good bounce with your right leg and press down on your left stirrup at the same time (think of how you'd climb a really steep stair step). You can help yourself by pulling on the cantle with your right hand, but get most of your lift from your legs. Slide your right hand forward on the saddle as your right leg comes up, and support your weight with that hand as you swing the leg clear of his haunches and bring it lightly down against his right side.
Complete the mount by pressing your right knee against the saddle to support the added weight and keeping your seat just clear of the saddle--so you don't slam into your horse's kidneys. Now lower your seat gently into the saddle and--glancing down--find your right stirrup.
Good work! You're on with just one bounce!
This article first appeared in the August 1996 issue of Practical Horseman.