Cerebral Palsy and Nerves When Mounting

Any advice for how to train a green youngster to stand reliably at the mounting block? I have Cerebral Palsy. Thanks to a lot of intensive therapy and an excellent therapeutic riding program when I was young, I’ve overcome many of my CP symptoms. Mounting, however, is still challenging for me. Lifting my left foot into the stirrup and then actually shifting my balance to push up and swing over the horse is hard for me. My first horse was a super tolerant schoolmaster who I knew I could count on to stand for me.

My new 5yo OTTB isn’t fresh off the track by any means - retired from racing as a 3yo in 2018. He’s an absolute gem once I’m on, but he does have some of those wiggly baby habits still. My guess is that the trainer and working students who rode him before I bought him were all agile enough to just leap on so he didn’t need to stand. He tends to want to back up, though. This scares me because a couple of times I’ve nearly gotten my foot stuck in the stirrup and almost gotten pulled off the block.

Any advice for how to work on standing at the mounting block, and/or tips to help me overcome this new anxiety when it comes to mounting?

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I teach all my horses to stand quietly at the mounting block from the getgo. First, they have to just stand there while I stand on the mounting block. When that is reliably accomplished, I move on to standing quietly when I pick up the reins. Next, I pick up the reins in one hand and wiggle the saddle with the other. Once that’s accomplished, I move on to pick up the reins, wiggle the saddle, grab the near stirrup and lean on it with my hand. When they are standing still for all that, then I move on to holding the stirrup and lifting my leg up to mount. ANY MOVEMENT at this point, you have to start all over. Do not attempt to actually mount until you can do every step without your horse moving.

Ask that anyone else riding this horse do the same, as it is YOUR safety that is at risk here. Mounting, in my mind, is one of the highest risk things we do when riding and should be treated with great respect. You are right to be concerned, but you can fix this quicker than you think. Btw, most horses at the track are used to being mounted while in motion so that may indeed be part of the problem.

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With your balance issues, I strongly recommend to get a trainer out to nip this for you. Mounting is no joke the most dangerous thing we do regularly. Better to not risk having a whoops moment and getting drug.

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I watched someone working with a very green horse once. The horse was nervous about the rider swinging up so a second person distracted the horse and blocked the horse’s line of sight to the rider. After the rider had ridden for a bit they went to step off the horse, who freaked. The rider managed to get back in the saddle okay, but the horse knew what that weight shift meant and reacted even with a blocked line of sight. It was a dangerous situation even though the rider did eventually manage to dismount without anyone getting hurt.

As a result I feel that specifically training for mounting is critical. I train standing for mounting in steps. Acceptance of weight in the stirrup, acceptance of the human above the horse, acceptance of the rider’s sudden lunge up beside the horse, etc. Your horse is mostly okay with this stuff - can you pinpoint exactly where in the mounting process he loses focus? Is it movement above? Or how long he has to be still? Or you putting your foot in the stirrup? Or you putting your weight in the stirrup? Are you making sure his legs are positioned so he can take the weight shift without having to move his feet?

The answer should help you decide how to approach the retraining.

I rode with a woman at my prior barn who had a partial lease on a lesson mare that had problems standing for mounting. She spent some time at it - it wasn’t quick and easy. She got the job done by spending a block of time one day without riding her at all. Then the challenge was making sure the instructors didn’t slack off and let the mare get away with moving around or walking off.

There was a therapeutic riding program so our “mounting block” was actually a large platform for riders with disabilities, including those with wheelchairs. Pretty much everybody used if for mounting and some of us also for dismounting to accommodate mobility, balance and coordination challenges including old age. It’s much easier on the horse’s back, for example, if you are one of those who can stand on the ramp and put your right foot over the horse. You sit down without using the stirrup. Some of the younger riders used a 2-step block. It’s much easier dismounting because you have a larger target area to step onto.

My horse was usually standing with his butt away from the ramp. I started asking him to back up a few steps using the right rein, then move forward bringing his butt in closer. I wasn’t really thinking about “training” him. I asked for the same thing every day. He figured out that he should step his back end over to the left, line up straight and stand quietly. He does it on his own now, although he needs a little reminder from time to time.

Our new barn is in the process of installing a “ramp.” The BO’s daughter really wants it. She hates dismounting in winter. Her gelding is 18hh. Her legs are so cold after a 1-hour session that they shatter when she hits the ground. I feel safe mounting and dismounting because I have a solid platform with plenty of room for both feet. We rarely go anywhere these days, but I have a 3-step mounting block that is actually a set of steps from a marine equipment manufacturer. I get help with dismounting. At 72 my knees are not happy when they hit the ground.

I have MS, I am weak and I have bad balance.

I usually ask someone to stand by the head of the horse when I mount, it is just safer that way for me.

I also invested $$$$$ in a modern type of safety stirrup (for me it was the Tech Venice Slope). There are many modern safety stirrups out there and I recommend that you buy a pair. Yes, they are so expensive, so much more expensive than a pair of the old type Peacock stirrups, but they are SAFER.

It would remove one of your worries.

I also recommend more training for your horse for mounting. On track TBs are never mounted from a mounting block and they have no idea of what they are supposed to do when someone drags themselves into the saddle. Good training can overcome this, but you, just like me, really have no business doing this training because it is not safe for you.

I hope you find answers that work. I know that whenever a horse I am mounting takes a step I can get really, really scared as I teeter in the stirrup trying to drag my right leg over the saddle.

Ramp and/or extra tall mounting block and a trainer who takes no crap when teaching a horse to sidle up to a block or ramp and stand like a statue for one of the most dangerous moments for a rider.

I tend to use a LOT of mints to get to that point and then start weaning back to the point where the horse stands like a rock unless he/she gets her mint. “Can’t move yet, no paymint made for my awesome statue impersonation. Pay up and we can go for a ride.”

Thanks for the suggestions everyone! My barn manager’s husband is handy and built an extra tall, extra wide wooden mounting block that should be really helpful. My gelding is going to be on training board at my trainer’s barn next month so she has said she’ll spend some time really working with him on it. Hopefully those two things will help!

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