Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Dreaded Mounting Block

" Do I look like I'm ready to work "

 (This post is one I've previously put up - April 12, 2011 -but I'm re-posting it because it was simpler than writing another one with the same scenarios. It seems April is the month that Dusty has issues with mounting blocks (or me). I used the exact methods described below to get her to behave at the mounting block this time also).

Ever since I’ve known Dusty she has had issues with the mounting block.  I foolishly thought we had conquered this particular problem…until this weekend.

As you can see from the above picture I had to wait for the princess to awaken from her beauty sleep before we could even think of beginning to get some work done.  Notice how she’s spread everyone’s hay around to make a cushy mattress for her nap.  The princess and the pebble?

When her highness deigned the time had come for her to stand and come to the gate, I got her groomed and tacked and headed to the arena.  Well apparently, Dusty has decided she does not want to work for a living but should perhaps be a halter or blanket model in catalogs or a pin-up centerfold for “Play Stallion Monthly.”  Regardless of what she thinks, I think she could work a few hours a week and be gracious about it.

After adjusting the girth we headed toward the mounting block, I positioned her, put my foot in the stirrup and she swung her hind end out.  This was one of her old tricks that I thought we had cured.  Granted, my daughter is usually there when I mount to hold her and she stands like a statue.  I’m guessing she had a flashback to her younger days when it was just she and I tackling the mounting block.  Obviously, she felt it was her right to refuse my attempts to mount.  Again, I disagreed.

We tried standing still, praise, petting and treats.  Should work right? Wrong. 
We tried stand, click, treat, and good girl.  No good.
Circling, repositioning etc., all this went on for about thirty minutes. Have I ever mentioned how frustrating Dusty can be?

--An excerpt from a previous post to show Dusty’s antics when mounting:
One more, uh, incident:  the time Dusty cantered off as I was mounting; of course, I landed in the dirt. When my head hit the frozen ground, I bit down hard on my tongue.  While I was still lying there in agony, she came over and stomped on my foot. Nice mare.  I thought she was trying to help me get up, sort of like stepping on the tines of a rake. With my swollen tongue and throbbing foot, it was not my best day. With the limp and the lisp everyone probably thought, “poor thing, she must have had a mild stroke.”

So as I sat on the mounting block holding the reins, staring at her and taking deep breaths before I lost my temper, I reassessed the situation and thought about what I could be doing wrong.  Obviously, I couldn’t let her get away with this behavior because it could easily escalate into a battle of wills and I didn’t want to lose ground after she was doing so well. 

There is a little trick my daughter taught me that she learned from riding so many rank horses over the years.  It may not make all the natural horsemanship people feel warm and fuzzy, but it works.  I’m conflicted about whether to put it down because if used incorrectly you can actually flip a horse over, and nobody wants that.  I should also add that no horses (Dusty) were harmed while using this method.

Take the right rein and pull it gently into position for an ‘indirect rein of opposition in front of the wither’ (keep the hand above the mane; don’t let it cross the neck - very important) to flex the horse’s head slightly to the inside of the arena while simultaneously shifting the shoulder toward the mounting block.  If the hindquarters shift away from the block, move the rein into an 'indirect rein of opposition behind the wither.'  Once in position and standing quietly, let go again.  Take both reins in the left hand before mounting and maintain a light contact to prevent unwanted forward and back movement.

From the ground we walked circles with me on the outside holding the reins as if I was in the saddle, positioning her to the inside of the arena while spiraling out until we came close to the mounting block.  Then, without letting up on the tension, and keeping her head flexed, I parallel parked her next to the mounting block using the loose left rein to lead her up.  When she stood quietly, I petted and praised her.  Once she remained in position without trying to shift away from the block, I mounted.  She took off before I had my stirrups; no big deal, but not what I wanted.  We whoa-ed in the center of the arena and I dismounted. Then we proceeded to do the exact same thing again, this time with me putting my weight in the stirrup and removing it, putting weight on the saddle and removing it, over and over until she stood still no matter how much I tested her.  I mounted, keeping the reins ready on her neck in case she walked off, but she stood quietly.  I rewarded her, she got a treat and lots of praise and pets and we walked off calmly.  We did this one more time, called it a successful lesson and she was turned out.

The following day I took up the reins in the same configuration and instead of spiraling in circles we walked directly to the mounting block.  She stood quietly while I mounted, she waited for the cue to go and we walked off softly on the first try.  Dusty offered me the best ride I have had with her to date.  She trotted long and low, tracking up with strides that were controlled and even.  We didn’t ride for long - a few times around in either direction at the trot.  A loose rein for relaxation as we walked around the arena a few laps and then over the cavelletti once in each direction.  I dismounted, praised her and gave her a treat and we called it another successful lesson.

My thoughts on this whole experience: once she knew she couldn’t get the best of me she gave in and maybe somewhere in the recesses of her crafty mind she respects me a little more for not letting her get her own way.  Not everyone will agree with the method I used, but sometimes with a horse like Dusty you have to take the upper hand and do whatever works.  

Until next time

Quote for Today
A hot horse and a hot head don't mix.


  1. Sometimes I think they just check to make sure the old rules still apply! When I hack out I mount at the bottom of our hill, because it is too steep and rocky to ride down. I use a rock at the bottom to stand on and it is really annoying when they swing their hind-quarters out. I'll have to try your indirect rein technique!

  2. Another method: Horse moves off, you make horse move. Keep circling the horse over and over, then ask it to stand again. Horse moves, circle. Repeat. Eventually, since the horse is basically not stupid, it realizes that each time it moves it is going to have to work. Standing becomes the much better option. This works for teaching a horse to stand on the ground too.

    Glad the rein trick worked. Dusty is one clever girl to figure out so quickly that it was a losing proposition.

  3. Sandra,
    I think she does try to see if the old rules still apply. And after a year off she's testing me.

    Another good method. I've tried this with her and it did work some of the time.

  4. there is nothing more frustrating than a horse who won't stand for mounting! but dusty just needs a refresher course once in a while. it's basically the same as backing a green horse when you have a horse who's been out of work for a while. see, she has an excuse ;-)

  5. Well done GHM! You prevailed over the very crafty Dusty.

    I do think our horses test the waters periodically when they are questioning the wisdom of the work schedule. :)

  6. Interesting technique and with a lot of good sense behind it. The rein can control the hind end quite nicely and position the shoulder, as you described so well.

    I have worked with a fair number of horses when teaching them to stand in a chute, which is necessary for therapeutic riding. The chute can be claustrophobic for horses, so not all personalities need apply. The first time that I tried to mount Harley from the chute he wouldn't get anywhere near it. That was quite a long dance, so I can imagine the frustrations you have had with Dusty. At least those are things of the past and she is just getting back to the swing of things. Great work!

  7. Mares are really interesting creatures, aren't they?

    We talk about our horses "testing" us to see what they can get away with, but with these smart mares I think the "testing" is more like an IQ test. Like: "Let's see if you're clever enough to come up with something that's going to change my mind."

    She really is a gorgeous horse. I love her dapples.

  8. Well, look at it this way - if this is Dusty's way of testing the waters and you have a successful method to refresh her training, you being here again means one thing: you and Dusty are back to riding together and once you refresh this little "known issue" you're on to more fun things. :) She is so lovely in that hay!

  9. Wow, you have oodles of patience! Which is what is needed when dealing with animals ... and children. It may not be the warm-fuzzy option but it does sound just like dealing with children - the little darlings don't half push the boundaries and test you every step of the way, but if you stand firm and don't give in, the rewards are amazing. Glad the method worked and you had a couple of good lessons :D

    And thanks for sharing that story again, about Dusty adding insult to injury by stomping on your foot - I do feel for you really, but it is so hard not to giggle!

  10. Does she have a problem every April because that's when she gets back to work after having some time off? It seems they often revert back to whatever is "their thing." I've had a number of horses with various "things," but never one who gave me trouble at the mounting block. That can be scary. Do you have emergency release stirrups? They're on my list of things to get.

    I read all your other posts. I just don't comment on them all because it takes too much time to load. I know, that was something with the girl rescuing the horses in the fire.

  11. I don't know why anyone would have a problem with your solution. It makes perfect sense to me and sounds like it did to Dusty.

    I'm glad to hear you're back to riding her. Gives me hope I may actually get there.

  12. Greener Pastures,
    I don't know if it's every April. When I went to write a post on her mounting problem I looked in the archives and saw we did this last April too. She has been off for a year recovering and this is the behavior that resurfaced. She is a mare who likes to test me occasionally just for the fun of it. I don't have emergency release stirrups, might be something to think about. But so far we've got her sorted out with the mounting block...this week.

    Thanks everyone for your comments, I appreciate them.

  13. There's a lot to that....I believe they're always testing. Luckily, they are usually easily convinced to give up if you know how. Which you did. I always tip their heads in when mounting...I'm not sure if that's what you were describing there though.

  14. Great resolution to a sticky problem. I have the same thing with Pie on occasions. I think I am using a similar method with him, although I do throw in a click and treat when I am on the near side standing by the saddle if he is standing quietly. Then, this is the crazy part (!) I let go of the reins completely and he stands there. I exhale and walk around to the mounting block and mount. Something about me lining him up when I am on the ground beside the saddle and then trusting him to stand makes him relax and keep his rump motionless. Once I am in the saddle I click again and treat and he waits until I signal to walk. I am not sure where we came up with this, but it works!
    You and Dusty have a good system too!

    Just wanted to say, (you already know this!) Dusty is just lovely on her hay cushion. She deserves all the attention and love befitting a true princess! Just gorgeous with her dapples!

  15. I am learning that similar training theories applies to dogs which makes for an interesting crossover. I love your Dusty stories and learn from them every time.

  16. I have trained my horse to stand still at the mounting block (or anywhere else) with peppermints. He knows when I say 'uhuh' that means I am not going to reward his behaviour, and when I say 'good boy', I am. He stands at the mounting block, and will not walk off till I give the signal. Sometimes, he gets a peppermint, which I will offer and he has to reach for while I am in the saddle, and sometimes he gets a 'good boy', which he seems to be happy with, as he knows that is a good thing. Either way, he does not dance around, or move off as I am trying to mount.

  17. Glad Dusty is using her cleverness for good things too :-)


It's so nice of you to take the time to visit. I appreciate your stopping by and commenting on what I've written. Even though I sometimes don't have the time to reply to each comment, I do enjoy reading them.