If your horse doesn’t stand still for mounting, it’s not only unsafe for you, but also a sign that he is not relaxed or comfortable. He may have a negative association with mounting due to pain or discomfort (now or in the past), stress, or fear.

With any unwanted behaviour, always eliminate potential sources of pain (e.g. saddle fit, joint or muscle pain, etc.) first. When you begin training, focus on establishing the foundational skills that progressively lead to the desired behaviour. For mounting these skills include:

• Standing still and balanced
• Being calm beside the mounting block
• Accepting weight in the stirrup
• Accepting weight in the saddle

Whether you’re training a green horse or retraining an older horse, positive reinforcement (R+) techniques build relaxation, trust, and a willingness to learn.

Traditional and natural horsemanship techniques focus more on “correcting” the horse for doing the “wrong” thing. Positive reinforcement focuses on telling the horse when he is doing the “right” thing by rewarding (reinforcing) desired behaviours to encourage their repetition. You set up your horse for success.

Rewards (aka reinforcers) can include treats, scratches, and praise. Pairing a unique sound (a clicker, a tongue cluck, or specific word like “yes”) with the reinforcer is most effective. The sound precisely marks the desired behaviour, making it easier for the horse to understand what is expected.

Progress in small, achievable increments, ensuring your horse’s understanding and building his confidence every step of the way.

The following four steps will give you a good start in teaching your horse to stand still for mounting while building trust and partnership.

A woman standing with a horse.

You can practice the “stand” command anytime and anywhere. (Anne Gage photo)

Step 1: Start With Standing

You can practice “stand” anytime your horse is relaxed, such as when being groomed, during hand walking, etc. Use a voice cue and reinforce your horse for standing even for a second. Gradually increase the length of time (duration) before reinforcing.

Step 2: Introduce the Mounting Block

a) If your horse is nervous about the mounting block, notice how close he can approach it without any tension. Start reinforcing him for standing still at that distance (his comfort zone).

b) Gradually decrease the distance by walking him parallel to the block without overwhelming him. Continuing using positive reinforcement increases his confidence and trust in you. Eventually (it may take several sessions with some horses), he’ll stand calmly beside the mounting block. Gradually extend the duration in that location.

c) Once your horse is comfortable beside the mounting block, step on the block. If your horse moves away, repeat the earlier steps focused on relaxation and standing.

Step 3: Simulate Mounting

For some horses the mounting process may need to broken down to individual steps. Touching the stirrup with your hand. Placing your foot in the stirrup. Putting gentle weight on the stirrup. Reinforce your horse for standing still at every step. This process helps your horse develop a positive association with the mounting block and being mounted.

Step 4: Get In The Saddle

Quietly swing your leg over and gently lower yourself into the saddle. Reinforce your horse, then immediately dismount. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the time you spend sitting in the saddle. Praise and scratch his withers while sitting there, without asking him to do anything.

With positive reinforcement, you ignore the behaviour you don’t want while reinforcing the behaviour you do want. So if your horse moves at any point, you simply start over. Your focus is on catching the moment when he is doing the “right” thing (i.e the behaviour you want). It sounds counter-intuitive but, just like us, the horse figures out pretty quickly the behaviour that will bring the reward. Horses are individuals, so adjust the training pace to suit your horse’s unique needs.

If the horse continues to have difficulty standing still at any point despite the positive reinforcement, then either the training has gone too quickly or there is a physical cause (i.e. pain) that needs further investigation.

Teaching your horse to stand still for mounting is a process that requires patience, consistency, and
an understanding of positive reinforcement. By taking the time to patiently establish these skills, helping your horse to feel calm and confident, you’re building trust and a deeper partnership.