It's a Dance

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Fall is in the air! The days are getting shorter, the nights are cooler, and the leaves are starting to change into their brilliant fall colors. It’s the best time of year for horseback riding, if you ask me.


While I love to ride, there was a time when getting on a horse made me a little nervous. I had a bad experience with a horse that bucked me off the minute my rear touched the saddle. I didn’t even have time to get my feet in the stirrups.

Mirlo, the little black mustang I worked with at Colorado Horse Rescue, had also had an unpleasant mounting experience.

Once, while mounting up on Mirlo, a rider had gotten a foot caught in the stirrup then fell off the mounting block. This terrified Mirlo. He took off, dragging the rider. Both were just fine, but Mirlo didn’t forget this scary experience.

So, when the time came to put my foot in the stirrup to mount, both Mirlo and I were a little nervous. To prepare, I used grounding exercises to help lower my energy. I knew this would help Mirlo relax.

When I felt relaxed and ready, and felt I had prepared Mirlo the best I could, I placed my foot in the stirrup. Mirlo stood still, but started to shake all over. I knew we’d have to take this slow.

That’s how it goes when you work with horses that have had bad experiences. It’s a dance: two steps forward, two steps back. The key is to never rush.

I spent days with Mirlo, standing beside him on the mounting block as we slowly worked on the process. I’d put my foot in the stirrup, then take my foot out of the stirrup. I did this again and again, until my foot being in the stirrup no longer caused him alarm.

We continued this slow dance until I could place weight in the stirrup and lean my body weight on him while he stayed completely calm.

I finally swung my leg over and settled into the saddle. Mirlo stayed totally relaxed. He even glanced back at me as if to say, “Well, it’s about time.”

Mirlo stood still, and we enjoyed the new change in our relationship. Then I dismounted and remounted several times, from both sides. With slow and patient work, we’d overcome another challenge.

Note that it’s important to teach your horse to accept being mounted from both sides, as you never know when you might need to mount up on the right side on narrow trail. Mounting from both sides also helps work your horse’s back muscles equally.

For more on mounting from both sides from experienced horsewoman and trail rider Heidi Melocco, click here:

I hope you all get out and enjoy the fall trail riding!