If you have ever watched people attempt to mount their horses, you may be surprised by how difficult this seemingly simple task can be. Often, the rider positions the horse and then scrambles to mount before the horse moves off.
The ‘Bump Up to a Fence’ exercise is designed to improve your mounting experience, and is great for helping get both you and your horse focused before a ride. Depending on how often you do this exercise, and how much you like to challenge your horse, it will help with balance, trust, try, respect and feel. The finished product of this drill will be your horse delivering himself parallel to you while you are on a fence or a mounting block, so that you can easily get on.
It is easiest to start out with a lead rope at least 12’ in length and a partner stick or dressage whip with string attached (lunge whips are normally too long). You will also make use of what I call “The Phases”: Lead it, Lift it, Swing it and Touch it – to get your horse moving. See ‘The Phases’ on page 30 to learn how to master this set of skills.
Once your horse gets the hang of the exercise, these tools may not be necessary, but, at first, they will be helpful in order for your horse to manoeuvre around, and for you to be able to reach him from a stationary position. Note that if your horse is sensitive, you may find it helpful to have a person on the ground, positioned on the other side of the horse, to help move him back and forth a little until you get the hang of things.
Stand on a fence board, or mounting block positioned against a wall, and send your horse back and forth from left to right and right to left on a half circle. When sending your horse, try to do it just like you would if you were on the ground sending him in a circle.
It may prove difficult at first, as you may find that your horse does not send very well, tries to pull away or to walk right up to you. If this happens, your stick and string will come in handy, as you will be able to reach him to encourage his forward motion in the direction you have requested. In this case, slow things down and focus on using the phases. Then just wait for his feet to go in the proper direction before you release and reward him.
Once your horse is sending consistently in both directions, stop sending him when he is parallel to the fence at one end of the circle, allowing him to stop. Encourage him to come a few steps closer to you by drawing him forward with some tension on the lead rope. Let him stop, and pat him on the forehead or neck. Then just let him stand, preferably parallel to the fence, to rest. At this time, you are not really trying to get the horse all the way up to you to mount. You are just trying to just give him a clue about what’s coming next.
To help reinforce the pattern of pressure (sending) and release (resting), you are going to send him back and forth a few more times. Your horse will soon realize that the sending is harder than standing next to the fence, so he will start to seek the easier of the two options. He may even start to trot, but soon he will find it much easier to stand after trotting back and forth a couple of times.
As you repeat this, you should notice that your horse is willing to come up closer to you and, therefore, be in a better position for you to mount. Simply let him rest for longer after each send and continue this process until he is all the way up into a safe position for mounting from the fence or mounting block.
You may notice that once your horse finds the answer of standing next to you, he no longer wants to send. If this happens, do not release him until he sends. Even though your goal is to have him stand, you do not want him to ignore your sending requests. Keeping your horse balanced and responsive is crucial to preparing for a good ride.
Once your horse gets consistent at coming up to the fence into the proper position, you can try to mount. Make sure that you are committed more to the fence or mounting block than the horse at first, so that if he moves away you can safely stay on the fence or mounting block. If your horse does move off, simply repeat steps 1-4.
After you have practiced this for a number of sessions, and you and your horse have developed a good feel, you can do this exercise in your bridle. By the time you are sending your horse with the bridle reins, you won’t need to send him much, if at all. As soon as you try to send him, he should recognize the exercise and almost immediately land parallel to the fence, enabling you to mount. If he does require more sending, then the lead rope should be put back on.
This is a lesson about responsibility and focus. We are not just trying to get on and go. For some horses, this can take a little time to develop, but this is time that is well spent for the both of you. Solid foundation exercises, such as this one, can really help as you and your horse face challenges in the future. The lessons that you learn from teaching an exercise like this can have much greater value than you may realize. Creating a partnership where you can rely on each other and learn to focus will be invaluable in your horsemanship journey.
The Phases Lead it, Lift it, Swing it, Touch It
“Phases” is simply the term for using steps when applying pressure to motivate your horse. For example, if you were going to need 4lbs of pressure to move your horse, your first instinct would probably be to apply 4lbs all at once. However, by using phases you would apply 1lb, and if your horse did not give you the desired response, you would then move to 2lbs (then 3lbs, then 4lbs), gradually increasing the amount of pressure with each phase. This will give your horse the opportunity to learn to move off lighter amounts of pressure with your first request.
This is a rhythmic sequence to motivate your horse to move his feet. Predators tend to lack rhythm when applying pressure, which causes a horse to be nervous, dull and less focused. By using rhythm, your horse will be able to more easily focus on your request. This rhythmic sequence is simple. When sending your horse to the left:
1. Lead it: Reach your left hand (which is holding the middle of the lead rope) to your left.
2. Lift it: Lift your right hand (which is holding the lead or stick).
3. Swing it: Swing your right hand in a circular motion, without touching your horse.
4. Touch it: lightly reach out and touch your horse with your lead or stick in your right hand.
Repeat this sequence if your horse does not move his feet. If he moves his feet in the direction you would like, immediately reward, by releasing the request. Depending on your horse’s response, you may spend less or more time at certain steps. For example: 1,2,3,3,3,4 or 1,1,1,2,2,3,3,4. When changing directions, switch hands and repeat the above sequence.